“Faith and Destiny” premieres: Statewide tribute to area rabbi and his wife
By Cindy Mindell
Nearly 70 years ago, Philip Lazowski became a survivor. He chronicles his boyhood escape from Nazi-occupied Lithuania in “Faith and Destiny,” a memoir that follows the 11-year-old from a Belarus ghetto to Bielitza to the forests of Lithuania and finally, six years later, to a new life in New York.
Ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Lazowski came to Hartford in the early 1950s, when he learned that Miriam Rabinowitz, the woman who had saved his life in Bielitza, was living in the area. He married Miriam’s daughter, Ruth, and the couple raised three sons.
Lazowski served as rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom in Hartford from 1955 to 1969, then became spiritual leader of Beth Hillel Synagogue in Bloomfield. He retired from the pulpit in 2000, the same year he was appointed State Senate chaplain.
That’s the abridged, incomplete biography. On Sunday, Sept. 19, many of the gaps and details will be filled in when Rabbi Philip and Ruth Lazowski are honored at the film premiere of “Faith and Destiny,” for a half-century of service to the Jewish community and for teaching the lessons of the Holocaust in countless classrooms.
The tribute will be presented by Voices of Hope, a statewide organization created by descendants of Holocaust survivors to collect, categorize, and share the experiences of Holocaust survivors for the benefit of future generations. All proceeds from the event will help Voices of Hope in its objectives to maintain historical accuracy about the Holocaust, teach subsequent generations about the evils of prejudice and intolerance, and foster a culture of courage against hate, bigotry, and inhumanity.
Only a year old, Voices of Hope came together after the 2008 statewide Holocaust commemoration at the Connecticut State Capitol. Coordinated by the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut (JFACT) and led each year by a different host agency, the ceremony was organized that year by the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, with Rabbi Lazowski as keynote speaker and his son, Alan, as event chair.
“Alan realized that, while his parents are both healthy and able to talk about their experiences, the number of Holocaust survivors alive today who can still do that is very, very small,” says Robert Fishman, executive director of JFACT. “It was time that he and his fellow second-generation descendants get together and recognize their responsibility to pass on the legacy.”
Under the auspices of the JFACT Fund, the organization’s non-profit wing, Voices of Hope created a statewide network of children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. This year, educators from the Anti-Defamation League’s Connecticut regional office trained group members to become speakers on the subject of the Holocaust.
Alan Lazowski, Voices of Hope’s chair, commissioned Hartford-area filmmaker Steve Shaw to make a short documentary of “Faith and Destiny” and will MC the evening. The tribute will also include a performance by musician and Hartt School of Music student Raymond Clark III, who visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with the Lazowskis as a Bloomfield High School student in 2007. Inspired by the experience, Clark composed and performed a piece at the 2008 State Capital Holocaust commemoration.
“Rabbi Lazowski is more than a friend and mentor,” says Dr. Joseph Olzacki, co-founder with Lazowski of The Identity Project at Bloomfield High School. As part of the genocide-education program, students read “Faith and Destiny,” then meet with Lazowski to discuss the book. “When he enters the classroom, the kids stand up, spontaneously,” Olzacki says. “They all have so much respect for him. I call him ‘Dziadzia,’ the Polish word for ‘Grandpa.’ Both he and Ruth are extremely special people. They put their hearts into everything they do and exemplify the purest goodness. If the Holocaust were ever to happen again, I would sacrifice my life for them.”
“Faith and Destiny,” a documentary film premiere and tribute to Rabbi Philip and Ruth Lazowski: Sunday, Sept. 19, at the Mandell JCC in West Hartford. For more information call (860) 727-5771 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.