PRESS RELEASE - For More Information: Tammy K. Mitgang 610-921-0624 or [email protected] 
Alvernia University & Jewish Federation Announce - Yom Hashoah Remembrance Event on April 27
Reading, Pennsylvania – Alvernia University and Jewish Federation of Reading, Reading, Pennsylvania invite the public to participate in the shared community Yom Hashoah Remembrance program on Sunday, April 27 beginning at 4:00 p.m. in Bernardine Hall Lecture Hall on Alvernia University’s Reading Campus. The event is free.
Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) commemorates the lives and heroism of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust.
The program will begin at 4:00 p.m. with the showing of the film, Besa: The Promise, a documentary that tells the story of the Righteous Muslims of Albania that hid thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis during World War II. Invoking the ancient moral code of besa (a vow to care for anyone facing danger), many people, including Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians in Albania sheltered, hid, and protected Jews from the occupying German troops.
The film follows two characters affected by the experience: Rexhep Hoxha, a Muslim-Albanian storekeeper, and Norman H. Gershman, a Jewish-American photographer. Toward the end of World War II, Hoxha's family had provided shelter to a Bulgarian Jewish family who left three Hebrew books behind when they fled to Palestine. But, the journey does not end there. It is only the beginning.
Immediately following the film, Majlinda Myrto, Director of Eye Contact Foundation will speak about the role the honor code (besa) played in sheltering and saving thousands of Jews in Albania during the Holocaust. An Albanian-American Muslim, she is the daughter-in-law of rescuer Shyqyri Myrto. Ms. Myrto will share the story of how her husband’s family sheltered and saved Josef Jakoel and his sister, Keti, from October 1943, shortly after Albania was occupied by the Germans, until its liberation in November 1944.
Ms. Myrto is one of the most renowned and important leaders of the Albanian-American community in the United States. She was born in Albania and has lived in the United States since 1993. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Affairs (receiving the distinction award for “Recognition and Awareness of Human Rights”), and an MA in Political Science. Majlinda Myrto is the Director of the “Eye Contact Foundation” an organization that promotes religious, political, cultural and economic understanding and tolerance among people worldwide through the use of portrait photography. The foundation was established by esteemed American photographer, Norman H. Gershman.
The program will conclude with a memorial candle lighting service lead by survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and family members of surviviors.
Photography Exhibition – Albanian Muslim Rescuers During the Holocaust
A photography exhibition, Albanian Muslim Rescuers During the Holocaust by American photographer, Norman H. Gershman will be on exhibit at the Dr. Frank A. Franco Library Learning Center, Alvernia University, 400 Saint Bernardine Street, Reading, Pennsylvania from April 6 through May 1, 2014. The exhibit features portraits and testimonies of Albanian Muslim Rescuers and their descendants.
The exhibition is toured by Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum, New York.
When post-World War II Europe found itself devastated by the loss of its Jewish population, Albania was the only country to have a larger Jewish population than prior to the Holocaust. Over 2,000 Jews from Albania, Greece, Austria, and Italy were hidden in the homes of Albanian Muslim families during the war.
Between 2003 and 2008, Norman Gershman, an American photographer, travelled through Albania and neighboring Kosovo, gathering the stories of those who sheltered Jews. During interviews, when asked why they had rescued Jews, their resounding response was “Besa,” which means “to keep the promise” and implies a responsibility to others in times of need.
The stories of Albanian rescuers are relatively unknown due to the political isolation of the country under communism. Albanian rescuers were not acknowledged until 1987, when Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, recognized them a “Righteous Among the Nations,” a designation given to non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. An effort by historians and Albanian archivists to research and document the Albanian experience during the Holocaust continues today.
The exhibition is open to the public at no charge: Sunday 12 noon – 8 p.m.; Monday – Thursday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Alvernia University began in 1926 when the Bernardine Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis established a Teacher’s Seminarium for the education of the Sisters. Thirty-two years later, in 1958, the institution was expanded into a four-year liberal arts college. Alvernia received its charter from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1960. Since then, the student population has grown to nearly 3,000 students.
Alvernia grants Associate Degrees, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Social Work, and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Graduate programs  were added in 1999 and have grown to include seven master’s degrees and a recently added Ph.D. program in leadership. On September 25, 2008, officials announced that it had attained university status and would be hereafter known as Alvernia University. The campus is located at 400 St. Bernardine Street in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Jewish Federation of Reading (JFR) is a public benefit organization that manages, funds or provides operating grants that support programs like Jewish Family Service, Lakin Early Education Center of RCOS, Jewish Cultural Center events and activities and Jewish education and cultural programs countywide. JFR raises funds through an annual campaign that benefits the Reading Jewish community, Israel and Jews in need around the world. It is committed to cultivating a vibrant, healthy Jewish community, inspiring greater Jewish identity and promoting deeper understanding and stronger connections between Jews and non-Jews in Reading/Berks County. JFR is located in the Jewish Cultural Center, 1100 Berkshire Boulevard, Suite 125, Wyomissing, Pennsylvania.