At the young age of fourteen in the predominantly Jewish town of Pryztyk, near Radom, Morry Malcmacher witnessed first-hand a violent pogrom fueled by his Polish neighbors. Three years later when the Germans invaded in 1939, Malcmacher found himself fighting for survival in a series of slave labor, concentration, and death camps. Upon liberation in 1945, he spent four years in a displaced persons camp in Feldafing, Germany before immigrating to the United States, ultimately settling down in University Heights. The roughly 96,000 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust that came to the US had to adjust to a new country, a new culture, and learn to live again while coming to terms with the murder of immediate family members, distant relatives, and friends. In 1959 Malcmacher and a small group of forward-thinking survivors in Cleveland laid the groundwork for a new organization that could help survivor émigrés make that transition.
Inspired by Voice of Israel, the clandestine radio station of the underground paramilitary force (Haganah) in Mandatory Palestine, the group opted for the phonetically identical, if orthographically different, name (in Hebrew) Kol Israel, or “All of Israel.” The Foundation elected its first officers in February 1960 and was chartered by the State of Ohio the following year. In 1963 the Sisterhood of Kol Israel, a division, was created to raise funds for the Foundation’s many initiatives. A third division, called Second Generation (2G), was formed in 1978 by the children of survivors with a commitment to continuing the legacy of their elders. All three divisions merged in 2013 as membership numbers dwindled. Three years later witnessed the birth of 3G (mainly the grandchildren of survivors) which has refocused Kol Israel on Holocaust education as well as efforts to curb all forms of hate and bigotry. Noteworthy is its Share Our Stories program which brings the children or grandchildren of survivors into local junior- and high-school classrooms who show and discuss recorded survivor accounts of their loved ones. And Kol Israel’s 2019 acquisition of Shaarey Tikvah’s Face to Face Holocaust education initiative reaffirms the organization’s commitment to “Never Forget.”
If not so clearly articulated in the formalistic language of its first charter, from the very beginning the Kol Israel Foundation has had three distinct, but related goals. For those who found themselves in Cleveland with no support network, Kol Israel privately offered financial assistance, smoothed access to vocational and housing services, and provided much needed emotional and psychological support via social gatherings and organized events. Secondly, the foundation was committed to supporting the State of Israel. From planting forests there through the Jewish National Fund, to donating ambulances to Magen David Adom (national emergency services), to buying State bonds, and giving monies to the Israeli Defense Forces, Kol Israel has been steadfast in its advocacy. The third aim from the outset has been Holocaust memorialization, in the form of holding annual Yom Hashoah events (Holocaust Remembrance Day), participating in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial Services, and most notably building one of the first Holocaust monuments of its kind in the United States. In 2009 the Jewish Federation bestowed its highest honor, the Charles Eisenman Award, on the Foundation for its exceptional civic engagement.
The brainchild of Kol Israel’s first treasurer, Morry Malcmacher, the matzavah (grave marker) to the memory of six million murdered Jews was originally planned for Mount Olive Cemetery, but because of space constraints, was built in Zion Memorial Cemetery in Bedford Heights. It was unveiled at a public ceremony in 1961 attended by some 600 people, including Cleveland Mayor Anthony Celebrezze, who, during a speech averred “the lesson we must learn from it [the Holocaust]…is that it must not happen again.” Israeli writer Zvi Kolitz, perhaps best known for his Yosl Rakover Talks to God, gave the keynote address.
Designed and installed by Kotecki Family Memorials of Cleveland, the hulking monument of French Creek granite consists of a Star of David-capped obelisk which stands 17 ft. tall sandwiched between two 14 ft. panels. Haunting engravings on those panels depict a mother with two children and a man clutching a Torah scroll, all preparing to be engulfed by flames. Inscriptions in Hebrew and English front and rear call attention to the Nazi genocide and offer solace. At the foot of the memorial lies a crypt which holds the remains of Jewish martyrs secured from Poland.
On that sunny spring day in 1961 Kol Israel President William Miller announced that the memorial service was to become an annual event, and the Foundation has more than made good on that promise. The non-profit’s Memorial Committee, along with its co-sponsor the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, continues to hold the memorial service at the site between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The family and friends of victims attend this solemn event which features a candle-lighting ceremony and the Kaddish, or Mourner’s Prayer. Each spring, the co-sponsors also hold a Holocaust Remembrance Day Event, wherein local dignitaries, religious leaders, survivors, liberators, and the public gather to commemorate the Shoah (Destruction). A granite knee wall, which has surrounded the monument since 1996, lists the names of some 1,300 victims and survivors who have since died, a jarring reminder of not only the duty to bear witness, but also just how much the legacy of the Holocaust has impacted Cleveland and the community. The Ohio History Connection of Columbus recognized that impact in 2017 by installing an Ohio Historical Marker.
Several hundred Holocaust survivors still live in the Cleveland area and the Kol Israel Foundation continues to support this vulnerable, yet dwindling population. Even when the last survivor has passed on, their mission to keep memory alive and combat intolerance via educational initiatives means the Foundation is well-positioned to carry on that most important of Jewish values, tikuun olaam (mending the world) in the 21st century.