Institute News

California Honors USC Shoah Foundation as they honor Yom HaShoah

USC Shoah Foundation has received a resolution from both houses of the California Legislature on Monday that commemorated the Institute’s 25th anniversary, the same day as an event at the State Capitol in honor Yom HaShoah, a day of remembrance for the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust.

Lawmakers and general public in Sacramento were also given a demonstration of the Institute’s Dimensions in Testimony interactive biography initiative, which enables visitors to ask questions to Holocaust survivors and instantly receive pre-recorded responses. They were also shown a video that showcased some of the 55,000 testimonies of survivors the Institute has collected.

USC Shoah Foundation Finci-Viterbi Executive Director Stephen Smith was on hand during the ceremony.

“It was remarkable to see the leaders of the California State Legislature remembering the Holocaust with dignity and empathy,” Smith said. “It was heartening to hear their resolve on countering antisemitism and hate in all its forms. The resolution to institute a Holocaust Memorial Day for California was passed in the presence of Holocaust survivors, taking up the commitment to make the memory and education the duty of future generations.”

Governor Gavin Newsom later stopped by a reception for the California Legislative Jewish Caucus and met Smith for a few minutes.

Sen. Ben Allen, chairman of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, stressed the importance of Holocaust education.

“Unfortunately, we are losing more and more of our teachers, our survivors, our martyrs every year,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why taping their stories, recording their stories, remembering the victims, is such an important thing.”

Presented by Allen and Assembly member Richard Bloom, Joint Members Resolutions No. 161 lists several milestones the Institute accomplished since its founding in 1994, and concluded by commending it for “its work in countering anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and other forms of hate and intolerance, as well as for the key role it is playing in developing technology to help people foster empathy, promote understanding and build respect.”

The ceremony had been planned for some time, but came just two days after a deadly attack at a Southern California synagogue left one woman dead and others injured. That incident cast a somber mood over the event and served as a reminder of the continuing importance of fighting antisemitism and all other forms of irrational hatred.

Many lawmakers stopped by to interact with Dimensions in Testimony and to ask questions of Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter, whose answers were recorded a few years earlier. Among them were Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and Sen. Holly Mitchell, whose 3th Senate District includes USC.

“We feel very deeply about the need to make a big push on Holocaust education and to make sure young people, regardless of background, understand this atrocity,” said Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, vice chair of the Legislative Jewish Caucus. “I think sometimes in the Jewish community, we assume everybody knows about it, but then, as I remind my colleagues, there are more Latinos in California than there are Jews in the world. There’s a lot of people who don’t know our history, who don’t know our story, so it’s very important that we elevate the stories. Pinchas said that. This is a universal lesson about racism and about the fact that things can spiral out of control very quickly.”