Today is Yom HaShoah

Night

One year when I was a 10th grade teacher, my colleagues and I built a heck of a unit around Elie Wiesel’s holocaust memoir, Night.

We were so proud of that unit as we planned it. The novel was the centerpiece. Then there were ancillary short stories, movie clips from Band of Brothers, Schindler’s List, The Devil’s Arithmetic. We wrote quizzes and essay prompts that mimicked the exit exam. We made photocopies and lesson plans and a culminating project. We prepared profiles of real Jews who had experienced the Holocaust to pass out to the students, and on the last day, we would tell them if their person survived or died. We stole that idea from the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

We made it as thoughtful and authentic as we could. Then we set out to teach it.

That first year, I was pregnant with Gabe and I skipped the part with the babies. I skipped a lot of stuff that year, because I just couldn’t.

The second year, I made myself sit with it. That was the first year I got a parent phone call about the book, a mom concerned that the story was affecting her student too deeply. Does it have to be THIS book? I was right there with her. I didn’t skip the part about the babies and I had a baby at home.

I also had nightmares.

The third year, I was pregnant with Kate. This was the year we decided to mix up the movie clips, so I sat at home one Saturday and watched The Pianist and Sophie’s Choice, back to back.

Keep the baby quiet.

A son and a daughter. Choose.

I didn’t sleep for two nights.

That year, I cried when I read the part about the babies. I cried when I read the part about the hanging. I cried when we watched the clip in The Devil’s Arithmetic where the mother refuses to leave the baby she has birthed in secret and they are sent together to the gas chamber. I hugged the student who laid her head down on the desk and sobbed. I didn’t write referrals when kids said “That’s fucked up” in class or when a young man stood up in class, threw his book across the room and said “This book is fucking stupid” after we read the part where the son steals food from his own father and leaves him to die.

But when the unit was done, I asked to be transferred out of tenth grade. I couldn’t do it anymore.

Last week, I saw a picture on Facebook of a teacher friend. Her students were all crowded into a small space—the size of a boxcar. She was standing on a desk over them, reading from the book. They’re still doing it, I thought. God bless them.

I get how this sounds: Like we’re all snowflakes who can’t handle the truth, melting at the first suggestion of genocide. Protect the children from this history. Teach it to them, but don’t teach it, teach it. Don’t read about ten year old boys taking three hours to die from hanging while other ten year old boys watched. Don’t talk about babies ripped from their mother’s arms and thrown alive into a bonfire.

We’ve come so far, that mom told me. Do they really need to be exposed to the horrors when we’ve made sure as a society it will never happen again?

There it is. That right there is why we taught the book in the first place, why we built such a confrontational unit, why we created a place for the kids to sit in the bald faced truth of what happened.

The danger of being 80 years away from something is that we think we have the luxury of choosing to pass the information on or not.

We don’t.

Look around the world today. Hatred lives. And not just There. Here. So high school English teachers all over this nation pick up that book every year and walk through the horrors of the Holocaust with a new group of students so that the kids will know.

Today is Yom HaShoah, Day of Remembrance. We can remember the victims of the Holocaust and pray for the peace and repose of their souls. We can ask forgiveness in the name of our ancestral family and friends who did not know or did not do enough. We can pray for generational healing.

And we can all make sure our kids know—at whatever level is appropriate for them—that when we don’t love each other enough, when we don’t remember that there is no such thing as other people’s children, when we see the world as us vs. them, we invite Evil to walk among us.

Resources for parents and teachers

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Museum of Tolerance

Be the Light

 

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For so many of us, this week feels dangerous. People are getting ready, which means different things to different folks.

Some are going to guard the gates.

And some are going to shepherd others to safety until the storm passes.

We all have a call to justice. But we have to listen to the way of the call. For me, even though my gift is words and my weapon is sarcasm, I am not being called to raise my voice in anger. I am holding fast to truth, to seeking it and speaking it with compassion and kindness.

Whether we go to guard the gates or shepherd others to safety, let us make sure we bring our Light.

Otherwise, we just become part of the darkness.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.        

Martin Luther King, Jr.   

Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

Matthew 5:16 

 

 

Hold the Bridge

The last 48 hours have torn our social fabric into pieces.

Again.

It is such a human, natural reaction to take sides and dig in.  To hold the line.

In my tiny little slice of the world, I have huddled like a turtle in my shell, watching my social media and the comments of news articles. My friends who are people of color are speaking a painful, challenging and sacred rage out into the holy space and demanding change. Our beloved Medford Police have gone almost silent in their presence, out of respect but also fear and care.

 In my circle, because I know all my people, there are no pitchforks.

No pie forks either.

Folks are wary. Waiting for someone else to make the first move and dictate the mood.

This is not the way.

Philando Castile was a good man serving children. I can carry his loss in my hands at the same time I carry the horror of those officers in Dallas who came to a protest without body armor to show that they were not the bad guys—and were shot down in the street.

I do not have to take sides to fight for justice. I can carry both.

We can carry both.

And when we carry both as a people, we do the most important work of all—patiently and steadily holding the bridge. We’re going to need the bridge later, to repair and heal.

Others may hold the lines drawn on the battlefield. There is a season for that. We have all found ourselves holding the lines.

But if that is not where your heart is called, and if your hands are large and loving enough today to carry both, come hold the bridge.

Why You Should Read the Stanford Victim’s Letter

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I didn’t want to read it.

The injustice is getting enough play on the news. The Stanford rapist who will go to jail for only six months because he’s white and wealthy and the judge felt sorry for him and his dad asked for leniency.

That’s all I’m going to say about him, because it’s not about him.

His victim, she wrote a letter. You’ve probably heard that by now too. I didn’t want to read it because I don’t like to step into that kind of pain unless I have to.

At 2:30 yesterday afternoon, I realized something. I have two daughters. I live in a world of injustice. My God calls me to justice.

I have to read it.

So I did.

In college, the nights I was in that same situation are too numerous to count. The mornings I woke up not remembering a thing—not a thing—of how I got home or who brought me.

Me and all my friends. Every one of us. Over and over.

It’s blind, stupid luck that I did not become a victim. This is not to say that she is at fault. Only to second what she says in the letter—that she was the “wounded antelope of the herd”. And that hunters know what they’re looking for.

I think if you have college aged kids, maybe even high school aged, they should read this letter after you do.

Then you should talk about what it means.

The part where she realizes that she isn’t wearing her underwear anymore and understands how she’s been assaulted. Where she says the man who rescued her was crying too hard to give a statement to the police, because of what he’d seen.

How she found out the details of her assault from a TV news report.

The questions she was asked on the witness stand.

The picture of bicycles she has posted above her bed.

And don’t miss the part where she says she told the probation officer that she didn’t want her assailant to rot away in prison. She reached for mercy. They used it against her.

All of it. Talk about all of it. The drinking. The guilt her sister feels. The frat party where it went down. The judge, and how his justice is not blind, but sees skin color and wealth and privilege. All the things that could have been different, should have been different.

It raises a lot of questions. And the answers are hard. But we have to talk about it.

 

For the full text of her letter: Here’s the Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud to Her Attacker 

To sign a petition to have the judge recalled from his elected position: Remove Judge Aaron Persky From the Bench