It was just a letter sent by a 13-year-old boy from New Jersey to the Louis Posner Memorial Library at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, asking if we could donate a book to the “Good Works Project,” which he, Daniel Shapiro, had undertaken for his Bar Mitzvah.
When a Jewish boy turns 13, in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah ceremony at which he will attain all the rights and responsibilities of an adult, he is expected to assume a task or perform a good deed that demonstrates his readiness to be a “man.”
We have received other letters like his in the past. Some children dedicate themselves to helping an organization. Local children have volunteered to help at our Center or in our Children’s Memorial Garden. But this letter-writer is the grandson of two Holocaust survivors and he had a different idea. You see, his mother’s parents are Holocaust survivors and grandpa is a storyteller.
When the Nazis invaded Poland, Daniel’s grandfather was a young man and had just been accepted to a Polish medical school. That aspiration was impossible, but the Nazis could not deprive him of his ingenuity. When the Jews were ordered to wear the yellow star to alert everyone to their being Jews, he sewed his star on one edge only, right above a pocket, so he could conceal it when necessary. This is one of many stories his grandfather has related to his daughter, Daniel’s mother.
Another is how the Nazis invited their starving Jewish prisoners to a special meal on Yom Kippur, a day of fasting. Daniel’s grandfather refused it. Those who attended were shot.
Daniel wrote that his grandfather was a hero, a gentle person who still believed in God. When Daniel’s father asked him how can he believe in God, he answered: “How could I not?”
He is the inspiration for Daniel’s ambitious and meaningful goal undertaken as the “Good Works Project.” After consulting with the director of a new college library being built at Montclair State University in New Jersey, Daniel has dedicated himself to supplying the library with a special collection of books. The criteria for inclusion are: books that relate to the Holocaust, the Jewish experience since World War II, and books that discuss religious tolerance for all religions. The library director accepted the proposal with alacrity and specified that he will need “books of historical non-fiction only, art books and others that are rare, out-of-print or educational.”
Daniel has written to possible sources from all over the world. He came into our library bearing an album of letters he has written to world leaders and Holocaust Museums and their (or their secretaries or ministers’) responses to him. These had accompanied their donations of between one and three books.
Among the American leaders he has written and received responses from are President Obama, former Presidents Clinton and Carter, and Senator Lieberman (from Connecticut).
He has also written to Pope Benedict XVI, Shimon Peres, the Israeli Embassy, Queen Elizabeth of England, the United Nations, Italy, Budapest, Stockholm, and other Holocaust Centers.
“I thought that it would be even more interesting if I were to get donations from institutions that house this history, so I asked for their help in supplying this special section of the new library,” Daniel told me.
The Imperial War Museum in London, the Capetown Holocaust Center, the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Center in Toronto, Canada, and the Museum of Resistance and Deportation in Grenoble each sent books.
As for our own country, I noted letters from the Holocaust Memorial Center of Michigan, two of Florida’s Holocaust Museums, the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York and individual government officials. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), being a U.S. government museum, could not give away its books, yet six books were personally donated by a volunteer supporter of the museum.
Our Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center located in Glen Cove, N.Y. is so far the largest donor of Holocaust books with a total to date of sixty two books. Dr. Posner, the library's director, has always accepted books that people wish to give away when they move to smaller quarters or when a parent dies. We still welcome such gifts and keep them for this very purpose.
Daniel and his father were impressed by our library and museum, and spent hours touring the exhibits with docent Caroline Dinofsky.
Reported by Dr. Marcia W. Posner