The Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation is in the early stages of a $9 million endowment campaign and artist interviews for a new mural at its Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial Plaza. Its goal is to enhance its mission of educating students and adults about the Holocaust and to attract more people to the plaza on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
And now it has a new chairman of its board of directors to lead those endeavors: Jared Szychter.
The 40-year-old Villanova resident, who belongs to the Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne, has a simple pitch to potential donors.
“One of the primary ways of combating antisemitism is through education, and that’s one of the big things that the Holocaust foundation does,” he said. “We always continue to look for new ways, new school districts to get into.”
Szychter grew up a Reform Jew in Bucks County. His family attended Shir Ami in Newtown. Szychter went to Hebrew school, had a bar mitzvah and learned about the Holocaust.
As an adult, he became a CPA and started working for 1932 Capital Management. Once he established himself, he also became Jewishly involved. Szychter sits on the finance committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Before becoming board chair for the Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, he served as its treasurer.
While working with the foundation, he realized that many public school students, especially those who aren’t Jewish, do not get the same amount of Holocaust education that he did growing up. It’s a lesson in a curriculum. But that’s usually it.
For a man with two Holocaust survivor grandparents, it didn’t seem like enough. The realization made him believe in the foundation’s mission. The PHRF has provided trainings to more than 1,400 educators, and created lesson plans available on its website. It also hosts field trips to the plaza.
“Antisemitism, intolerance, at the heart of it is a lack of education, a lack of understanding,” Szychter said.
Szychter’s grandparents didn’t talk much about their experience. They were married before the Holocaust, and they lost a daughter, the older sister of Szychter’s father. They also lost parents and siblings.
But the grandson got stories “here and there,” and one stood out. His grandfather was one of those Jews who found ways to get things into the ghetto. One time though, the Nazis caught him and knocked out some of his teeth with the butt of a rifle.
“It was tough,” Szychter said. “You saw in them the rest of their lives have different forms of paranoia.”
Later, as a college student, Szychter took a Birthright trip to Israel. It made him feel his Jewish identity in a deeper way than ever before.
“From thousands of years ago being part of this tribe that survived so many hardships — it made Judaism more meaningful,” he said.
He also remembered that he felt comfortable in a way that he never did back home. Jews were the majority in Israel.
“It’s different,” he said.
The experience reminded Szychter of the importance of raising his children in the faith. Beth David, like Shir Ami, is a Reform congregation. Szychter’s kids are in Hebrew school there. His son will have a bar mitzvah in June 2024.
“Once you get married and have kids, you have a different perspective on your Jewish identity and passing it down,” Szychter said.
In addition to continuing the foundation’s educational mission, Szychter wants to connect it to the modern day. Israel was attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7 and remains at war. Antisemitism has also increased in the United States since the mid-2010s.
The foundation has already begun doing that, and Szychter will work on other ways to foster that connection. He is also excited about the mural, which will be 2,500 square feet and in a prominent position on the parkway.
“We’re not going to be able to hear firsthand stories from survivors much longer,” Szychter said. “We’re just going to have their video testimony and the historical context.”