Amidst the coming of spring and myriad of Jewish holidays, Yom Hashoah forces us to pause in our celebrations and contemplate the tragic yet powerful history that connects the Jewish people. Six million is an impossible number to imagine much less describe, but by learning the stories of those who suffered, individuals are transformed beyond a number to represent the strength of the Jewish people and our enduring will. We were fortunate to have many opportunities for events and visitors to aid us in this task, and present the Shoah to our students in a way that is immediate and personalized.
The events began on Wednesday, erev Yom Ha’Shoah, with Shinshinim Noah and Itai helping to prepare the students of Kita RImon and Shalhevet for their experience by bringing them to the Holocaust monument in Earl Bales Park for an activity and discussion. At the end, they stood for a minute of silence (Dakat Dumiyah) in solidarity with the Israeli custom. The children learned how these simple moments are so important in connecting the Jewish people and ensure that everybody in Israel will promptly stop what they are doing when hearing the siren.
On Thursday we were honored to welcome Gitta Ganz to MJDS to share her experiences of the Shoah. Gitta told of her early life in Romania to her imprisonment in Auschwitz to her eventual liberation from Salzwedel and the journey to rebuild her life after these events. Today Gitta is a grandmother and a founder of a Federation that supports Israel, Jewish life and hospitals, proving once again the power and positivity that can grow from tragedy. http://www.yadvashem.ca/pages/education/survivors/survivor_GittaGanz.html. The children were fascinated and moved by her story describing it as “emotional” and “sad”, but also hopeful. Afterwards, they came together for another moment of silence and then ended by singing Hatikvah as a class.
On Yom Hashoah, Kita Magen David also had a special guest. Bonnie Korenzvit, Dylan’s grandmother, came to share her personal story connected to the Holocaust with the students. Bonnie told the children about her parents and the rest of her family who went through these hard times. She also brought unique pictures, letters and others documents from this period. It was a very interesting and important visit. Students showed big interest and asked many questions. Thank you very much Bonnie for this meaningful and important visit!
As important as it is to hear from survivors, it is also crucial to support the children in developing their own voices as they will be the ones left in future years. Gadi Braude, who has come to MJDS in the past to speak about kashrut from his perspective as a chef and mashgiach, met with the middle school to discuss how his experiences on the March of the Living changed his life forever. Gadi shared a box that he had made to keep alive the memory of Shoah victim Rachmiel Alter despite never having met him. He spoke of the importance not only to hear stories from others, but to develop our own memories through the process so that we may have powerful voices of our own. The tales that he told were combinations of his own experiences visiting the camp sites with his group, and the stories that he heard from survivors on the trip. The narratives were all all the more compelling for how they interwove past and present into one.
Kita Shalhevet were also shown Rachmiel Alter’s memory box and were encouraged to create one of their own for someone who had lived through or perished in the Holocaust. Students either selected a name from the Yad Vashem database http://yvng.yadvashem.org/index.html?language=en or of someone they knew was affected. After decorating the outside of the boxes, the children began researching the person they selected and adding the information and memories to their box.
Kita Magen David took part in this memory activity by planting flowers in honor of the names they selected. The decorated pots and seedlings stand in memory of the Shoah, and signify that beauty and meaning can be derived from even the darkest of times and harshest of conditions. The students were encouraged to research a name unknown to them even if they were honoring a family member as well, and it was explained that for those names that no longer had families, we must become their family and carry on their memory.
The teaching of the Holocaust to adolescents and children is never an easy task. However, it is a crucial one, as it is by remembering these names and stories that our children will become empowered to carry on the legacy of the Jewish people and ensure it for the generations to come.