Central figures: Attorney and his wife to be in spotlight at event

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

When Bernie Kent talks about the influence his mother, Ruth, had on his life, he mentions her resilience – that in spite of the fact that she spent much of her teen-age years in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps, she was an “upbeat and positive” person who was intent on reuniting her family.

“My mother was born in Lodz, Poland, the third of four children. She was deported to Auschwitz at 15. Her age saved her because anybody who was too young or too old was put to death immediately, including her mother and younger brother,” said Kent, an attorney and CPA. “After the camps were liberated, she searched for relatives, ultimately finding two brothers and a few cousins who survived. She was determined to bring what was left of her family together.”

Kent, the chairman at Schechter Investment Advisors in Birmingham, and his wife, Nina, will be honored Sunday, Nov. 17, at the Holocaust Memorial Center’s 35th Anniversary Dinner at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi for their philanthropic efforts on behalf of the Jewish community and the community-at-large.

“Of the 71 members of my mother’s family, only 11 survived the war, she and two of her brothers, seven first cousins, and an uncle. One of those cousins alone now has 35 descendants,” said Kent, who previously spent 32 years with PricewaterhouseCoopers where he was Midwest Regional Partner in charge of Personal Financial Services.

“My mother was only 20 when I was born. She was very anxious to become a mother and create life,” Kent added, as he recounted his family’s efforts to rebuild their lives after the war ended.

Forty years ago, when discussion of the Holocaust was just becoming a prominent part of the public dialogue, Kent, whose father also survived the Holocaust, became a founding member of Children of Holocaust-Survivors Association in Michigan (CHAIM.)

“A major catalyst not just for the children of survivors but for all survivors was a fictional mini-series called ‘Holocaust.’ It was very moving. It brought it home in a way that I hadn’t seen before even though my parents openly talked about their experiences,” Kent said. “After that, I became involved with CHAIM. Then, in 1981 we took part in The World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem, coming on the 36th anniversary of the liberation. There, the children of survivors met up with one another and created an international network of children of survivors.”

In 2008, Kent, a graduate of Oakland University and the University of Michigan Law School, and his wife established the Bernard and Nina Kent Judaic Studies Endowed Israel Travel Fund, a program that gives cohorts of Oakland University students an opportunity to travel to Israel where they take part in an archaeological dig.

“Nina and I were talking about what we might be able to do for Oakland University. What interested us was to facilitate student travel to Israel. At the same time, Mike Pytlik, an archeologist and director of Judaic Studies at Oakland, wanted to lead a dig to Israel,” Kent said. “We liked that idea, so for the past 11 years we’ve supported, and Mike has led, a group of about 13 to 15 students who, once they are in the country, also work with Professor Yosef Garfinkel, head of the Archaeology Institute at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.”

Despite the rigorous schedule students are required to follow, Oakland is the only university to consistently send students to work on the dig with Hebrew University, Kent said.

“Spending 10 hours a day under the hot Israeli sun is not easy work, but it’s an eye-opening experience for the kids, most of whom are not Jewish and many who’ve never been out of the country before this.  In their time off they have the chance to visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, and are exposed to other aspects of Israeli culture and Jewish life,” Kent said.

Aside from the many organizations Kent’s family supports, the recognition they are to receive from the Holocaust Memorial Center is an especially meaningful tribute for their efforts to keep the lessons of the Holocaust alive.

“We’ve always had a close connection to the Holocaust Center. My mother was a frequent speaker there and we’re proud to be part of it. We applaud the terrific work they do for the community,” Kent said. “Still, this was a great surprise and honor for us, because we don’t do this to be rewarded. Our reward is in seeing the good that stems from our work.”

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Dr. Ruth to serve as keynote speaker at Nov. 17th program

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor, who is widely known for her work as a therapist, will be the keynote speaker at the Holocaust Memorial Center’s 35th Anniversary Dinner.

“As many people know, Dr. Ruth is an orphan of the Holocaust. Since this is the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport (Children’s Transport), the Holocaust Memorial Center is hosting a special exhibit about the rescue mission that saved nearly 10,000 Jewish and other children from the Nazis between 1938 and 1940,” said Rabbi Eli Mayerfeld, Holocaust Memorial Center CEO. “One of these children was Dr. Ruth. Her story is a powerful example of survival and strength of character. We felt it would resonate with our members and supporters and help illustrate the importance of remembering the lessons of the Holocaust.”

Registration for the dinner is required. More information can be found at www.holocaustcenter.org.

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