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Libeskind’s R6 mil piece collects dust at museum

The Wheel of Conscience monument commemorates a doomed Holocaust-era voyage sent back to Europe by Canada where 254 of its passengers went on to perish in the Shoah, but remains stored in Toronto warehouse.

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ANT KATZ

JTA Reports on the sad tale of a most unusual failure by one of the world’s top architects. Just days after the “Wheel of Conscience” was unveiled in January 2011, it broke down – something that would happen to the Daniel Libeskind-designed Holocaust monument twice more within the year.

In January 2012, the wheel broke again and was sent from its home at the Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for repairs at a Toronto warehouse.

Ever since, that’s where Canada’s first and only Holocaust monument outside a Jewish community institution has been sitting and, in the words of Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, “collecting dust”.

Unclear if it will ever return to Halifax

“It’s really a slap in the face for Holocaust survivors,” Farber said. (The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, or CIJA, absorbed the Canadian Jewish Congress in 2011, but the wheel remains the property of the CJC.)

Three years on, it is unclear if the wheel will ever return to Halifax – and the Jewish community is divided over whether it belonged there in the first place.

Libeskind Wheel of Conscience1The Wheel of Conscience, which features four interlocking, mechanical rotating gears, commemorates the doomed voyage of the MS St Louis, a ship carrying 937 refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939. Wandering at sea for nearly a month, the St Louis was turned away at ports in Havana and Miami before Canadian authorities denied it safe harbour in Halifax.

The ship ultimately returned to Europe, where 254 of its passengers went on to perish in the Holocaust.

The wheel’s four glass-encased gears are labelled with four words: anti-Semitism, xenophobia, hatred and racism. As they rotate, the gears slowly create and deconstruct a black-and-white image of the St Louis.

Libeskind, the internationally prominent architect who designed the Berlin Jewish Museum, has said the drawn-out process is meant to represent the bureaucratic “gears” of Canada’s pre-war government that rejected the ocean liner. The back of the wheel is emblazoned with the entire passenger manifest.

According to Farber, who visited the monument at the warehouse in mid-December, the wheel has been in working order for about a year. Still, it remains closed to the public.

Marie Chapman, CEO of Pier 21, a federally funded national museum, and Shimon Fogel, CEO of CIJA, an advocacy organisation affiliated with the Jewish Federations of Canada, have blamed the wheel’s mechanical failures on coastal environmental factors such as humidity and constant shifts in pressure and temperature.

Chapman said the wheel emitted a burning smell while its gears were rotating. “It’s a beautiful one-off design that for whatever reason doesn’t work when it gets here,” she said.

The monument, which was built with a $500 000 grant from the Canadian government, has also fallen victim to simple carelessness. It broke in January 2012 after workers lost control and dropped the wheel while unloading it from a truck into the museum.

It had just arrived back in Halifax from Toronto after a round of repairs. Chapman said the wheel has no doubt had a “difficult time” in Halifax, but stressed that it will always have a home on the East Coast.

“I want it to work, it needs to work,” she said. “If it can work at Pier 21, that’s great.” But, she added, “It’s not the only place it could be.”

The question, then, is where the Holocaust memorial belongs – at Pier 21, its intended but ill-fated home, or another site, such as the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, in Winnipeg, or the outdoor National Holocaust Monument, which Libeskind will design and is expected to open in Ottawa next year.

There is little consensus, however, as to where the Wheel of Conscience’s frustrating journey should come to an end. In an interview with JTA this week, Fogel, whose organisation is working with Pier 21 to resolve the issue, said the Holocaust memorial site in Ottawa would be an ideal location. The federal Department of Canadian Heritage said in a statement that CIJA and the museum were “working to find a home for the Wheel that is closer to the manufacturer” and “provides a more appropriate environment.”

IE not Halifax, home to about 1 500 Jews

But Sidney Zoltak, co-president of the Canadian Association of Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, said Pier 21 was the only place for a monument remembering one of the darkest moments in Canadian immigration history. Had the St Louis been permitted to dock in Halifax, its passengers almost certainly would have entered Canada at Pier 21, which like Ellis Island was a major point of debarkation for thousands of immigrants to North America.

