The 6th Annual Heritage Luncheon held at YIVO on April 25, raised more than $155,000. The sold-out event honored longtime YIVO supporters Esther Mishkin and her family, internationally acclaimed artist Samuel Bak, and Solomon (Shloyme) Krystal, who has been on the YIVO board since 1979.
Event Chair Fanya Gottesfeld Heller welcomed everyone, noting, "The achievements of our three outstanding individuals and families we honor today is the best proof of our survival. I hope that you - the younger generation - will continue to tell the story and mark the full importance of our heritage."
Taking the podium, emcee Ruth Levine, National Board Member, long-time volunteer, and two-time attendee of the Uriel Weinreich Summer Program, spoke of what drives her work at YIVO, "Yiddish is a more than a language to me. It means home, family and the Jewish community of my youth. This is how I help yidishkayt alive."
The Vilna Award was presented to Samuel Bak by his long-time friend, Professor Lawrence L. Langer, Emeritus Professor of English at Simmons College in Boston. Bak, who was born in Vilna, Poland, and now lives in Massachusetts, has spent his life creating art that deals with the experience of his childhood in the Vilna ghetto and labor camps. In accepting the award, Bak reminisced about being mentored as an artist by Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever who, despite the dire conditions, "recognized my artistic talent, and helped me to organize my first exhibition." He spoke of discovering some of these surviving drawings several years ago, and the conjoined sense of sadness and joy that accompanied it.
The Me'Dor Le'Dor Award was presented to Esther Mishkin and family by YIVO Chairman Bruce Slovin, who called them "a true YIVO gem, people who understand what we do, who really embody the values that we share: family, community, and a commitment to preserving Jewish history and culture."
Esther was confined in the Kovno ghetto during the war, escaped in 1943, and went to Israel. Later she made her way to America with her husband Eliezer in 1952, where both her sons were born. She started volunteering at YIVO in 1993 upon her retirement. Jonathan, Arnon and daughter-in law Susan Fine came up to accept the award with her. Jonathon is a YIVO National Board Member, who serves as Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, and Arnon works on health and social issues like his mother, albeit on the business side.
A musical performance followed, featuring YIVO Sound Archivist Lorin Sklamberg, a founding member of The Klezmatics, who with them received a 2007 Grammy Award in the Contemporary World Music category for the album "Wonder Wheel."
National Board Member Warren Grover then presented The Lifetime Achievement Award to long-time friend Solomon (Shloyme) Krystal. After receiving his award, to resounding applause, the 95-year old National Board Member and volunteer archivist gave an impassioned speech recounting his life, the very depth and breadth of which captured YIVO's rich history and relocation from Europe to America. Born in Warsaw, Shloyme went to the Soviet republic of Kyrgyzia (Kyrgyzstan) following the Russian-Polish military treaty of 1941, returning to Poland after the war with his future wife. First emigrating to Stockholm, he finally settled in New York in 1952, the same year as Esther Mishkin.
As an endnote to the ceremony, Ella Levine, YIVO Director of Development, thanked Eta Wrobel, Campaign Chair of the YIVO Women's Committee, for her continuing work, and congratulated her on the publication of her memoir, "Eta Wrobel: My Life, My Way, the Extraordinary Memoir of a Jewish Partisan in WWII Poland." It was a fitting capstone to a ceremony filled with heartfelt tributes to honorees that exemplify YIVO's survival, resilience and continued growth.