Tag Archives: genocide education

What Duxbury Needs to Teach Us

Like so many of my generation of Jewish-Americans, I grew up with Holocaust survivors as a part of the fabric of my daily life. Both of my step-parents were hidden children. I had classmates whose parents had survived as teen slave-laborers in death camps. The twin sister of a leader in our synagogue endured horrific medical experiments at the hands of Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor.

All these people have been on my mind in recent weeks, as the light of day has shined on long-ignored antisemitism in Massachusetts schools. In February, a Lowell school committee member called the school’s former finance director a ‘kike’ on live TV. He followed up with “I hate to say it but that’s what people used to say behind his back.”

Then, last month came the news that the Duxbury high school football team used antisemitic and Holocaust references as audible play calls in a game. It was further revealed that they’ve been using this language in practice for years.

The school committee member and the coach have since resigned, but let us pause to underscore that “people” heard this language being used for “years.” Colleagues in Lowell? The players, staff, or coaches in Duxbury?

People knew. And they said nothing.

This past Monday in New York City, a 65-year-old Asian woman was kicked repeatedly in the head and body as she lay helpless on the sidewalk. A 38-year old convicted murderer has been charged with the hate crime.

The video is horrifying in its brutality, but I was even more alarmed by the reaction of  the bystanders. A delivery man simply watches from a few feet away. A security guard (since suspended) literally steps forward to close the building’s glass door, while the woman lies bleeding on the sidewalk right in front of him.

We have a problem. It is a failure to know and understand the history of genocide and the lessons of that history. It’s a generation being raised with chasmic moral blind spots; it is the dangerous implications of raising bystanders instead of upstanders.

There are many steps we need to take as a society to deal with these issues. One key action is mandating genocide education in our schools.

A 2018 study found that Holocaust memory is fading. Forty-five percent of Americans cannot name a single concentration camp. Sixty-six percent of youth 18 to 34 didn’t recognize  the word “Auschwitz.”

Here in Massachusetts, there are many great resources for educating about the Holocaust and Genocide, including curricula and programs from our partners such as Facing History and Ourselves. But these are electives, not requirements. This is why JCRC, along with ADL New England and the Armenian Assembly of America, are championing An Act to Mandate Genocide Education (HD.1167/SD.1592).

This effort is led by Rep. Jeff Roy and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, who have been working tirelessly for years with a broad bipartisan coalition of supporters to bring this legislation to a vote and enactment. This week they received a vigorous endorsement from both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. ADL is urging Massachusetts residents to contact their representatives in support of this effort.

Yom HaShoah is next Thursday. We will commemorate this day on Sunday, April 11th at 2pm, with our annual communitywide ceremony: Preserving our Collective Memory, featuring reflections from survivors in our community.

The youngest child survivors, the parents of my friends, are now in their late seventies. Those teen slave laborers still able to tell their stories are now in their nineties. We’ve been blessed over the years to become witnesses to their experiences. We are now in the final years that a new generation of Americans are able to receive that witness first-hand.

The most important things we can do right now to ensure the memory of the Holocaust lives on are: commit to transmitting this personal witness by attending survivor testimony events and inviting others to join us so long as these events are possible, and; advocate for a mandated genocide education curriculum that will ensure that their memories will endure as a lesson for future generations.

The time to act is now. We owe this to those survivors we have been blessed to know, who survived, against all odds, and to those who were taken from us during the Shoah.

Please join us in this sacred and necessary work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

JCRC Applauds MA Senate for Unanimously Passing New Law Requiring Genocide Education, Bill Moves to House of Representatives

Earlier today, the Massachusetts State Senate voted unanimously to pass a Genocide Education Bill that if passed, will provide all students in Massachusetts public schools the opportunity to learn about the atrocities of the Holocaust and other genocides throughout human history, as well as the factors which led to their being committed. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston recognizes lead sponsor Senator Michael Rodrigues, Senate President Karen Spilka, Senate Education Committee Chair Jason Lewis and their Senate colleagues for their leadership in passing this bill.

As stewards of the New England Holocaust Memorial, JCRC honors the sacred obligation to lift up the experiences of those who survived the Holocaust in our own Greater Boston community, using their stories as a lesson to future generations about the consequences of unchecked hatred and intolerance. Together with ADL New England, the Armenian National Committee, and over 60 coalition members, JCRC advocated for this legislation, filed by Senator Michael Rodrigues and Representative Jeff Roy, which will give students in the Commonwealth the tools to identify and stand up against hateful, oppressive acts and to speak up in the face of bigotry.

“We congratulate Senate President Spilka, Senate Ways and Means Chair Rodrigues, and our partners in government for coming together to ensure that students in our state will learn invaluable lessons about the consequences of hate and bigotry, from the most painful parts of our history.” said Aaron Agulnek, Director of Government Affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council. “We cannot simply say ‘Never Again’ if we do not also commit to educating the next generation by giving them the resources they need to recognize and stand up to injustice before it takes root."

"We appreciate the leadership of Senate President Spilka, Senate Ways and Means Chair Rodrigues, and their legislative colleagues for taking a critical step toward ensuring that Massachusetts public school students receive Holocaust and genocide education prior to high school graduation,” said Robert Trestan, ADL New England Regional Director. “The need for Holocaust and genocide education in K-12 schools could not be more urgent. Massachusetts now has an opportunity to use the power of education to address hate through this essential initiative for Holocaust and genocide education in the Commonwealth.”

“75 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp, we, as a society, continue to grapple with the root causes of hatred and discrimination. With the passage of this bill today, we take a critically important step to ensuring our students are educated on the Holocaust, the grave mistakes of the past, and stand ready to root out the injustices of the future,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “As the forces of fake news, division, and ignorance continue to march on, I applaud Senate President Spilka and my colleagues in the Senate for standing up to say that we will never forget the lessons of the past, and I thank my constituent, Dr. Ron Weisberger, and the advocates for their urgent efforts to ensure we use the power of education to address hate, broaden public awareness, and shape our collective future.”

An Act Concerning Genocide Education now moves to the House of Representatives, where a bipartisan group of over 70 members cosponsors signed on in support of the legislation.