History repeats itself. This phrase becomes more prevalent as we delve into international conflicts and open our eyes to the world today.
However, how much do we know about our predecessors and their history in order to legitimately compare past and present? How do we combat negatives of the past in order to never experience the atrocities suffered by our ancestors? How do we honor phrases like “Never Again?”
The answers are rooted in education. Unfortunately, we’ll never learn enough about the past, as the narratives comprising it are too plentiful to be fully understood. Another obstacle is today’s trend toward low levels of knowledge and high levels of opinion.
But, we can choose to learn the basis of historical issues, and we can translate this knowledge into better decision-making to avoid and defend wrongdoings, aiming at a brighter future.
This concept is applicable to anyone, but we’re Jews.
For those who have been to Israel, you’ve likely visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to Holocaust victims. You’ve walked the maze-like structure, learning in sequential order the history and successes of Nazi agenda and the atrocious loss endured by the Jewish people.
It’s an emotional environment meant to educate. However, Israel isn’t in proximity. Fortunately, though, Orange County has options for Holocaust education and survivor support, which many people are unaware of.
For example, Jewish Federation & Family Services provides assistance to Holocaust survivors and their families. The Rodgers Center at Chapman University is an educational outlet, housing the Samueli Holocaust memorial library.
Beyond meeting a survivor, which is unquestionably the most authentic way to learn history while opportunities still present themselves, diverse resources currently exist to further Holocaust awareness and education.
So when visiting museums or memorials, how do we obtain meaning from our experience?
Before going into Holocaust Centers, think about this: the pictures you see, the names you read, the videos you watch—these aren’t just history lessons. Rather, each name, face and story is more closely connected to you than you might realize.
Each person massacred in the Holocaust wasn’t just an additional number contributing to the 6 million.
Each was an individual. Each, part of a family: a parent or grandparent, a sister or brother. They had careers: farmers, doctors, merchants. Aspirations. Love stories. Plans for the future, and memories of their past.
What you’ll see aren’t just images of some distant scene. Their stories belong to you.
Each person had his or her life taken, often with no survivors to tell the story.
Think about why you’re standing there, and how you got there. How can you connect your physical and spiritual presence to your predecessors? What will you personally do to honor those who have nobody to continue their legacy?
The rhetoric of crisis has driven Judaism throughout history. We must learn about our past to plan for our future; but what type of future we want, based on our past, is a question for the present.
Adam Chester is a contributing writer to JLife Magazine and the NextGen Outreach & Engagement Coordinator at Jewish Federation and Family Services.