For Zoltak, a Polish Holocaust survivor who landed at Pier 21 in May 1948, the decision to station a federally funded memorial to a failure of Canadian immigration policy at one of the country’s historic immigration hubs was a symbolic apology by the government.

“If you take that monument away and put it somewhere else, that apology, as far as I’m concerned, is not there,” he said.

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1 Comment

  1. Denis Solomons

    Dec 29, 2014 at 10:08 am

    ‘It just seems such a waste of mone y to have a 6 million dollar piece lying around at a museum collecting dust !

    surely someone can find a useful function for the Wheel of Coscience .

    Racism , xenophopia , anti-semitism ; how apt !

    The Liebeskind wheel of conscience .

    It is indeed a monument .’

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World news in brief

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Antwerp mayor warns rule flouting triggers antisemitism

The mayor of Antwerp, a city in Belgium where about 15 000 haredi Orthodox Jews live, warned that their failure to comply with COVID-19 measures has triggered some antisemitism, and it could turn into a wave.

“In the Jewish community, not everyone realises this, they have their own logic, but the backlash of public opinion that I see in my inbox, it’s terrible,” Bart De Wever, a right-wing politician who has enjoyed good relations with his city’s Jewish community, told the ATV station on Sunday, 24 January. “If we really want to move towards a wave of antisemitism, this is the way to go.”

His statement followed the two-week shutdown of a Belz synagogue by the Hasidic sect’s leaders in Antwerp. Police had determined that the shul on Van Spangen Street was twice in violation of emergency measures that forbid group prayer but allow individual worship.

Antwerp police have tolerated minyans, but have intervened when they were exceeded.

Legislators criticise Israel for not vaccinating Palestinians

Joaquin Castro, a top foreign policy Democrat in the United States House of Representatives, has joined a handful of other Democrats in criticising Israel for not supplying Palestinians with the coronavirus vaccine.

“I commend Israel for leading the world on vaccinating its people, but I’m disappointed and concerned by its government’s exclusion of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation from these vaccination efforts, despite making COVID-19 vaccines available to Israeli settlers in the West Bank,” Castrol, of Texas, told Ha’aretz this week.

A number of other Democrats, including Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Jamaal Bowman of New York, and Marie Newman of Illinois have also criticised Israel for excluding the Palestinians.

Israel says it isn’t required to vaccinate West Bank Palestinians under international law and prior agreements with the Palestinians.

Israeli museum accused of smuggling artifacts out of Warsaw

The City of Warsaw has accused an Israeli Holocaust museum of smuggling Jewish prayer artifacts out of Poland that the museum said were found inside an old bunker in the Polish capital.

The Shem Olam museum near Hadera announced this week that it had obtained 10 sets of tefillin found by construction workers in Warsaw near the entrance to a bunker dug by Jewish fighters in preparation for the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The City of Warsaw has no knowledge of the find, said spokesperson Karolina Gałecka. If Shem Olam was telling the truth about what it obtained and where, “a crime has occurred” because Poland requires anyone who finds archaeological items to report their discovery to the authorities.

Rabbi Avraham Krieger, Shem Olam’s director, said Judaica artifacts, including from the Warsaw Ghetto, are widely available for sale in Polish antique stores and online.

Leifer finally extradited to Australia

Malka Leifer has boarded a plane from Israel en route to Australia where she faces 74 charges of child sexual abuse.

Leifer fled to Israel from Australia in 2008 amid allegations that she had sexually abused students when she was the principal at the Adass Yisroel School in Melbourne. In 2014, Australia filed a formal extradition request, but Israeli authorities deemed her unstable and unfit for extradition.

After an investigation showed she was living a normal life, she was rearrested in 2018, and last year, an Israeli panel cleared her for extradition.

