Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Hey Jude...

It was Yom HaShoa today. The day we remember the Holocaust. It is one of the few times I ever wear black clothing, this already seemed to freak people out. But the yellow star I wore today with "Jude" printed on it (German for Jew) sparked a much larger reaction.

I made it a point not to talk today if I could avoid it, absent of the Yom HaShoa program I ran for my Jr. NCSYers anyway. It wasn't a taynat dibur (A fast of words where one doesn't speak as a means of gleaning the value and power of words). But in my mind, words lacked the power to really convey the message of the day.

Rather, normally bubbly me was solemn, silent, and dressed in black (I make it a point to only wear black for periods of morning), completely out of character. This drew attention, but the power seemed to rest in the little yellow star pinned to my chest.

When I walked into my class today the room paused and fell silent. Many did not even know that it was Holocaust Memorial Day, but many more momentarily cringed, and an awkward impromptu moment of silence was had. Later one of the local area high school teachers who was taking the class with me approached me and thanked me. I'm not sure if she is Jewish or not, or that I really even did anything, but she was moved and wanted me to know it.

After class I proceeded to NCSY. The event was simple, yet heavy.Sitting on the floor in a darkened room around a single candle, the kids were each given copies of the lyrics for Wu Tang's Never Again and the powerful rap was played for them. This set the tone. After a brief introduction, I passed out biographies of children from the holocaust, a mix of survivors and non-survivors. Each NCSYer read one of the biographies as if they themselves were that person. The goal of this was that they should more readily be able to internalize the monologues. I made a point, especially because of the age range involved not to have any graphic imagery or descriptions. Everything was simple yet powerful. We then talked about the importance of their particular generation being the last of the generations who are going to be able to remember hearing survivor accounts first hand and the special responsibility that lay upon their shoulders for the coming decades where Holocaust deniers are only going to gain clout. Finally, we closed by discussion why it is so important to remember, why it is so important to make sure that Never Again can it happen, and how the Jewish State of Israel figures into that equation. We played Wu Tang's Never Again one last time, and then sang Hatikvah in the direction of the Israeli flag I'd hung. Amazingly, the children (grades 3-7) were well behaved, and focused, throughout the duration, all one and a half hours of it. For some of these kids with chronic ADHD I'd just figured that would be impossible, but in the end they all were attentive and gained a lot.

All this however only caused a surface reaction in my personal self. I was too focused on practical details with implementation to really be impacted by the day. That is, until I went to the grocery store anyway.This is where my wake up call happened. I went to the kosher freezer section to pick up dinner. I was out of food because I hadn't done any chametz shopping since Pesach ended. There an elderly couple was standing in front of the coolers completely blocking my ability to grab the kosher pizza I wanted to buy. I cleared my throat and said excuse me and the women turned and shrieked, went white, and nearly fainted. I thought at first I'd just startled her, but that was not the case. Apparently I'd forgotten to remove my little yellow star. I have no idea if she was a survivor, she seemed young for that. Perhaps she was a child of a survivor, or a child of one of the allied refugee camps after the war. Whatever her background though, that star represented horror. She begged me to tell her that everything was ok,that no new persecutions were abound. I explained to her that it was Yom HaShoa and that I hadn't taken it off yet from an earlier event,but she was still flustered. Her fear had been real, and the pain in her eyes still burned. That is when the power of the day hit me. As we exchanged goodbyes and well wishes I realized that I'd gained more from her in that one instant then any ceremony or program could have imparted on me over the course of the day. It was clear in her mind and clear in mine that Never Again can we let this happen.

Maybe the Beatles had it right when they sang, "Hey Jude, don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better." They were talking about something else entirely, but we Judes should listen up, the Holocaust was a sad song, possibly the saddest in our nations long history, it is up to us not to make it into something only bad, but to take the lessons we learned from our experience and make our collective song better.

1 comment:

Drew_Kaplan said...

to clarify, it was not WuTang that did "Never Again", but rather Remedy, who was a WuTang affiliate