This Sunday, April 23rd, at 10:30am at Faneuil Hall, we will again come together as one community to commemorate the Holocaust. Each year, as part of this Yom HaShoah program, we recognize the winners of the Israel Arbeiter Essay Contest. Mr. Arbeiter, a Holocaust survivor and a leader in our community, is a passionate advocate for Holocaust education. His story of survival in the face of horror has inspired thousands of students across Greater Boston.
Zachary Sclar, an 11th grader from Bromfield, MA does not have a Holocaust education program in his school. He is part of the JF&CS Legacies program that matches high school students with Holocaust survivors. Coming from a family of Holocaust survivors himself, he is passionate about learning all he can.
His eloquent, thoughtful, and heartfelt essay is the first place winner of our 2017 essay contest and I’d like to share several excerpts from it with you ahead of this Sunday’s Boston Community Yom HaShoah program.
Compassion and the Holocaust
By Zachary Sclar
“In the final analysis, I believe in man in spite of men.” Elie Wiesel uttered these words while giving his Holocaust Remembrance speech on April 23, 2009. In that same speech, he stated that even under the worst of circumstances, with cruelty and darkness abounding, many survivors of the concentration camps treated each other with compassion. Whether it was sharing a piece of bread with someone hungrier, or shielding a child from harm, somehow survivors found it within themselves to treat each other kindly despite their plight. Wiesel believed that compassion was not just a human right, but it was part of one’s identity and makeup as a human being. Additionally, he felt that every human rights campaign must begin with compassion if it were to be successful.
…I believe that compassion is more than a human right; it is deep inside each of us, and part of our wiring. Compassion is not an agenda item of the political left, nor is it exclusively the doctrine of religion. Compassion is our instinct and duty as human beings to abide by basic human principles that bind us together as members of the same human family. “When some deny our human capacity for compassion by denying human rights to others, they are not just attacking our universal human rights; they are also denying their identities as human beings” (Inn 2010).
Studying the Holocaust the past four years has had a profound impact on my life and has underscored the critical need for compassion today more than ever. One need only look at the Syrian refugee plight for proof of this. The few countries that have stepped up to help are making a huge difference in people’s lives. Whether suffering is in plain sight or around the world, it is everyone’s concern.
I remind myself daily that compassion starts with the smallest of good deeds. In my own experience, the smallest act of kindness goes a long way and can make a huge difference to someone. I am conscious of my privilege as a white middle class male, and I know that others often do not receive the same treatment that I do. I strive to listen to and respect everyone and believe everyone has a story to tell that is interesting and valuable. My responsibility to all, I believe, is simply to listen and remember. If we don’t honor the lives of those who suffered and learn from past mistakes, as the last remaining survivor population dwindles, their stories will die with them. Remarkably, none of the Holocaust survivors whose testimonies I have heard want revenge, and they don’t exhibit any hate or contempt. The unifying theme of all of their testimonies is a wish for a future that is more kind and humane, and that histories’ lessons don’t go ignored. When we bear witness, we become a witness. The onus is on my generation to create a world that is more compassionate. We are the bridge to a better tomorrow. We all need to be aware and do our part in this world. Kindness and compassion are the tools essential for building a future that is more humane.
I hope you will join us on Sunday, 10:30 am at Faneuil Hall as we recognize Zachary’s work and that of five other student winners. Together we will honor our local survivors, pay tribute to those who perished, transmit memory and ensure an enduring commitment to preserving this critical legacy.