Misguided Jewish philanthropy
April 5, 2019
As reported in this newspaper several weeks ago, a number of prominent local Jewish philanthropists have pledged millions of dollars to relocate the Holocaust Memorial, Resource and Education Center from the Jewish campus in Maitland, Florida, to an expanded site in Orlando.
Along with the relocation, the Holocaust Board has decided to change the name of the new facility to “The Holocaust Museum of Hope and Humanity.” The decision to relocate and to change the name were apparently made without broad discussion and input from the general Jewish community as to the appropriateness of both the relocation and the name change.
While recognizing the contributions and service of members of the general community to the success of the Holocaust Center, and the generous offer of land for the new facility by the City of Orlando, let us not forget that the Jewish community, including the Jewish Federation, have invested millions of dollars over the last four decades to construct and maintain the existing facility at the campus in Maitland; which is also home to the Jewish Academy of Orlando and The Roth Family Jewish Community Center, as well as housing the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando.
The Maitland campus has been and should remain an important center of Jewish life. Unfortunately, the relocation of the Holocaust Memorial, Resource and Education Center will diminish the campus as one of the main centers of Jewish life in the Central Florida area.
What is to become of the beautiful building that was designed as a memorial to the 6,000,000 Jewish victims of the Holocaust? Can it be saved at the Maitland campus to remain a memorial to the great calamity that befell the Jewish people in the 20th century?
Should it not remain as a constant reminder to all visitors to the Maitland campus, Jew and non-Jew alike, that despite the losses of more than a third of the Jewish world population in the Holocaust, the Jewish people have rebounded and have overcome every adversity, to be a positive influence, a good neighbor and a contributor to the welfare and quality of life in any community in which they reside? Will the new facility be able to recreate the centrality of the Jewish experience as the basis from which to build hope and a more humane society?
Last year I touched on this subject when I wrote: “The Holocaust Memorial, Resource and Education Center has done great work in teaching tolerance and mutual respect to the diverse communities in Central Florida, but its heart and soul is to remember the Holocaust as a unique Jewish experience from which the community can learn these lessons of tolerance, respect and other aspects of human relations.”
Will the Holocaust as a unique Jewish experience be of less significance or lost to future visitors at the new location in Orlando? Will the relocated Holocaust Center, founded by Jewish Holocaust survivors, lose its Jewish character as a memorial, research and education facility by removing these key words from its name?
I respectfully suggest that, despite the good intentions of these major financial contributors who are financing the relocation, expansion and name change of the Holocaust Center, their respective contributions could better serve the Jewish community by retiring campus debt, maintaining, strengthening and expanding all the Jewish agencies currently located at the Maitland campus, including the Holocaust Memorial, Resource and Education Center.
In you wish to comment or respond you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do so in a rational, thoughtful, respectful and civil manner.
Mel Pearlman holds B.S. & M.S. degrees in physics as well as a J.D. degree and initially came to Florida in 1966 to work on the Gemini and Apollo space programs. He has practiced law in Central Florida since 1972. He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando; was a charter board member, first Vice President and pro-bono legal counsel of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, as well as holding many other community leadership positions.