Posted by Elyse Rast
Yesterday, JF&CS employees joined together at JF&CS Headquarters to commemorate Yom Hashoah, hearing from Schechter Holocaust Services Advisory Committee member and Holocaust survivor, Jack Trompetter. At the end of the program, I shared the following with all in attendance:
Sunday was Boston's Holocaust Commemoration at Faneuil Hall, which JF&CS proudly co-sponsored with other leading Holocaust agencies. The program was entitled Liberation: From Darkness to Light, since this year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the death camps and the end of the Holocaust and WWII.
I brought my two children to the commemoration since the messages imparted were important reminders about remembering the past while creating a better present day. I asked my 13-year-old son why I brought him and his sister along, and he responded in a typical, sullen adolescent way that he had to go because I made him and because he's learning about the Holocaust in school. When pushed further, he responded that it would help him learn empathy and he would be a kinder person. That night I realized the program's impact when I saw him reading The Diary of Anne Frank.
One of the first speakers at the event, Rolf Schuette, the Consul General of Germany to New England, advised the audience to, "Remember. Do not forget. Tell the story of darkness. And take action."
My favorite speaker was Max Michelson, a long-time member of the JF&CS Schechter Holocaust Services Advisory Committee. Max spoke beautifully about his experiences during the war and ended his speech with a call to action. He said that after 70 years, anti-Semitism is back and Jews are being treated like "historical children perpetually crying wolf." Max continued by saying that everyone has a duty to be vigilant, learn what is happening around Europe, and to a lesser degree the US, and to vigorously stand up to Holocaust deniers and to those who hate Jews.
One last person I want to mention is the winner of the Israel Arbeiter Holocaust Essay Contest, Donaldo Jean-Baptiste, a senior at Malden High School. His essay was about standing up wherever there is injustice and always speaking your mind, especially when it's difficult. This is an admirable thing for anyone to say; however, it was especially commendable in this case since Donaldo's mother and father were killed during the war in the Republic of Congo. He saw unspeakable violence and suffering, including at age 11 when he witnessed the day his school was turned into a slaughter house. Donaldo concluded his essay saying, "Until the end of my last breath, I swore to myself that I would never be silent whenever and wherever I saw human beings endure suffering and humiliation of any kind."
These four comments from Sunday's program stood out to me because they offered similar messages from four very different people.
My son, Jake, lives with both his parents in an affluent Boston suburb and sees the world very differently from Donaldo who grew up in poverty during a war. However, both understood the importance of remembering the past and looking at the world with an empathetic eye.
The Consul General of Germany and a Holocaust survivor also see the world from two very different vantage points, but both offered messages of vigilance and action.
Personally, I think we need to see the world from all these perspectives. We need to be kind and empathetic to those in need while always remaining aware of what's happening in the world around us.
Elyse Rast is the Manager of Outreach and Education for Schechter Holocaust Services. For the past 20 years Elyse has taught children ranging in ages from 3-18 and specializes in Holocaust education. Currently, Elyse runs Jewish teenage empowerment classes at Prozdor Hebrew High School and is working on her PhD in Education at Lesley University. Elyse has two kids and two cats and lives in Westwood.