A post by David Fetterman, advisor to the Board of Directors

A House Built by Hope is a story about the Holocaust, compassion, and community and a stand against institutional racism.  It is a film about a small Jewish community in Connecticut, where I grew up.  It was special in part because many of the families were Holocaust survivors.  The synagogue, now an historic site listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the community gave them hope for a new life, in stark contrast to the atrocities they witnessed and experienced in the concentration camps.  The video is a product of the Temple Beth Israel Preservation Society.

The story differs from many others in that it highlights the support and compassion of the larger non-Jewish community.  Community members donated money and auctioned livestock to help this new fledgling Jewish community build a temple and worship according to their faith.  They welcomed people who were different on the surface, practicing another religion with unfamiliar customs.  Many spoke another language.  All too many were tattooed with numbers as permanent reminders of the inhumanity they had experienced first-hand.

It was a time when Jews were under attack and the moral order of the world in question. However, as Norman Berman, former President of the Society, explained while introducing the premiere of this documentary film and its historical context: “Anyone with a sense of decency, anyone who cares about history and truth (both of which are under serious attack these days) knows that the Jew is not the cause of problems any more than the Christian, the Muslim, the feminist or the immigrant.  They know that the Holocaust was real, and that the real problem is hatred and intolerance, antisemitism, racism, white supremacy, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia – all stemming from ignorance.”

This film shares a story of particular poignance in light of the death of George Floyd, the African-American man killed by the police in Minneapolis.  In the spirit of the Preservation Society’s mission, they have issued a clear statement in support of social justice and against racism.

We grieve the loss of George Floyd and so many others whose names we know and so many more who are unknown to us.  We firmly believe that America’s racial and religious diversity is its strength and that we are weakened by our failure to appreciate, respect and celebrate that diversity.  Our mission at the Preservation Society is bound up with the fight for tolerance and civil rights and against discrimination and racism.  WE STAND with all who grieve.  Today, we renew our commitment to confront injustice and to continue to work for a more just and beautiful world.  

This film is a story of hope and what we as Americans aspire to be.  This 30-minute film, accompanied by a curriculum guide that is being developed, will be used to educate high school students, teaching them about religious freedom, tolerance and understanding.

Board of Directors’ Executive Committee members providing guidance concerning these efforts include Paula Rosenberg Bell, Evert Gawendo, Rosa Drobiarz Goldblatt, Sheri Abrams, Joel Rosenberg and Norman Berman.  My mother, Elsie Fetterman, helped secure support for these efforts from the Daughters of the American Revolution and a Mass Humanities grant.  Jim Lescault, executive director of Amherst Media, produced the film.  Simon Leutz, Amherst Pelham Regional High School, is leading the effort to create a cohesive curriculum to accompany the film.