17 April 2007


A large part of being a Jew it seems is the obligation to have a perfect memory. We are to remember what G-d did for us in Mitzrayim (Pesach), that as slaves we never had a day off (Shabbat), and that in almost every generation some "bad guy" has risen up to try to annihilate us, spiritually or literally (Tisha B'Av, Chanukah, Purim, and Yom Ha-Shoah). As a teacher and a parent I struggle with how much or how little information to give my students/children. There are just elements of our history that I do not feel obligated to show cool yiddishe maidel (CYM) or light of my life (LOML) until they are old enough to ask questions. I can't ask them to even understand it because there are adults who can not begin to grasp the full extent of hate.

Sunday was Yom Ha-Shoah. Communities all over the world held ceremonies to fulfill a modern interpretation of "ZACHOR"--Remember the Shoah so that there may never be another one.
At what age is it appropriate to show children the horrors of the Shoah?
Like many in my (and my parents') generation, our questions started when we saw the numbers tattoed on the arms of our grandparents' friends or our neighbors. With the witnesses to the horror getting older and dying, this may not be such a reality as my children (and i'y'h, my grandchildren) start to have questions. To answer the above question (without saying whether it is the most appropriate age), I was eight. My mother was avoidant so I tried to read Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. When she saw the book in my room, it was the first (and only) time she attempted to censor my reading material. She instructed me to return it to the library right away. I was sent off with the "short answer" that Hitler hated the Jews and wanted them to all die. If he had succeeded, none of us might have been born. [To end the story, I finally read it at 13 and took a Holocaust studies course my senior year of high school.]
Like many other places, our 7th-8th grade class, with the help of their teacher, created a moving ceremony commemorating Yom Ha-Shoah. Fifth and sixth graders were also invited to attend, with fourth grade and below remaining in their classes. (While my third and fourth graders are aware of the Shoah, we decided that the assembly was not pedogically appropriate for them.) At the end of the day, I saw a child, perhaps a year older than CYM, walking out of class wearing a paper star created to look exactly like the one at the top of the post. She is in a mixed class of kindergarteners, first and second graders. She is a part of the groups that wants to be with us for our building, but not for our religious instruction. The instructor, a special-education teacher by trade, deemed the Shoah appropriate for five year olds!
This is the same group who, last year, pulled themselves from the gan teachers' "Muffins with Mom" on Mother's Day which included the children doing a "Ani ohev/ohevet et eema sheli ki..." with pictures. The reason? "They already do Mother's Day in public school. Why not do something more appropriate like Yom Ha-Shoah?" Our answer had been, and will be, that kibbud av v'em is universal, like being thankful (ie Thanksgiving, Sukkot).

Please take the opportunity to sound off about this! This is a rare time when a J-blog is not attacking hashkafah. I want to "hear" how you feel about this.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous24/4/07 23:11

    I think my daughter's O day school starts with fifth grade. Any younger is inappropriate. My daughter is 8 (second grade) and asked me what the Holocaust was recently - something else happened and I didn't end up answering. I have to say I was relieved...

    LWL (fts)


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