Teaching without Terrifying: Younger Children and the Holocaust
By Rev.Marti Keller
Memoirist Deborah Feldman, who walked away from her Hasidic upbringing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn as a young adult, has been on an exodus to discover who she is as a Jewish person now that she has rejected her ultra-Orthodox roots. Part of her journey was a trip through Europe retracing her grandmother’s life during the Holocaust, including time in a concentration camp.
At the Holocaust museum in Berlin, she wandered into one room where there was an explanation of death camps: what they were, how they were run. While she was there, she saw a little boy of around seven in an audio booth with headphones listening to an explanation of how millions of Jews were transported to and processed for their deaths in the Auschwitz gas chambers during World War 11.
In her book Exodus, she wrote, “You shouldn’t be here I wanted to say. You are too young.” Upon further reflection, she observed that there really was such a thing as a small child who needed to be educated about those death camps in order to grow up to be a decent human being.
For a non-Jewish German child, this was the expressed reason for such early and explicit teaching on ethnic hatred and its too often horrifying consequences
For contemporary Jewish parents and their children, as Tablet magazine religion columnist Marjorie Ingall wrote in a column on Holocaust books, seemingly disregarding what happened 75 years ago ( and for centuries before) because we wish them to be carefree and happy is simply an impossibility.
Really? She asks. We are Jews with a history that hasn’t been carefree and happy. Our children need to know the darker side of what it has meant to be Jewish for so many years in so many places. If we don’t do the educating about anti-Semitism and about genocide, she reminds us, as it is with sex Ed, someone else will do it for us. Certainly by the time our child is eight years old, we should be doing so in a way that is not too graphic, too terrifying to both caregiver and child.
I don’t recall an intentional conversation with any of my own kids when they were elementary school age, or knowing about any in their public schools or religious education classes: even while having experienced a petrifying incident as a 10 year old myself. I was thrown against a chain link fence by two female classmates and accused of killing Christ.
It is not a matter of us wanting to forget the Holocaust and the virulent loathing of the Jewish people that undergirded it. Those of us who are self-identified Jewish Unitarian Universalists are more than likely to be aligned with the 73 percent of American Jews who ,when surveyed by the Pew Research Center a couple of years back, said that remembering the Holocaust is essential to their sense of Jewishness. We need appropriate materials, as do all parents, that begin to tell the distressing but very real stories of discrimination and annihilation, to teach our kids about our history, as Marjorie Ingall proposes, without scarring them for life.
In light of the recent horrendous, hate triggered , murderous events in Pakistan, Paris and Nigeria, it is both terribly unfortunate and also fortuitous that our own UU Skinner House press has just published Anne Frank and the Remembering Tree , a children’s book written by well- known Jewish author Sandy Sasso, with enticing illustrations by Erika Steisal. Some of the story of the girl, whose diary was key in exposing the evils of the Holocaust to millions of Jews and non-Jews around the world, is told using a clever and effective narrative device. The now famous horse chestnut tree that Anne could see from the attic of her family’s hiding place from the Nazis describes her life before she was taken away to a camp. What happened there, her death from typhus and the obliteration of all of the others who had hidden in that Secret Annex in Amsterdam is not shared. But the humanness of Anne and her sister Margot in particular, the injustice of their treatment, and the trajectory of hatred are vividly conveyed.
As the parent of three grown children now (and a former UU religious education teacher), I wish this book had been available when my school age children were beginning to be aware of the Holocaust and other genocides. This is a book to be read with our children, or by our children, and certainly in group settings where the story of Anne and her family, and of the chestnut tree whose saplings are now planted in so many places in remembrance and in hope is unfortunately too much needed today.
Rev. Marti Keller is a lifelong, self-identified Jewnitarian, was co-editor of Jewish Voices in Unitarian Universalism and past president of UUJA
Rev. Marti Keller
Dana Snyder-Grant has given the UUJA permission to share the following testimonial given March 2014 at First Parish in Concord (MA).
Hello. My name is Dana Snyder-Grant.
First Parish has become very precious to me over the last 10 years, and so even though this is scary, I’ve decided to stand up here and talk about four things: being Jewish, being disabled, how Pastoral Care has become a calling, and why First Parish has become a home for me.
I was raised Jewish, and coming to a place many call a church was very scary. First, I felt I was betraying the millions who died because they were Jewish. I figured that joining a place with deep Christian roots meant I had to leave Judaism behind, or risk rejection.
But that hasn’t been so. First, I can be Jewish and Unitarian Universalist, or, as some call it, Junitarian. No one here has asked me to give up what it is I value about my upbringing. A few weeks after I started coming here, Margaret Stewart asked me to sing the Chanukah blessings at a service. I love sharing those beautiful melodies. Soon after, I started the Jewish Awareness affinity group that’s still going on. It’s helped me sort through what Judaism means to me, what I like about it, and what I want to leave behind. And I keep finding this overlap between Judaism and Unitarian Universalism: the natural empathy for the marginalized and downtrodden, the notion that doing what’s right is more important than what you happen to believe, that behind all our diversity, we are one.
