District apologizes for Holocaust talk
Anger, hurt and conciliation washed through a room at Thousand Oaks’ senior center Tuesday as officials and community members grappled to understand a discussion a month earlier that resulted in complaints of anti-Semitism.
The June 19 discussion had been billed as part four in a series on Comparative Religion offered at the Goebel Senior Center and was to focus on the Holocaust.
Calls of anti-Semitism arose from both the discussion, which was led by a senior volunteer, and a flier promoting the event that included the question “Did it happen?”
Conejo Recreation and Park District officials, who oversee the center, received calls, e-mails and letters from people who were offended by the flier and the discussion.
Tuesday’s meeting was meant to air people’s concerns, to hear from district officials and those who had attended the June discussion, and to allow the district staff a chance to apologize.
“We want to put a few more pieces of the puzzle together about what we believed happened,” Jim Friedl, general manager of the Park District, told the standing-room-only crowd, which included county Supervisor Linda Parks, Thousand Oaks Police Chief Dennis Carpenter and representatives from the Anti-Defamation League and several local temples.
District officials apologized to the crowd, though some members of the audience jeered them at times.
Steve Wiley, recreation services manager of the Park District, said the question on the flier was meant to spur discussion, and no one denied the Holocaust occurred.
The June 19 discussion, led by volunteer and Senior Commission member John Bravos, led to several participants walking out.
From the audience there were calls to explain Bravos’ qualifications to head the lecture. Bravos had previously given talks on the Holocaust, said district recreation supervisor Andrea Koval.
In a prepared statement, Bravos wrote that he served in counterintelligence activities tracking down escaping Nazis in the aftermath of World War II.
Joel Berger, who attended the June 19 discussion, told Tuesday’s audience that he had heard a person who was not properly prepared.
“This man gave tiny pieces of truth,” Berger said. “He had little bits of information.”
Berger said the information was presented in such a way that it would inflame “those who were emotionally involved.”
“This is something the district needs to learn from, and we have,” Benton told the crowd. “From the bottom of our hearts, we are very sorry. I promise you this will never happen again.”
By Teresa Rochester
Wednesday, July 18, 2007