Leifer’s departure from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport came shortly before the country was due to ground all flights for at least a week to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Israelis torch bus in protest against COVID-19 restrictions

A mob of Orthodox Jews torched a bus in Israel after beating the bus driver amid ongoing riots protesting the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Police officers in other cities were also injured during riots in Orthodox neighbourhoods, where COVID-19 rates have spiked but residents object to lockdown restrictions.

The bus burning in Bnei Brak on Sunday, 24 January, a largely haredi or ultra-Orthodox city near Tel Aviv, came days after rioters there injured seven police officers in clashes last week. Police have sought to close haredi schools and other institutions, which has sparked a violent backlash from protesters.

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Index cards of Dutch Holocaust victims to be made public

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(JTA) Sonja Levy was a positive person who made an excellent first impression and whose important position exempted her from deportation, according to the personal card that the Jewish Council of Amsterdam made for her during the Nazi occupation.

But the accolades on the card weren’t enough to save Levy, a kindergarten teacher who was in her early 20s when the Germans invaded.

Like more than 100 000 Dutch Jews, she was eventually put on a train to the death camps in occupied Poland, and murdered there in a gas chamber.

On Monday, the ownership of her personal card – it turned out to be her first epitaph – was handed over to the main museum of the community to which she belonged.

Ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday, 27 January, the Netherlands branch of the Red Cross has transferred to the Jewish Cultural Quarter of Amsterdam ownership of more than 140 000 personal cards of Dutch Jews that are to be displayed to the public for the first time. The Jewish Cultural Quarter is an umbrella organisation of several Jewish institutions including the National Holocaust Museum of the Netherlands.

The entire index of the Jewish Council of Amsterdam, a body that the Nazis set up to have Jews oversee preparations for the extermination of their own minority throughout the Netherlands, is among the most comprehensive and best-kept registries of its kind anywhere in Europe.

It’s unusual in that it includes references to status and personal traits, reflecting how this registry, unlike most other Nazi lists, was made by for Jews by Jews.

In more than 75% of the cards, the Red Cross after World War II added the date of deportation in red ink, a rare tangible reminder of how in the Netherlands, the Nazis achieved their highest death rate anywhere in occupied Western Europe. Of about 110 000 Jews deported, only a few thousand survived.

The Red Cross has transferred its entire wartime archives to the Dutch National Archives, except for the Jewish Council’s index card archive. On Monday, the Red Cross transferred ownership of the archive to the National Holocaust Museum, which is undergoing renovations. The index will go on display next year when the museum reopens, the Red Cross said.

The index “is of great value not only as an archive, but also as a museum monument and a tangible reminder of the Holocaust”, the Red Cross wrote.

The cards were digitised in 2012, and made available for viewing online upon request for a name or other identifying details. But browsing the cards hasn’t been possible. The National Holocaust Museum of the Netherlands is now designing the cards’ display ahead of the reopening, but they will be visible for all to see, according to Emile Schrijver, the director of the Jewish Cultural Quarter.

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Bernie Sanders has his most viral week ever

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(JTA) Bernie Sanders was everywhere on James Corden’s late night show set on Thursday, 21 January.

Life-sized cardboard cut-outs of the Jewish senator in his now famous inauguration ceremony pose – hands and legs crossed, slightly crumpled in his chair, wearing a pair of fawned-over mittens – sat behind a synthesiser next to the house band, behind the bar for guests, and scattered throughout the practically non-existent audience.

“Speaking of breakout stars of the inauguration, we have another one with us in the studio,” Corden said, barely holding in his laughter.

It was a fitting indication of just how ubiquitous Sanders’ image was in pop culture and for the eyeballs of social media this week. No regular Instagram or Twitter user could have scrolled through their feeds since the presidential inauguration on Wednesday, 20 January, without seeing the mittened Sanders, usually in meme form, with humorous accompanying text, often comparing him to cranky relatives and the like.

Many employed Jewish humour along the way.

Then came the photoshop phenomenon. Social media users began splicing the Sanders’ silhouette into other photos of people and places all over the world, even into screen shots from movies and TV shows.

