As you read this, I am probably somewhere on I-95, sitting on a bus with our 7th graders. We are headed to Washington, D.C., for an immersive experience that builds on their year-long study of the Holocaust. Each Wednesday night, 7th graders in our Kadima@BJ program participate in a class called “Holocaust and Human Behavior,” a curriculum created by Facing History and Ourselves, using lessons of history to challenge students to stand up to bigotry and hate. While BJ has been teaching this curriculum for years, the lesson feels particularly resonant at this moment.
The United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum, one of the places our teens will visit this weekend, suggests several guidelines for teaching about the Holocaust. These principles, while developed specifically for Holocaust education, also apply to the work of understanding the history of other forms of bigotry and hate:
- Avoid simple answers to complex questions
- Strive for precision of language
- Strive to balance the perspectives that inform your study
- Avoid comparisons of pain
- Avoid romanticizing history
- Contextualize the history
- Translate statistics into people
As more and more of us, no matter our age, find ourselves grappling with recent events in this country and around the world, these guidelines offer a useful framework for expanding our own learning and engaging in potentially difficult conversations with friends, neighbors, or colleagues. Now more than ever, it is incumbent upon us to understand the lessons of history, address the current reality of antisemitism and stand against hate and bigotry in any form.
For our 7th graders, this means spending Shabbat in the nation’s capital, praying together and strengthening their sense of belonging and connection as part of the Jewish community. It means visiting the Holocaust Museum and also the U.S. Capitol building, participating in a legislative advocacy simulation and exploring ways to raise their voices against injustice. It means getting inspired and feeling empowered to be upstanders and changemakers. At a time when it is easy to despair, sharing these experiences with our teens gives me hope.