September 14, 2009

Fred Gottschalk

Fred Gottschalk and DGM, Spring 2001

(Photo by Melanie Einzig)

Dr. Alfred Gottschalk died on Saturday after a long struggle to recover from injuries that he received in an automobile accident last fall. I attended his funeral today at the Plum Street Temple in Cincinnati. Fred was my boss for a number of months when I first arrived at the Museum. He had assumed a new position at the Museum -- that of President -- after the founding director, David Altshuler resigned in 1999.

Fred came to the Museum after a brilliant career at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), where, following in the footsteps of his mentor, Nelson Glueck, Fred became President 1971 and Chancellor in 1995.

Fred was a huge personality with great personal charm, genuine warmth, and intelligence. Born in Germany in 1930, Fred and his family were lucky to get out after Kristallnacht and make their way to the United States. After Boys High and Brookyn College, Fred attended HUC and was ordained a Rabbi in 1957. He later earned a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.

His impact on the Jewish world was immense, not only through his own contribution as a scholar and communal leader, but also in the impact he had on the thousands of rabbis and other religious and communal leaders, whom he taught and touched in profound ways. Fred ordained the first female Rabbi and did much to strengthen and make more meaningful Jewish life in America.

There were four eulogies at the funeral today. Three by distinguished Rabbis -- all students of Fred's -- and one by his daughter on behalf of his family. The collective message of all of them was that Fred Gottschalk was an extraordinary figure both in his public accomplishments and in the human qualities he brought to his friendships and private relationships.

I was fortunate, indeed, to have had a chance to work closely with Fred Gottschalk, to have been by his side for a while, and to have called him my friend.

September 11, 2009

September 11th

View From My Apartment Window 

It's impossible today not to focus on memories, and my mind keeps circling back to an event that we held at the Museum in early 2002 for the community to offer thoughts on healing after 9/11.  Here are the remarks that I delivered at that emotional event:

Remembering and rebuilding represent the essential themes of this Museum. Carefully carved into the granite in our lobby are two quotes form the Bible: “Remember, Never Forget,” and “There is hope for the future.”

We take these messages seriously and reflect them in our programs, in our exhibitions, and in our actions.

Shortly after 9/11, I met with Museum chairman Robert Morgenthau. He gave me very clear instructions: (1) reopen the Museum as soon as possible, and (2) continue with the planning for the construction of the East Wing.

On October 5, we held a ceremony in this room, attended by Governor Pataki, Senator Clinton, and NYC officials, and reopened this Museum. In late November, we began construction on the East Wing. We were able to achieve these important objectives only through heroic and Herculean efforts on the part of Museum staff.

I want to say something about the staff.

Although the Museum had not yet opened to the public when the WTC was attacked on the morning of 9/11, the staff was here in the Museum building and in our executive offices across Battery Park. They were among the first to see the second plane as it flew overhead and hit the second tower. They were intimate eye-witnesses to these events, and each has there own story of how they got from work to home that night or in the days following.

Each has had their own reaction to the tragedy. Each of them came back to work and focused their considerable energy on reopening the Museum and providing programs again for the public. And each has dealt every day in different ways with the aftermath of that morning. I am immensely proud of my colleagues and grateful to them.

As many of you may know, I was in Germany on 9/11 and was spared the trauma of the witness. I experienced a kind of exile in Berlin, connected to my colleagues and my family by CNN and

Last night, in thinking about what I would say this evening, I reviewed some of my email communications from 9/11. I came across an email that my then 13 year-old son, Gabriel, sent me. (I recall my wife describing my son in this effort as a cross between Homer Simpson and Benjamin Franklin.) My family lives in University Park, Maryland, where I join them each weekend. A family from our neighborhood was on the plane that hit the Pentagon, and Gabe had gone to elementary school with one of the two little girls, Zoe, who was killed.

Late in the evening of 9/11, he wrote this email to all of his friends and family. I received it in my cramped hotel room in Berlin. I quote from it here because it seems appropriate for this evening.

Gabe wrote: ”I understand that people handle their anger and sorrow in many different ways, and I respect it… This is a time when we want to retreat to our childhood, just to be a small child with no idea what's happening and just to sit there and be told by our parents that everything's going to be ok. With that in mind, I feel that we should all be there for each other. I have two shoulders here, and if you need them to cry on, I'm here for you.”

This event is our attempt as an institution to address the issues raised by our collective and individual responses to 9/11, and to serve our community, to be there for you.

We are very gratified that so many of you came this evening. I see among you colleagues and neighbors. This evening is for you, but unlike any other program that we have ever done, it is also for us.

September 1, 2009

70 Years Ago...

German soldiers prepare to enter Poland

World War II began seventy years ago today with the German invasion of Poland, and the world was forever changed.

I recall that on the 50th anniversary -- 20 years ago -- (I was living in Berlin and serving as the Director of the Berlin Document Center) I was invited to participate in an international conference on the start of World War II, which was held at the Reichstag building in West berlin. Our host was Rita Süssmuth, the President of the German Bundestag, and I recall having a tour of the building. This was, of course, still divided Berlin, and we were taken to a room on the east side for a photo-op of Frau Süssmuth gazing out at East Berlin.

The conference, which was by invitation only, was attended by a small number of historians from around the world. We were hosted one evening by Chancellor Kohl at Schloß Charlottenburg. I recall that he spoke from handwritten notes for perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes and then joined us for a glass of wine. He was particularly interested in speaking with a French scholar (whose name I can no longer remembe) whose work on the Third Republic had made a deep impression on Kohl. I was taken by Kohl's engagement and the level of his participation in this event.

Six weeks after this conference, on October 6th, I observed the preparations for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the DDR. Erich Honecker invited Gorbachev, Ceauşescu and other leaders of East Bloc countries. There was a military parade and stirring oratory. Four weeks later, the Berlin Wall fell, and the world changed again...