Our sister site Alma, not content with one long slideshow of Bernie memes on Instagram, posted three sets of Bernie photoshopped into everything from Fiddler on the Roof to When Harry Met Sally, to a Haim music video.

The meme deluge became so unrelenting, some were fatigued with the image by Friday.

An entire market of merchandise inspired by the image has quickly sprouted. The National Museum of Jewish History in Philadelphia is hawking “bundled up Bernie mugs” and more. Designers are incorporating it into their work on Etsy. Sanders’ own online store is now selling a sweatshirt with the image, and donating all of the proceeds to Meals on Wheels Vermont. Even the progressive magazine Jewish Currents has its own “Bernie merch”.

“The mug for a bris, a shiva, a long line at Zabar’s, a protracted and infuriating call with your insurance provider. This isn’t an endorsement of anything other than sitting like this,” the magazine tweeted.

As with most random internet phenomena, there’s no firm answer as to why the image went viral. Sanders has been a social media star before, most notably for the memes based on his December 2019 presidential campaign advert, in which the progressive legislator asks his supporters “once again” for donations.

But this photo seemed to capture the essence of Sanders’ public persona as the nation’s grumpy grandfather – and a Jewish one at that, with Ashkenazi features and an unmistakable Brooklyn accent. His homemade wool mittens, a symbol of Sanders’ Vermont style and his repudiation of anything fancy, also fit just a little too perfectly with a senator known for his rants about income inequality. (The gloves have a heartwarming backstory involving a public-school teacher that only helped fuel the fire.)

The intensity of the political moment, charged into a new gear after the deadly insurrection at the Capitol – especially for Jews, newly frightened by the display of antisemitism at the right-wing riot – probably had something to do with it too. The country, one could argue, was primed for a feel-good meme sensation. As a Refinery29 writer put it, the inauguration was, for the majority of liberal-leaning America, a “sigh of relief”.

Alma’s Emily Burack wrote, “As an Ashkenazi Jew with grandparents from Brooklyn, it’s hard not to feel a kindred spirit in Bernie. And in a year – well, in the past four years, really – when we’ve dealt with a rise in antisemitism, the worst antisemitic attack in American history, and an emboldened faction of white supremacists, the undeniable grumpy Jewishness of Bernie offers a real sense of catharsis.”

Writer Amanda Silberling tweeted that the memes “offered American Jews a chance to heal from the rampant antisemitism in the news cycle”.

A large part of Sanders’ appeal to his progressive fans has always been his stubborn focus on substantive policy debate and his impatience with the fluff of pop culture. As Refinery29 continued, the cross-legged Sanders photo captured that ethic perfectly.

“He has things to do and places to be. His demeanour is unsentimental, unmoved, and largely unbothered,” Michelle Santiago Cortes wrote.

Sanders’ comic response to the phenomenon was a TikTok video that expressed just that. Its caption, “Fashion? Let’s get to work.” The video showed a clip of him responding to a question about the photo on a news show and what he had “in mind” at the time of the shot.

“Two thousand dollars per adult. That’s what the Senate has got to do,” he replies, referring to the debate over how much money the next COVID-19 stimulus relief should include.

But Sanders eventually did have some sense of humour about the whole thing. The timing of the shot, taken as the country watched Joe Biden become president, prompted inevitable musings as to whether Bernie truly was cranky about the event, especially after coming so close to winning the Democratic nomination last year. Sanders, a long-time friend of Biden’s, dispelled those thoughts in an appearance on Late Night With Seth Meyers on Thursday night.

“I was just sitting there, trying to keep warm, paying attention to what’s going on,” he said to Meyers with a smile.

As the Biden era begins without the prospect of a President Sanders and subsequently no pressing need for Larry David to portray Sanders on Saturday Night Live, could this be the end of Sanders’ pop culture stardom?

As one Twitter user wrote, “If @nbcsnl doesn’t have Larry David dressed as @SenSanders in the background of every skit this weekend … then I don’t want it.”

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