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Jun 3 2014

Don’t Mind the Swastikas at Preschool

By at 1:45 pm

swastika-preschool

What if I told you that my daughter’s preschool was covered in graffiti yesterday and I dropped her off anyway? Would you think I was a bad mom?

How about if I told you that what was scrawled on the school wasn’t obscenities or amateur art, but angry dark swastikas… and I still dropped her off? Are you judging me now?

How about if I said that we are the only Jewish family that goes to that preschool and I STILL dropped her off? Are you shocked yet? Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 28 2014

What I Won’t Teach My Kids About The Holocaust

By at 3:19 pm

holocaust

In 1938, my grandfather escaped Austria on the kindertransport. He was sent to England, where he lived with a family who sponsored him. His parents were sent to the Isle of Wight, where they were prisoners for most of the war. Eventually he made it to the US, where he lived briefly in Ohio before being conscripted into the Army, and sent back to Europe to work as a translator.

The Holocaust is very much a part of my family narrative. It’s part of my history, and it’s important to me, but as I build my own family, I’ve started to think about the ways I want to address this issue with my kids. Here’s what I won’t do:

1. I won’t teach my kids to fear anti-Semitism around every corner.  Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 24 2014

My Complicated Relationship with My Jewishness–And What it Means for My Son

By at 3:03 pm

budapest-synagogue

I recently made a new friend at my son’s preschool. We just moved to a new town and I was excited and anxious to meet new people, find our groove, and get into a new routine. In the first days of our acquaintance, my friend–who was also new to the area–e-mailed me to say that she was excited to find someone with the same worldview and the same sense of Jewishness.

My heart sank as I read her lines. Here it was again: that feeling of being an impostor, a wannabe, a fake. I wanted to immediately clear the air between us, but how to explain my complicated relationship with my own Jewishness?

When we first moved here and I was looking for a preschool for my son, I was relieved to find a Jewish nursery school just down the street from our apartment. When we visited I immediately felt comfortable and I knew that beyond finding a school, I have found a community for my little family. I am not sure what made me believe that, but it was the one certain thing I clung to amidst all the uncertainties of moving. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 17 2014

“Number the Stars” Does More Harm Than Good When it Comes to Holocaust Education

By at 12:06 pm

number-the-stars

Shortly after our discussions on Kveller about the appropriateness of the Purim story for preschoolers, my 4th grader needed to read “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry (whom I will always adore due to the “Anastasia Krupnik” series).

I knew it was a book about the Holocaust, and I decided to read it first, so that I could be prepared for any questions he might have. (I’d initially confused it with another title, which follows the main character and her family all the way to Auschwitz.)

What I found in “Number the Stars,” however, was a book about the Holocaust… kind of. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 14 2014

As We Celebrate Passover, The Tragedy in Kansas City is a Painful Reminder of Our History

By at 11:17 am

JCC-kansas

Tonight, the Jewish people will collectively celebrate our freedom from bondage. As yesterday’s murders at two Jewish targets in Overland Park, Kansas by a white supremacist made quite clear, there are still those who hate us, who murder us, who want to see a world without Jews. We mourn the murdered, and bemoan a world where such horrors can happen in unexpected moments and places.

But tonight, we will open the doors to our homes to welcome in a taste of the “World to Come.” We will recline, we will rejoice. All who are hungry, let them come and eat in our Seder feast. Let them hear the story of how far we have come, over thousands of years.

We live. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 2 2014

Why I Refuse to Straighten My Hair

By at 4:04 pm

girl

Xiomara and Isleidy wiped tears from their eyes, Stacy’s sniffles quickly deteriorated into sobs, and even the boys tried valiantly not to cry. My tough inner city sophomores were viscerally affected by Elie Wiesel’s heartbreaking Holocaust memoir, Night, which we just finished reading. I was about to become a waterfall myself when Stacy blurted out, “Miss, when you gonna blow your hair out?” causing everyone to laugh and lifting the somber mood.

