“I strongly believe that a strong and politically well-connected ADL during the Hitler period would have saved many more Jewish lives, especially children. The ADL gives us a forum to confront anti-Semitism wherever we find it. So it is important for all of us, especially the younger generations, to be an active part of the ADL so their children never experience another Holocaust.”
Eight years ago, Sandra and Erwin Pearl came to ADL New York knowing that they wanted to make a real difference. Erwin, born in Vienna, had witnessed and experienced firsthand what Austria’s Jewish community suffered after Hitler annexed his home country in 1938. Erwin came to the United States as a teenager and built from the ground up one of the most successful jewelry empires. Today Erwin Pearl, Inc. has stores you can find from Madison Avenue to Las Vegas, and also owns the largest chain company in the world. Erwin Pearl has won the prestigious Diamond International Award for five consecutive years. Erwin is a past recipient of the Dallas Fashion Award, and the Mikimoto award for pearl jewelry design. In 2011, Erwin and Sandra were presented with ADL’s Distinguished Leadership Award.
Since 2006, the Pearls have sponsored ADL New York’s ‘The Bettina (z”l) and Erwin Pearl Bearing Witness Summer Institute: Anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and Contemporary Issues.’ Bearing Witness is ADL’s special conference open exclusively for Catholic school teachers and principals to learn about the Holocaust and the long history of Catholic-Jewish relations. Special sessions were taught by a rabbi and priest together, such as “Nostra Aetate and Jewish Responses,” and “The Future of Catholic-Jewish Relations.”
Our most recent Bearing Witness conference was held on July 28-31, 2014, with over a dozen Catholic educators in the tri-state area. Some had little knowledge of Jewish traditions or anti-Semitism. Others even had Jewish heritage in their own families and wanted to discover more. It was Bearing Witness that allowed these teachers to learn for themselves and learn how to teach to young audiences difficult and often controversial subject matters.
Our Catholic teachers reported that they had two major highlights over the course of Bearing Witness: One was when a survivor shared her story as a hidden child at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park. The other was when the group headed uptown to Park Avenue Synagogue, where our Catholic teachers went on a synagogue tour, looked at an open Torah scroll, and sat down to enjoy a Model Shabbat Dinner with ADL New York lay leaders, featuring our sponsors and special guests, Sandra and Erwin Pearl. This “Shabbat dinner” brought us together as Jews and Catholics to break bread, talk, and feel comfortable discussing the week’s lessons in a personal setting.
Next year, 2015, celebrates the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate and Vatican II. Thanks to Erwin and Sandra’s continuing generosity, ‘Bearing Witness 2015’ promises to be a special year where ADL New York can continue spreading the lessons of the Holocaust to the next generation of Catholic teachers and, more importantly, to their hundreds of students.