Assemblyman Charles D. Lavine (D-Glen Cove) was honored to be a member of the panel speaking at the reopening and new exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County on Jan. 21. The Assemblyman was joined on the panel by Holocaust survivor Gloria Glantz; Erica Witover, the daughter of Holocaust survivors; 14-year-old Carly Haft, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor; Howard Maier, chairman of the board, Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center; and former Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta.
Panel members discussed their personal connection to the Center and its noble mission. The following is the text of Assemblyman Lavine’s remarks:
"It is for me a real honor to be part of this grand reopening for professional reasons and for personal reasons.
"For the professional part, I am privileged to represent Glen Cove and surrounding communities in the State Assembly in Albany. And in that capacity, the truly outstanding work of the Center easily deserves the recognition and the gratitude of the people of the State of New York.
"But this center is, from my personal point of view, at least as important for two reasons.
"First, I live just a couple of blocks away. This diverse little City of Glen Cove has been my home for 30 years and I take great pride in this Center being in my hometown and in my neighborhood.
"But beyond that, what you all do here is to fight for human rights. And that should always be personal because there is something uniquely American about that.
"So let me share a little about my family with you. My grandmother, in whose house I grew up, came to the U.S. from Lithuania around 1910. She was 1 of 14 children. Only she and one sister came to America, leaving 12 brothers and sisters in Europe. One brother was murdered as a youngster when he dared to skate on ice where Jews were simply not allowed, leaving 11 siblings.
"My grandmother had a cardboard box in her house that was filled with letters from her large family in Europe. The envelopes were all constructed of flimsy, oniony paper. The letters were in Yiddish, with Hebrew script. I remember that the post dates ended somewhere in the mid- to late-1930s, and then there were no more. Not one of her family survived the murderous butchery of the Nazi regime.
"Even though I regarded them as family treasures, and I had once hoped to have them translated so we could learn the names of those people and about the lives they led, those letters too were sadly lost to history and I could not find them after my parents both passed away a few years ago.
"And so, an entire branch of my family, the majority of my family, remains unknown. And although they can no longer speak, this Center speaks for them.
"This little story, a personal story, helps me to put your work here in the context it deserves and it is just one reason that I support this Center both professionally as a member of the Assembly, and that my wife Ronnie and I support it personally.
"While this Center is certainly about the tragic events of the mid-20th century, it is as well about doing our humane best to educate and to fight for human rights, especially for those who lack the ability to fight for themselves, to ensure that the barbarity of hate, fear and prejudice does not again dehumanize, demean and marginalize those ‘outsiders’ who may simply be disliked.
"As predicted by a Department of Homeland Security report released in April of 2009, which was much maligned for the most crass and opportunistic of political reasons, anti-Semitic violence has again reared its ugly head on our American shores.
"We have in recent months witnessed vandalism, desecration and violence against Jews and synagogues on Long Island and in our own State of New York.
"It is because we will not permit this shameful conduct to fester and continue on our watch that the work of this remarkable Center is so profoundly significant.
"This Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, which has already educated tens of thousands of people, is an essential part of our evolution into a society of kind and decent human beings, a truly American ideal.
"And so, I offer congratulations to all the staff, volunteers and especially to those who survived the Nazi war against the Jews, who each and every day work so very hard to make the mission of this Center a reality."