City Hall, NY– Speaker Mark-Viverito, Council Member Rafael Espinal and the City Council Jewish Caucus today celebrated the launch of the City Council’s new $1.5 million Survivor Initiative to support the 30,000 Holocaust survivors living at or below the poverty line in New York City. In addition, Speaker Mark-Viverito and the Council also commemorated the restoration of a recently rediscovered Torah Scroll, which was hidden for over 70 years in Northern Poland.
Speaker Mark-Viverito and the Council were joined by Jewish community leaders from across the City, Amir Sagie, Deputy Consul General, Consulate General of Israel in New York, Mateusz Stąsiek, Deputy Consul General, Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York and nearly 100 Holocaust survivors including Rabbi Arthur Schneier Senior Rabbi of Park East Synagogue and author Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who had letters in the restored Torah Scroll filled in in their honor as part of a worldwide dedication ceremony to have Holocaust survivors complete the Torah. Rediscovered last year by volunteers with the From the Depths Project, an organization dedicated to preserving the memories of communities who were lost during the Holocaust, the Torah was uncovered in Fillipow, Poland, more than 70 years after being hidden by local family charged with keeping it safe.
“The New York City Council is proud to support our Holocaust survivors – so many of whom, after overcoming unspeakable hardship, live in poverty,” said Speaker Mark-Viverito. “The Survivor Initiative will ensure that Holocaust Survivors in New York City have the resources they need and deserve to live their lives with peace and dignity. I want to thank everyone who made this special event possible – Council Member Rafael Espinal, the New York City Council Jewish Caucus, and of course – all the survivors who have joined us here today. I also want to thank From the Depths, an international non-profit organization that aims to preserve the memories of communities who were lost in the Holocaust. Their mission to connect this Torah with Holocaust survivors is incredibly meaningful and the City Council is proud to support this effort.”
“This Council is dedicated to supporting and providing opportunity for the City’s underserved residents,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras, Chair to the Committee on Finance. “We’re proud to fund the Survivor Initiative to bring survivors of the Holocaust out of poverty and commemorate the restoration of the Torah Scroll.”
“As we celebrate the restoration of the Torah Scroll, which was hidden during the Holocaust, I am also proud to recognize an initiative in the budget that addresses the need to support 30,000 Holocaust survivors living in poverty in the City of New York. This initiative will ensure survivors are given access to high quality food, social services, and healthcare. I, along with the speaker and my colleagues, feel strongly that these residents have endured enough pain and suffering in their lifetime and we must commit to provide resources and programs that will ensure their remaining days will be lived in dignity,” stated Council Member Rafael Espinal (D-Brooklyn).
“This Torah Scroll is a monument to those who lived through the evils of the Holocaust and this commemoration is a way to immortalize those lost,” said Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the Jewish Caucus. “While we can never undo the horrific history of the Holocaust, I’m proud that the City Council provided a measure of support and dignity to the many thousands of brave survivors who still live amongst us, by funding the Survivor Initiative.” “From the Depths in honored to partner with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the New York City Council in the re-writing of this Holy Torah scroll saved from the ashes of the Holocaust, said Jonny Daniels, Founder of From the Depths.“There is no more significant starting point for this ‘Torah Project” in America than in New York City, home of the largest population of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel. The City Council’s initiative to help Holocaust survivors is truly ground breaking, and one we hope to see copied all around the world. From here we aim to partner with communities in America and all over the world to make sure each and every survivor has the opportunity to take part in writing a letter in the Torah and bringing it back to life, and as living memorial for future generations.”
“70 years after the Holocaust we could not have imagined the rise of anti-Semitism, Xenophobia, persecution of religious minorities and the flood of migrants fleeing for freedom,” said Rabbi Arthur Schneier Senior Rabbi of Park East Synagogue. “On the eve of 9/11 we recall with broken hearts the destruction heaped upon us by those who reject our values and beliefs anchored in the teachings of Torah, terrorist who destroy houses of worship and precious world monuments like the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmira. Not only in Europe, but even in New York synagogues, churches, mosques, require protection today. Torah is the tree of life and those who uphold it are alive. In God we trust! Upholding his law has sustained us and will sustain us. Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of creation of the world, a world that is imperfect. It is our challenge to be co-partners with God to help perfect an imperfect world and have man’s humanity prevail in pursuit of peace and justice for all.”
