Loudoun's Irwin Uran Gift Fund
by Sue Evans
In the summer of 1999, Loudoun County Public Library Director Douglas Henderson accepted a $1 million dollar bequest from philanthropist Irwin W. Uran. Irwin Uran's goal of a greater understanding of our neighbors and better relations among all people guides the mission of this gift. The Irwin Uran Gift Fund (a part of the endowment) would provide programs and materials focusing on the cultural and historical impact of the Jewish Holocaust and on Jewish and Klezmer music. The library responded with a range of programming and materials that would not only edify and entertain, but would provide venues for thought and discussion of the Holocaust's effects on history and modern politics.
Loudoun County, Virginia, located 30 miles from Washington, DC, is growing rapidly from an agrarian to a suburban community. It is one of the fastest growing counties in the country with more than 15,000 individuals moving in annually. The rapid growth reflects an ever-changing demography.
In an effort to appeal to the county's changing demography, programs have been scheduled in senior centers, intermediate and high schools (both public and independent), in the open, and in libraries. The programs targeted youth, families, seniors, and minorities. The programs appealed to the humanitarian, the academic, and the aesthetic. Partners for programs included the Hospice of Northern Virginia, the Library of Virginia and the Library of Virginia Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Book, Lila Wallace Readers' Digest Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, and National Video Resources, in partnership with the Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Response to and participation in the Irwin Uran Gift-funded programs and the purchase of related materials has been tremendous. The library has hosted writers, artists, art exhibits, documentary film series, humanitarians, and musicians and has added over 3,000 items to the library's collection.
William Styron spoke to a standing-room-only audience about his Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, Sophie's Choice. The program appealed to readers, writers, and humanists of all ages. The book, an All Virginia Reads 2000 book selection, provoked the thoughtful discussion that Loudoun County Public Library and the Irwin Uran Gift Fund hoped it would. Award-winning poet Carolyn Forche read from her anthology, Poetry of Witness, and author Leo Bretholz brought his personal story, Leap into Darkness, to a Loudoun County audience. Anne Skorecki Levy, a Holocaust survivor who transformed the horrors of her childhood into a passionate mission to defeat the political menace of Louisiana's David Duke, appeared as special guest with Lawrence N. Powell, author of Levy's biography Troubled Memory.
Artist Sherry Zvares Sanabria exhibited Lagers: In the Shadow of the Holocaust along with a slide lecture, and in June of 2001, artist Jeffrey Schrier conducted workshops for over 2000 Loudoun County students and volunteers to contribute feathers to the Wings of Witness, a Holocaust Memorial sculpture in progress. The "wings" are constructed of feathers made of discarded soda can tabs collected by intermediate school children to symbolize the numbers of those individuals killed in the Holocaust. Over 20,000 students and volunteers across the country have taken part in the sculpture. At its presentation in Leesburg (on the lawn adjacent to the Rust Library), the sculpture measured 50 x 100 feet and contained over 6 million soda tabs.
The bilingual (Spanish/English) art exhibit I Never Saw Another Butterfly presented the work of children interred in the Terezin Ghetto from 1942 to 1944. The children painted, sketched, and put into verse fantasies, memories, and fears. The art recalled an awful time and an awful place but was timeless and universal in its plea for compassion.
Among the several documentary series hosted by the library were the memorable From Rosie to Roosevelt, a film history, covering Americans in World War II, and the PBS special series Witness: Voices from the Holocaust. The Witness series featured Producer-Director Joshua M. Greene and a screening of his special series, followed by commentary on and discussion of the Holocaust.
Highlighting Loudoun County Public Library's series of programs was the appearance of Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel. In his talk, Bringing People Together, Mr. Wiesel called for compassion and understanding among all people. The noted humanitarian envisioned a world in which knowledge and tolerance are the means for change. Over a thousand individuals including students and teachers attended the program. The library's benefactor, Irwin Uran, who received a standing ovation from the audience, also attended the program. Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, author of the acclaimed best seller When Bad Things Happen to Good People, spoke to another standing-room-only audience in the Loudoun County Senior Center at Cascades in a program cosponsored with the Hospice of Northern Virginia. Rabbi Kushner shared his own experiences and answered questions from an enthusiastic and interested audience.
The concerts attracted diverse audiences from the Washington, DC metropolitan area. The music was traditional and innovative, joyful and melancholy. More than 500 people gathered on the lawn of Leesburg's Ida Lee Park to hear the Klezmatics play and sing original and classic Jewish music. The harmony of the music unified the audience; they joined together in dance and song.
Through programs, concerts, events, and the purchase of library materials, Loudoun County Public Library has provided material for thoughtful discussion on the issues of tolerance and understanding and has raised the level of appreciation for Jewish and Klezmer music, thereby channeling this philanthropic gift to the people of Loudoun County and the larger metropolitan area.