I’ve had MS, multiple sclerosis, for more than 30 years. That’s why I look a bit drunk when I walk. Meeting new people is scary because some people like to fit me into a box they have for ‘disabled people’. In all my dealings with First Parish members and staff, you have been welcoming, supportive, and seen me as a person first. (Pause)
Because of my journey with MS, a big part of my social work career has been with people with illness and disability. After I was invited to talk to the lay ministers about that work, I knew I wanted to be part of their warm, caring circle. Compared to the counseling I was used to, pastoral care was more about simply being present with people, using my heart and soul, more than my head. I know how hard it is to ask for, and accept, help in this culture. But I’ve learned here that it is a blessing to give and to receive. Two years ago, I added pastoral singing to my activities, by joining the By Your Side singers, our pastoral care choir.
That’s the most important thing I’m doing in my life.
First Parish has let me become more myself, by helping me find new ways to express my care, and new confidence that I’m fine just the way I am. I want that miracle to happen for others, and so Jim and I give what we can, with our time and money, and are proud to be members of First Parish.
By: Jill Hammer Illustrator: Zoë Cohen
Published by Skinner House Books 4/17/14
In this story based on ancient Jewish legend, Adam and Eve walk through the Garden of Eden, noticing what is happening around them and deciding what holidays they will celebrate based on what they see, smell, hear, and taste. Gorgeous text and art illuminate Judaism, the calendar, and the environment for both children and adults.
Includes guides to the Jewish holidays and ancient iconography.
With beautiful images and words, The Garden of Time offers a magical path through the seasons and allows the sacred breath of life to blow through all our souls. Take a walk in the garden; be refreshed and renewed.
—Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, author, The Shema in the Mezuzah: Listening to Each Other
As Adam and Eve discover seasons in the Garden of Time, readers become aware of the universal spirituality and meaning for living within each Jewish holiday. Zoe Cohen’s beautiful paintings, which echo ancient Near Eastern art, invite readers into an ancient paradise that is both magical and deeply rooted in the earth. Rabbi Jill Hammer is a world-class storyteller, helping children and adults to connect their experiences in nature to festivals like Hanukkah and Passover. A wonderful teaching aid, intergenerational and multifaith discussion starter, and perfect holiday gift.
—Rabbi Goldie Milgram, co-editor, Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning
The Garden of Time reveals the cycle and meaning of time, the seasons, and the Jewish holidays in many-splendored ways. Jill Hammer’s poetic, midrashic writing led me to see the passage of time in technicolor and with all my senses and to experience it with a renewed vision and a bountiful appreciation. I enthusiastically recommend this transcendent book as an intergenerational shared story!
—-Peninnah Schram, author, The Apple Tree’s Discovery
Gracefully written and beautifully illustrated, The Garden of Time roots each holiday in its season, in the cycle of nature. In our urban, speeded up, digital lives, nature is often little more than an amusement or an obstacle, and we can forget how integral the seasons are to our cycle of holidays. Jill Hammer’s lilting text and Zoe Cohen’s surprising drawings remind us that the cycle of our holidays is rooted in the cycle of nature. I look forward to reading this book with children in my family and community.
—Arthur Strimling, Maggid HaMakom, Congregation Kolot Chayeinu, Brooklyn, NY
PROGRAM OF SCHEDULED EVENTS
Friday, March 14
4 pm Welcome & Registration Table Open
Light snacks available. Sign up for Small Group (Havorah) at Welcome/Check In.
Groups will be announced at Ingathering Shabbat Service. Small groups are designed to foster community and connection over the course of the weekend.
5pm -5:45pm Ingathering Shabbat Service – Rev. Dara Olandt, Worship Leader
Rev. Dara Olandt currently serves the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Blacksburg, Virginia and is Chair of the Jewish Voices Gathering Planning Committee.
6pm – 6:30pm Havorah Gathering – 1st meeting of Small Groups
6:30pm DINNER option available on-site or you may choose to have dinner on your own.
Saturday, March 15
8am Registration Table Open
8:30am – 9 am Havorah Gathering over Breakfast
(2nd meeting of Small Groups. For those who arrived Saturday, this is your 1st meeting.)
9:15am – 10:15am
Keynote/Opening Worship with Rev. Marti Keller and Rev. Leah Hart-Landsburg
The keynote will place the recently published book, Jewish Voices in Unitarian Universalism (January 2014, Skinner House Books) in a broader context, especially in light of “identity” as explored in the Pew Study on Jewish Identity in America Today, which came out last year and has been the subject of much discussion and even some controversy.