“Survivors of the Holocaust provide a living link to the past and important testimony against those who would dismiss history in order to repeat it,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. ”Today’s dedication of a Torah scroll, and the letters within it, honor the sacrifice of those survivors. Thank you to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Rafael Espinal for their support. Thanks to my Rabbi, Arthur Schneier, for my Jewish education and teachings on the Holocaust.”
“We have an incredible responsibility to ensure that our society never forgets the horrific acts perpetrated against every victim of the Holocaust and to do everything possible to assist the tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors in New York City,” said Council Member Mark Treyger. “As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I am proud to support the Survivor Initiative and to take part in the restoration of this Torah scroll more than 70 years after it was hidden in Poland. It is imperative to keep alive the memory and honor of every victim of the Holocaust through commemorations like today’s important event and that we always remember this dark chapter in our history.”
“I am so proud to be part of a Council that works so hard for the City’s most vulnerable, said Council Member David Greenfield. “This event, and the Holocaust Survivor Initiative, demonstrate the ways that we look out for financially struggling Holocaust Survivors. I thank Councilman Espinal for spearheading this crucial initiative and all my colleagues for working to secure survivors’ livelihood and dignity.”
“I am proud that we are providing much-needed support to Holocaust survivors,” said Council Member Garodnick. “In the New York metro area, half of all survivors are living on less than $11,000 a year. They deserve better, and I will continue to support all efforts to aid this vulnerable population.”
“I am honored to have participated in today’s event, which commemorated the restoration of a Torah that was hidden for more than 70 years in Poland,” said Council Member Chaim Deutsch. “This Torah survived the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe and is a symbol of the strength and fortitude that is found in those who lived through that terrible time. It was especially significant to have been joined by Holocaust survivors, and to be able to share with them the passage of the Survivor Initiative, which funnels $1.5 million of our City Council funding to aid survivors who are living with a lack of basic means. As the son of Holocaust survivors, there is nothing that pains me more than to see the poverty level of so many that suffered so much.”
“I’m honored to stand in the presence of so many Holocaust survivors today as we recognize the restoration of this Torah Scroll and acknowledge the Council’s dedication to ensuring that all Holocaust survivors have the resources they need to age in comfort in our city,” said Council Member Rory I. Lancman.
“The restoration of this scroll after so many years is a testament to the courage of those who helped to preserve our heritage through unspeakable tragedy and to the enduring strength of the Jewish people,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “It is imperative that we remember our history, continue to honor the memories of those lost, and support the survivors still with us today.”
“The Filipow Torah Scroll is a powerful reminder of the plight of the Jewish people and the dangers of blind patriotism. I am proud to stand here today to recognize the bravery of the Wróblewski family and their stewardship in Jewish history,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.
“UJA-Federation of New York is thankful for the strong support of the New York City Council on this important initiative. Holocaust survivors deserve to live out their days with dignity and respect and we are grateful to the support of Council Members Espinal, Greenfield, Levine, and so many others for their advocacy on this, which led to the successful inclusion of the funding the FY 16 budget. We look forward to working together in the years to come to advocate for continued funding of this important initiative,” said Karen Spar Kasner, UJA-Federation of New York, Chair, NY Government Relations and Public Policy Committees.
About From the Depths:
From the Depths is an international non-profit organization that aims to preserve the memories of communities who were lost in the Holocaust.
Last September, a group of Polish students volunteering for From the Depths on its “Matzeva Project,” recovering Jewish gravestones that were re-purposed during or after World War II, met a Polish couple in the village of Filipów with an incredible story. After insistence from his wife, Kazimierz Wróblewski, a retired shepherd, lifted cushions from their couch and revealed a brown-paper wrapped Torah scroll.
In 1939, as the Jews of Filipów were being rounded up for deportation to the Treblinka death camp, the village’s Rabbi ran to his neighbor, Wróblewski‘s father. Wróblewski recalls the Rabbi asking his father to, “Please hide this for me. I’ll be back. If not, give it to a Jew who will know what to do with it.”
Along with the rest of the Jewish community of Filipów, the Rabbi was murdered in Treblinka, and the Torah Scroll was left lying under the sofa in this family’s home for over 70 years.
The scroll was in extremely poor condition; like so many, the family fell under hard times over the years and much of the parchment was used as rags, including as insoles for shoes. Only about 20 percent of the original scroll remained intact when it was discovered last fall.
From The Depths is working to bring this Torah back to life. Following the inaugural event hosted by the British Government last spring, today’s event in New York City Hall is just one of many stops that the scroll is making around the world, restoring the text letter by letter in honor of Holocaust survivors.