In March 1933, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise declared “What is happening in Germany today may happen tomorrow in any other land on earth unless it is challenged and rebuked…We must speak out.”
We have heard that history repeats itself and that those who do not learn from it are doomed to repeat it. Indeed, we humans have short memories and have to learn painful lessons over and over again. Watching the sharp rise in antisemitism and other forms of hate, it seems we are in the midst of such a lesson once again. During times like this, how do we regain our sense of hope? Spend time with teachers!
My hope was restored while spending 3 days with 37 dedicated educators. This lively group chose to immerse themselves in a three-day trip to Washington DC in the heat of late June. Why? For the opportunity to explore Judaism and the Holocaust by visiting the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, attending Shabbat services at a local Synagogue, touring the DC monuments, and learning from one another. Rabbi Judy Schindler, in a send-off to the teachers, charged the teachers to turn the Biblical commandment to “Zachor-Remember!” into their personal missions…and they did just that.
“The most profound part of the experience for me as an educator was visiting the third floor of the Permanent Exhibit. Specifically, being up close and personal with the shoes, the railcar, and witnessing some of the ‘medical experiments’ performed hit me the hardest and made me feel closer in time and more connected with the Holocaust. In history, telling stories is very important, so I will start with just speaking on the trip and the most profound parts. I also will share pictures and open up the conversation to the students and see how much each student knows or has experienced. This trip will be a great foundation for my Holocaust unit next year.” — Teacher participant
One of the trip highlights occurred when Holocaust survivor Henry Weil shared his harrowing story of survival. He explained the importance of forgiving, but never forgetting: “Zachor – Remember!” The teachers explored the permanent exhibit as well as the new “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibit. This powerful exhibit depicts the reality of life in America during World War 2. It examines the fears, pressures and motives that shaped America’s responses to the war. Along with the political and economic factors that came into play, the exhibit looks honestly at the social and cultural climate that contributed to a policy of non-intervention toward those targeted by the Nazis for annihilation.
“The biggest takeaway I have is that I’ve thought I’ve been a Holocaust educator previously. I realize I haven’t begun to scratch the surface. This has been an absolute life-changing experience. I cannot thank you all enough for providing it and encouraging it.” — Teacher participant
For the majority of the teachers present, this was their first exposure to the museum and the services and programs that it offers. Teachers were asked to extensively prepare for the trip by preparing lesson plans to share. In the months to come, they will enhance these lesson plans with new information that was gleaned from their experience. The community that these dedicated and wonderful people created will continue to flourish over the year ahead, as will my hope in a brighter future.
The trip was organized by the NC Council on the Holocaust with support from Stan Greenspon, the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte and the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University of Charlotte.