HAMEC Summer Music Festival Set to Simultaneously Entertain and Educate

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One way the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, housed at KleinLife, has been able to sustain the programs they hold is through large- and small-scale fundraising events, like the summer music festival.

The success and growth of the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, housed at KleinLife in Northeast Philadelphia, might be the city’s best-kept secret.
“We have, over the last three years, done 1,000 programs with 30 survivors,” said board president Chuck Feldman proudly.
“Wow” would be the correct response.
Their programs take stories of survivors — along with the survivors — to different schools to give students a firsthand lesson of the Holocaust before it’s too late. The museum’s programs have reached more than 100,000 students, Feldman said, and seen “tremendous growth” in the last seven years.
One way they’ve been able to sustain the programs they hold is through large- and small-scale fundraising events. Those include an annual silent auction at a country club (which is the larger-scale fundraiser) and other events, such as a summer music festival.
This year, the fourth annual Summer Music Festival will be held July 10 at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel from 1 to 4 p.m., which Feldman said always draws a large crowd.
There will be vendors selling everything from arts and crafts to food and books Holocaust survivors have written, as well as three big music acts: Don “Rak-Don” Schillinger, known for his Israeli dance instruction, who will also be DJing; Ross M. Levy, director of youth engagement at Main Line Reform Temple; and Klezmer musicians Bobby Block Trio.
The festival also will honor longtime volunteers Hal and Sue Rosenthal with the third annual HAMEC Ira Feldman Lifetime Achievement Award.
“When we decided to do our annual dinner at a country club where it’s a few more dollars, we decided we had a large part of our community and supporters who maybe couldn’t attend that dinner but wanted to come to something that was fun,” Feldman said of the origins of the music festival.
“ ‘Fun’ and ‘Holocaust’ are not put together in the same sentence,” he acknowledged with a laugh, “but I will tell you, our organization is a very upbeat organization. We are the happiest organization dealing with the most miserable subject of all time, and we’re happy because when our survivors go out to the schools we can see the impact that it has on the students. We can see it right away.”
While they typically concentrate on private, public, parochial and charter schools in the surrounding five-county area, Feldman said they go to “infinity and beyond” to reach students, provided the survivors are well enough to travel a greater distance.
Survivors visit the schools with facilitators — volunteers who drive and accompany them on the trips.
The number of survivors who participate also has grown, despite the persistence that their numbers are dwindling, though Feldman added that it is true.
“As we did more in the community, we found survivors who were independently telling their story or were not telling their story at all and were ready to tell their story,” he said. “We just continue to do it, we continue to recruit more survivors. We’re also working with [second and third generations] who will be picking up when our survivors are no longer with us.”
However, he’s also noticed that people are living longer. Seven years ago, they had eight survivors who would travel and tell their stories and participate in the program. Today, they have 30.
“We keep finding them,” he said, adding that some survivors are child survivors or were in hiding. “Unfortunately, it’s true we have lost a number of our heroes in the past few years, but our number of survivors continues to grow a little bit. One survivor who was in the Shanghai Ghetto started speaking with us four years ago at 93 [years old] — he’s 97 and still doing programs.”
Feldman first got involved with HAMEC after meeting the museum’s founder, Yaakov Riz, who lost 83 members of his family in the Holocaust. Riz established the early incarnation of the museum in 1960 in the basement of his home, which happened to be around the corner from the ice cream parlor Feldman owned and Riz frequented.
Riz has since passed, but the museum and education center has continued to grow. Feldman is committed to making sure as many students as possible can learn from the stories of these survivors.
“The world in which we live, it is so important that our young people have an opportunity to learn about the evil of prejudice and bigotry, especially state-sponsored hatred, and it is so important that our kids understand history so that they can participate in combating hatred and bigotry, both today and in the future,” he said. “Especially when there are no survivors left. It will be their responsibility, and this is what we tell them when we go out to the schools — that in the future it will be their responsibility when there are no survivors left.”
He hopes that those who come to the music festival have an enjoyable afternoon but also are able to learn more about HAMEC.
“We encourage them to come to number one, have a great time, and number two, to learn about what our organization does and to meet survivors and to see if they would like to get involved and help us with our amazing project,” he said.
Tammy Forstater echoed similar sentiments.
“Of course the music festival is front and center right now, but what our museum does is remarkable,” said Forstater, the museum’s descendant outreach director and special events director. “The Holocaust survivor numbers are dwindling, they’re aging — as we all are — but there’s fewer and fewer every year. Even with that, HAMEC in the last three years has done over 1,000 programs in schools and otherwise.”
For her, the role as descendant outreach director has a personal connection. As the child of two survivors who have since passed, Forstater has dedicated much of her professional life to being involved with various organizations associated with the Holocaust and preserving stories of survivors.
“I have been working with others at the museum to engage children and grandchildren of survivors — second and third generations — to carry on their families’ stories, deceased parents and those who may still be alive but can no longer go out and tell their stories,” she said.
She hopes festival goers will shop around with the vendors, enjoy the music and walk away with a better understanding of what HAMEC does.
“To enjoy the music, to visit with friends, to eat heartily, look at and hopefully buy from our supporting vendors and learn about the museum — ask questions and learn about what the museum has to offer,” she said. “We want people to come out and have a good time. That’s my goal for the music fest.”
Contact: mstern@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740

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