A few weeks ago, one of our seventh graders asked me to take him to the library, because he needed to check out some books on Anne Frank. The assignment was to write a research report on someone “famous” who had made a difference in our world, and he chose Anne Frank. He chose her without any input from us, his teacher or anyone else. He says he selected her, because he wanted to learn more about her. After all, she is one of the main “symbols” of the Holocaust.
To say I was pleased with this choice of a topic is an understatement. We had visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., this past summer and have talked about a visit to the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance sometime this summer, but I hadn’t realized how much this taste of information about the Holocaust has had an impact on him and sparked his interest to learn more.
As he read the well-known Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, he had many questions and comments about her story and the events that transpired. His sister is now reading the book for pleasure and interest, even though she is not doing research for a report, and our older son read it for school a couple of years ago. Some other memoirs and novels about the Holocaust written specifically for teen readers are “in line” on our bookshelf. We’ve had some very interesting dinner table conversations about the Holocaust and its importance in our lives.
What I love about it is that the kids are not just talking about the factual details of that period of history. Rather, what interests them more is about what the people were thinking and feeling when all of this was going on… how scary it was, how hard it was for them just to survive, how privileged kids are today compared to what their lives were like. It really puts things into perspective to think about not only the amenities and material goods the kids of today have, but also the security of being safe, being free, having choices to engage in whatever activities they like, to study and learn and to go off to college.
I had read all about Anne Frank and the Holocaust when I was younger, of course, but it’s very different and enlightening to learn about it again, not only through the eyes of my children, but, more, in light of the nature of today’s world. Teaching our children about the important events of the Holocaust is one of the most important things we can impart, because it is so central to our very “being” as Jews and has had such a profound impact on the Jewish race. Reading books, such as Anne Frank’s diary and so many others written for so many different age levels, visiting Holocaust museums and talking about what we learn and discover and how it makes us feel are all important ways we can satisfy the thirst of knowledge we all have about our past and our people. It helps us to understand our people and how the hardships of our ancestors shape our thoughts and feelings about our world today.
Learning about the Holocaust goes far beyond just understanding the basic facts of what happened during that time. Although Anne Frank’s life was full of hardship and was way too short, she made a difference in our world, because her life had meaning. Her diary helps us not only to understand what happened to people during the Holocaust, but also gives people the hope, courage, motivation and perseverance to do what they have to do in order to survive any obstacles in their lives. Moreover, as we learn about the Holocaust and the terrible fate of the Jewish people who were punished just because they were Jewish, we learn about tolerance in general and the role intolerance plays in our society. With the rampant onslaught of bullying in schools and on the Internet, it is critical that we teach our children at a very young age to be tolerant of others and their differences. It’s equally important that we arm them with the skills they need to stand up to those who might be intolerant of our own differences.
As we approach Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, we have an opportunity through prayerful remembrance and reflection to honor the memory of those who died and those who survived during the Holocaust. It is a perfect opportunity to also formulate or renew our own commitments as a community to healing and hope. I encourage you to attend a Yom HaShoah service or event with your children and discuss, “Why is it so important that we remember?” “How does remembering our ancestors who died in the Holocaust and learning about their stories help to shape our own thoughts and feelings and lives?”
On the heels of Yom HaShoah follows Yom HaAtzmaut, the anniversary of the State of Israel. During these services, held at many of the area synagogues, congregants of all ages are encouraged to learn about, celebrate and experience Israel by learning about her history, geography, music, dance, food and the overall diversity that is the modern, Jewish, democratic State of Israel. The annual huge Israel Expo on May 22 is yet another opportunity to learn about and celebrate Israel.
This month is filled with opportunities to learn about and celebrate our Jewish people and the state of Israel. Both holidays, the first marked by solemnity and the second filled with celebration, call upon us to remember the centrality of Israel in the life of the Jewish people and to connect ourselves in meaningful ways with Israel’s present and future well-being. Moreover, when we see and feel and speak the truth of our experience, we ground ourselves firmly in the present moment with a view toward the future.