The subject of my hair was a recurring one in class; the girls desperately wanted my wild curls tamed into smooth tresses. They repeatedly offered hairdressers’ numbers, then frustrated by my inaction, took matters into their own hands. One morning, at 7:30 a.m., Xiomara, Isleidy, and Stacy marched into my class while I was getting ready for the day and ambushed me with a flat iron. I almost gave in, since the attack was so well orchestrated, but ultimately hid in the closet until they put the weapon away. When asked why I resisted, I responded with girl power clichés like “Be yourself!” and “Rock what you’ve got,” but because I never meaningfully addressed the issue, the nagging continued.

But now, inspired by my students’ connection to Night, I was ready to dive into history, identity, and why I refuse to straighten my hair. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 23 2013

“What is the Holocaust?” is a Hard Question for Too Many College Students

By at 2:39 pm

The majority of you will be startled and sickened when you watch this video. Some may nervously laugh (like me), as a reaction to what at first can be perceived as pure ignorance; but as author/director/educator Rhonda Fink-Whitman suggests, insensitivity itself isn’t to blame. The intro is a bit long, so if you are in a crunch for time, fast forward to 1:58 seconds.

Whitman, author of 94 Maidens, a Holocaust story inspired by true events (her mother was a Holocaust survivor) interviews Pennslyvania public school graduates on their basic knowledge of the Holocaust. I mean basic:

“What is the Holocaust?”

“Where did the Holocaust happen?” Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 8 2013

The Holocaust, Through the Stories of my Grandmother

By at 9:52 am

dirty lunch bag

Today is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. For more on talking to your kids about the Holocaust, click here.

I was probably in the second or third grade when I asked my mother what a swastika looked like. We were sitting at the long wooden table in the kitchen at my grandmother’s house where we were living. Copper pots hung above our heads and a pot of freshly made tomato sauce was simmering on the stove.

My mother was clearly surprised by my question. She looked at me pensively for a minute or two, and then walked over to the small wooden box on the counter where my grandmother kept her pens and pencils. My mother inspected each pencil until she found the one she wanted. It was covered in deep, jagged scratches, as if someone had bitten into the wood over and over again. The small metal ring at the end was rusty and bent where the eraser had once been, meaning that anyone who tried to erase their words would end up tearing the paper.  Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 4 2013

How to Talk to Your Kids About Yom Hashoah

By at 3:12 pm

holocaust candlesHolocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoah, begins the evening of this Sunday, April 7th. It’s hard enough for adults to grapple with the immense, inexplicable horror of the Holocaust, and can be harder still to find appropriate and meaningful ways to talk about it with young kids.

While there’s no one right way to do it, we do have a truly wonderful resource from Rabbi Sarah Reines that outlines key ideas to keep in mind when broaching this subject:

As our children learn about the Holocaust, we can help cultivate in them a sense of empowerment and responsibility through acts such as lighting a yartzeit (memorial) candle on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), deciding as a family to donate to a charity for aging survivors or sharing stories about “righteous gentiles” who helped protect Jews from danger.

To read the rest of “How to Talk to Kids About the Holocaust,” click here.

Mar 29 2013

Friday Night: Closer to Freedom than Ever

By at 9:46 am

matzah equality gay marriage passoverI was standing on my front step, shaking out the hallway rug as part of my Passover cleaning, when the thought suddenly appeared in my mind, in large bold letters that erased everything else I had been thinking about.

“I am so lucky to have my own home to clean.”

The intensity of my gratitude in that moment surprised me. I hadn’t been thinking about the many blessings of my life, as I try to do on a regular basis. Quite the opposite: I was silently bemoaning the challenges of the holiday, as I have done every year since we started observing Passover more seriously. The cleaning is laborious, the dietary restrictions increasingly challenging as my daughter’s range of acceptable foods becomes smaller and smaller. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure why I kept with it year after year–probably because it is important to my husband, and because I want our daughters to grow up in a home that is Jewish in more than name and mezuzah in the doorway.  Read the rest of this entry →

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