Rev. Marti Keller and Rev. Leah Hart-Landsburg co-edited the recent book. Rev. Leah Hart-Landsburg is current president of UUJA. Rev. Marti Keller is past-president of UUJA.
Reviews of Jewish Voices in Unitarian Universalism:
Leah Hart-Landsberg and Marti Keller have assembled a rich and exciting collection of reflections by people in the Unitarian Universalist world who are also Jewish. The inner conflicts, the joyous integration of both traditions, and the wisdom that emerges from the life experiences of the contributors to this book open all of us readers to new insights in both traditions!
—Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun Magazine
Jewish Voices in Unitarian Universalism is a powerful expression of the depth, breadth, and diversity of Jewish belief and practices within contemporary Unitarian Universalism. These essays detail some of the joys and struggles of living as a hyphenated UU, and yet, because of that struggle, many of the authors have found both their Jewish and Unitarian Universalist faith deepened.
—Kathleen Rolenz, Editor, Christian Voices in Unitarian Universalism
Workshop Slot 1 (1 option)
10:30am – 12:15pm
Jewish Ethnicity, Race, and Anti-Oppression Workshop – Rev. Rob Eller-Issacs
Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs will offer a workshop asking us to honor our ancestry and think deeply about what our living faith demands today. He will probe the inherent tension between treasuring a particular identity and living into the longing to build and to be the Beloved Community.
Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs currently serves the Unity Church – Unitarian congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota with co-minister, Rev. Janne Eller-Isaacs.
12:30pm – 1:30pm – LUNCH provided on-site
Workshop Slot 2 (2 options)
1:45pm – 3:30pm
1) Bringing the Jewish Traditions & Teaching to Life - Rev. Alison Miller and Denny Davidoff
Our congregations bring Jewish traditions to life in various ways – through local UUJA groups, non-Sunday services, lifespan RE Classes, Shabbat gatherings, and more. We will share what is going well in a number of congregations and spark ideas for how to further develop programming that seeks to honor Jewish wisdom and practices.
Rev. Alison Miller currently serves the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship in Morristown, New Jersey. Denny Davidoff is the Senior Consultant for Development and Alumni/ae Affairs at Meadville Lombard Theological School, and a former moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
2) Beyond the Holidays: Weaving Jewish Sources and Practices Into UU Worship - Rev. Dara Olandt
How can Jewish readings, practices, music and wisdom infuse our UU worship life… even beyond the oft celebrated holidays, such as Passover and the High Holidays? Join for this celebration of what is possible. We’ll explore creative and innovative ways to weave Jewish sources into worship with authenticity, integrity and fun! Please consider bringing a favorite quote, reading, or piece of music from a Jewish source, which moves you. And if none come to mind… not to worry!
We’ll be looking at several examples provided. Also, please consider bringing a journal to records personal reflections during the time we share together in this participatory workshop!
4pm – 4:30pm Havorah Meeting (3rd session of Small Groups)
BREAK & FREE TIME
5:15pm – 6 pm Havdalah Service — Rev. Kelly Asprooth-Jackson, Worship Leader
Rev. Kelly Asprooth-Jackson currently serves First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Beverly, Massachusetts.
6:15pm DINNER- Provided on-site.
7pm Purim Celebration! Featuring the David Glukh Klezmer Ensemble
With its distinctive instrumentation of piccolo trumpet, accordion, violin, bass and percussion, this highly polished ensemble of Juilliard graduates has performed worldwide to critical acclaim. Its repertoire includes traditional klezmer along with special “fusions” between klezmer and other traditions – Irish, Gypsy, Classical, Latin, Jazz, Georgian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Macedonian, Israeli, Hassidic, Russian, Funk, Tango, Flamenco, Indian, and improvisational world-beat. Performing at NYC’s Lincoln Center and Merkin Concert Hall, LA’s Skirball Center, and at celebrity events at the Plaza and Waldorf, the ensemble has also collaborated with SONY Classical Recording Artist, Violinist Lara St. John, and with jazz great Dave Douglas.
Sunday, March 16
9:15am -10:00am BREAKFAST and Closing Havorah
(Last Small Group meeting)
10:15am -10:45am – Closing remarks — Rev. Leah Hart-Landsburg, President, UUJA
Housekeeping & Evaluations
11 am –Worship - Rev. Alison Miller
Sermon Title: “Luck of the Draw”
Today is the festive Jewish holiday of Purim. A good portion of the holiday centers around the retelling of the Book of Esther, a memorable story where fate and freedom hang in the balance. Let us explore the meaning this holiday can hold for us.
Jewish Voices Gathering attendees join for worship that is also open to the general public and the community of Morristown Unitarian Fellowship.
Download schedule here