2018-02-14 / Voice at the Shore

Remembering Marsha Grossman, 1932-2017: Holocaust center founder leaves rich legacy

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER Voice shore editor

Grossman received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Stockton in 2010 for her work to establish its Holocaust Resource Center. Grossman received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Stockton in 2010 for her work to establish its Holocaust Resource Center. Marsha Grossman, whose vision and determination led to the creation of Stockton’s Holocaust Resource Center, left an indelible legacy to the Jersey Shore’s Jewish community.

The Atlantic City native, mother of four, and former Jewish Federation president will be remembered by the local Jewish community for her commitment to the community and to the Jewish people, her determination to act on their behalf, and her passion for making sure that the stories of local Holocaust survivors would not be lost.

Grossman passed away Aug. 20. She was 84.

“Marsha epitomized the leadership of her generation; she was very attached to Israel and had strong feelings about the Holocaust,” said Bernie Cohen, who began as executive director of the local Jewish Federation in 1983, when Grossman was its president. “She was a passionate person, very determined; once she decided on a course of action, she was one of the most persistent people I know—indefatigable!”

Gail Rosenthal, director of Stockton University’s Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, agreed.

“When she believed in a cause, she was passionate about it. If she saw a need in our community, she tried to fulfill it,” said Rosenthal, who was befriended by Grossman when she first moved to the area in 1973 as a young wife and mother. “We are fortunate we had her here to preserve our Holocaust survivors’ stories.”

Stanley Grossman, Marsha’s husband of 63 years, met her on the beach when both were in their early teens. They married in their early 20s and had four children. While raising her family, Marsha became very involved in the Jewish community, eventually serving as campaign chair and president of the local Jewish Federation.

Marsha, “a semi-observant, Conservative Jew,” had a “strong sense of Jewish identity,” said her husband Stanley. She expressed her Judaism through hosting family Shabbat dinners and being an active, hands-on leader in Jewish community organizations.

Her Judaism “was about being a fighter for what was right for the Jewish people,” said her son, Michael Grossman, who is now president of the Grossmans’ 106-year-old family business, Kensington Furniture in Northfield.

He vividly remembers his parents’ reaction when the Yom Kippur war broke out in 1973. “I remember sitting in synagogue on the High Holidays and rushing out because the war had begun—how it impacted them,” he said. “They immediately switched into fundraising mode right after synagogue.”

Soon after that, Marsha and Stanley embarked on a mission to Israel, where Marsha made a generous pledge of support to the embattled young nation that surprised even Stanley. “She was passionate about Israel, their safety and security,” he noted.

She also participated in the March on Washington on behalf of Soviet Jewry in 1987.

Marsha’s determination to create the Holocaust Resource Center stemmed from a deep desire to “right the wrongs,” said Anne Bullen, a member of the Holocaust Resource Center Executive Committee, who is married to the Grossmans’ son Mark. Marsha was troubled by her belief that “not enough had been done during the war to save European Jewry. She felt everyone should have done more. The resource center was her way of trying to address this,” Bullen explained.

Indeed, after taking part in a trip to Eastern Europe with many Holocaust survivors, where she saw Auschwitz and other concentration camps, Marsha “became determined about remembrance,” said Stanley.

The seeds for Stockton’s Holocaust Resource Center “germinated” shortly after that trip, said Bernie Cohen, when the Grossmans attended his son’s bar mitzvah. Stanley and Marsha, who was then president of the Jewish Federation, were seated at a table with Judge Gerald Weinstein, then immediate past president of the Jewish Federation, his wife Claire, and four local Holocaust survivors who had traveled to Eastern Europe with the Grossmans: Sam and Sara Schoffer, and Miriam and George Greenman.

To the Grossmans’ surprise, the Schoffers and Greenmans started talking about what had happened to them during the Holocaust over lunch, something that local survivors rarely did at the time. “I can’t explain it, but for some reason people trusted Marsha,” said Stanley.

After that bar mitzvah conversation, Marsha sprang into action. “She told me, ‘we can’t afford to lose these stories,’” said Stanley.

It was 1985, and Marsha began researching emerging initiatives to preserve Holocaust survivors’ stories. She reached out to Joanne Rudof, who oversaw an archive of Holocaust survivor testimonies at Yale University, which were started in 1982. Marsha arranged for Rudof to come to the shore to train 25 volunteers Grossman had recruited to interview Holocaust survivors, said Gail Rosenthal, who was one of those volunteers.

Jane Stark, who was then general manager of the local TV station (WMGMTV-40), was another recruit. Marsha wanted to use the TV station’s facilities to produce professional-quality videotapes of survivor testimonies.

“I went to my boss and said, ‘Listen, Marsha Grossman wants us to do this,’“ Stark recalled. “He said, ‘This is a business; how can we do this?’ But she convinced him that it was worthwhile. The TV station did it as a public service.”

This was typical of Marsha, said Rosenthal. “She never took ‘no’ for an answer. If you said ‘no,’ she would call you back to change your mind. It was never about Marsha, it was about the cause, the results she was trying to achieve for the sake of the community.”

After producing videotapes of 52 survivors, Marsha set her sights on making a home for the tapes at Stockton, where people could come to view and learn from them. She and Bernie Cohen arranged a meeting with college president Vera King Farris to ask for a space in the library for the oral histories.

When they met, “Farris said, ‘Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you to come see me!’” Stanley recalled Marsha telling him. “’You need more than a space in the library; you need a Holocaust resource center.’”

Notably, Farris had been a vice president at Kean College (now Kean University) in Union, NJ, which had started a Holocaust resource center in 1982, the year before Farris left there for Stockton.

So when Grossman and Cohen came to her, Farris “had already been thinking about it and said, ‘hey, let’s do it!” said Cohen. “She and Marsha were an incredible, energetic team.”

Grossman and Farris quickly became friends. “They were like sisters of the heart,” said Bullen. “Marsha would sometimes have her over for High Holiday meals,” Bullen recalled.

Stockton’s Holocaust Resource Center opened in 1990. Marsha was the first chair of its executive committee. Although Marsha, like many women of her generation, had never finished college, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Stockton in 2010 for her work to establish HRC.

The HRC “was a crowning achievement for Marsha,” said Cohen, noting that it has “gone on to become a beacon in the community and is one of the foremost institutions of its kind in the country.”

According to Yad Vashem, said Rosenthal, Stockton now has more undergraduate courses in Holocaust and Genocide Studies than any other university in the world. It also offers a graduate degree in Holocaust and genocide studies. All of this began with the HRC, she noted. “This is Marsha’s legacy.”

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