How many times do we have to be told –
“Teach Your Children Well” (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
“Children Will Listen” (“Into the Woods”)
“You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” (“South Pacific”)
How many times do we have to witness the horror of anti-Semitism, the horror of intolerance and hatred and not pay heed to the lesson of these songs?
We have been warned by a philosopher and a politician: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana –1905 speech). In a 1948 speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill paraphrased, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
How many times?
I had two paternal aunts. One survived a concentration camp; I saw the numbers on her arm. One jumped to safety from a Nazi train with her young son. I knew them. I remember them.
I can remember watching black and white newsreels in Hebrew school that showed actual footage of people in concentration camps – on marches, standing in the cold in hardly any clothing. Footage of the mass graves reverberates in my mind’s eye.
Tell me please – who are the two-thirds of American millennials who were recently surveyed by the Washington Post who cannot identify what Auschwitz is? Twenty-two percent of those surveyed said they hadn’t heard of the Holocaust or were not sure they had. Who are they? Didn’t they at least read The Diary of Ann Frank? Didn’t they at least see “Schindler’s List?”
Both of our children went on the annual March of the Living in Poland. I can remember our son, Aaron, showing my parents and my husband and me his slides from The March. The den was dark as he turned on the projector. His 16-year-old voice was deep and gravely with emotion. from beginning to end as he narrated the slides It was one of the most stirring moments I ever experienced. He told us how he lit candles in memory of family members who perished in the Holocaust and recited the mourner’s Kaddish in their memory. And our daughter Jessica, upon her return from The March years later, told us in detail of the walk on the railroad between the two camps – the march of these kids in defiance of history. The March with hundreds of kids promising never to forget. (BTW – Hadassah was one of the organizations taking kids to Poland.)
In 2006, May was proclaimed Jewish American Heritage Month by President George W. Bush. Jewish American Heritage Month is an annual recognition and celebration of achievements in and contributions to the United States of America by people who are American and Jewish. I don’t know how many people ever heard of it. But it’s a real thing. Every President since its establishment has written a proclamation. There are activities in communities around the country. Google it – there is a lot of information.
So what does this have to do with the songs above and my family history? Well, I’ll tell you.
My first inclination to write about Jewish American Heritage Month is to think of famous American Jewish people – names we all know in entertainment, government, law, authors – really in every nook and cranny of American life, Jewish people have made important contributions – but you can look that up online. There are plenty of long lists and interesting stories.
But today, I want to share a relatively unknown contribution not only because it is new, but also because it is one that will have long, long lasting positive effects throughout our country for decades to come.
Let me tell you a short story about a group of today’s women who did something so important to make sure that a terrible period in history is never, never repeated. It’s a story resonating and reverberating with a loud outcry for tolerance and humanity in today’s world.
It began at a Jewish Community Relations Council of New York breakfast.
Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-12) told the audience of how she had worked for 18 years to get a Holocaust education statute enacted – to no avail. Enter a slight but powerful woman in the person of Janice Weinman, Executive Director/CEO of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Janice is the only child of Holocaust survivors.
These two women spoke. Janice told Representative Maloney that she felt strongly about Holocaust education in public schools and that she would work to have Hadassah members help get it done. Janice brought the Never Again Education Act to Hadassah. With Representative Maloney, Hadassah ran with it with a fierceness that guaranteed success through its Education and Advocacy Division under the volunteer leadership of Judy Shereck (PRAZE Division Coordinator), professional leadership of Naomi Brunnlehrman (PRAZE Division Director), Lauren Katz (Senior Policy Associate), Karen Paikin Barall (Director of Hadassah’s Washington D.C. Government Relations Office) whose tremendous efforts in successfully shepherding the bill through Congress must be especially recognized. All of these women along with the passion of then National President, Ellen Hershkin, current President, Rhoda Smolow, with the drive of Janice Weinman, mobilizing thousands of Hadassah volunteer advocates across the country in every congressional district who urged policymakers to co-sponsor and pass the bill. This effort represents women and an organization worthy of Jewish Heritage Month recognition, and praise and thanks by every American who cares about tolerance and wants to rid hatred in our country.
For years, these key Hadassah women and Hadassah members worked with Congressional offices in every district securing legislative support in both Houses to drive forward the Never Again Education Act. Hadassah helped obtain support from over 300 organizations and Hadassah women spoke at press conferences and public gatherings. In addition, a Senate briefing on Capitol Hill hosted by Hadassah was an opportunity to educate and advocate in favor of the bill. Special recognition must go to Representative Maloney and to Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) who championed the bill in the Senate. No effort was too large and nothing would stand in the way of the Hadassah women and the organization to help make this piece of legislation a reality for the children of the United States; for the very future of our country. Hadassah became the lead NGO behind the passage of the bill.
The bill creates a new federal program and fund that will give Holocaust education grants to educational entities for classes on Holocaust education, programs, resources, teacher training on how to incorporate Holocaust education into their year and student field trips. The goal: to teach middle and high school students lessons of the Holocaust and the consequences of intolerance and hate, to understand the Holocaust in both historic and contemporary contexts. Having passed both Houses, the bill is ready for President Trump to sign it into law.
So, I am grateful to these women and Hadassah. These field trips and the educational resources are not complete panaceas to the hatred and ignorance we see in today’s world. They do not eradicate the fear we feel when we enter a synagogue to pray or the fear which I imagine all people attending any religious service in a place of worship feel after the attacks this country has suffered through in recent years. The Never Again Education Act is a beginning.
And so I plead with you, the reader – if anyone is reading this blog and has kids in school or home or even older kids who graduated – talk with them about the horrific lesson of the Holocaust when they come home and tell you what they learned or read.
It’s important that the young generation and future generations never forget. It’s important to everyone. This education has far reaching aims that will improve tolerance and understanding of people with different religions or ways of life.
“If we don’t remember history, we are …” well you know what the rest of the quote says. Once signed and the education starts, we can begin “teaching our children well and they will listen.” I am grateful to these Jewish American women and Hadassah who contributed to the wellbeing and future of the United States of America in a most significant and noteworthy way.