Memory and Identity

This week, we embark on our annual springtime emotional roller coaster, commemorating watershed chapters in Jewish history that continue to define so much of our collective memory and identity.

We move in rapid succession from April 19, when we mark Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, to April 25, when we remember Israel's fallen soldiers on Yom Hazikaron, which turns into a celebration overnight of Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day.

At least this roller coaster flows for the older generations among us, for those who do not view the middle of the 20th century as ancient history and for those — no matter what age — who have developed that crucial sense of peoplehood that binds Jews together, wherever they live, in common destiny.

It's not just the death and destruction we recall as we stop to reflect on the still-unfathomable — the murder of 6 million Jews during the Nazi reign. It is also the acts of heroism and righteousness. We learn lessons from those who risked their lives to save Jews, from those few but significant souls who refused to bow to bigotry and hate, and from those who overcame destruction and despair to build new families and new lives.

It's the twin message of remembrance and renaissance, epitomized by the birth of the modern state of Israel, that we must teach our children and the rest of the world.

With fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors to tell their stories, we must rely on Holocaust education to pave the way. A plethora of such programs — formal and informal — find their way to Jewish and non-Jewish children.

For example, a trip this week by a group of families from Har Zion Temple to Whitwell, Tenn., the home of the famed Paper Clips project, is sure to create a lasting impression. So, too, is the experience of performing in the locally produced I Never Saw Another Butterfly. Some two dozen children are participating in the play based on life at Terezin, the Czech concentration camp. On Sunday, students will have the increasingly rare opportunity to talk with survivors before the Annual Memorial Ceremony for the Six Million Jewish Martyrs, set to take place on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 1 p.m.

Local organizations and private philanthropists continue to support Holocaust education in collaboration with public and parochial schools. But what's still missing in Pennsylvania is state-mandated Holocaust education. This is a real omission that should be rectified, for all students benefit from the lessons that teach children about tolerance and respect, about fighting bigotry and intimidation.

For us Jews, let's take our children along this year for the roller-coaster ride as we help them to deepen the connections between our collective history — and our future.



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