Last weekend, we participated in Passover seders in what is the most widely observed Jewish experience of the year. Our seders were infinitely varied, from the 30 minute versions, to ones that lasted until dawn; from the child-friendly kind, to those focused on esoteric intellectual debate. What bound them all together was the nature of the storytelling at the center of the seder – the prescribed order (seder) that we all followed. Transcending the list of specific ritual components, is an overarching trajectory that propels the narrative we tell – the ascent from degradation to praise – from the shame of slavery and the humiliation at the hand of our Egyptian taskmasters, to the deliverance by God into freedom – and the redemption that enabled the human spirit to triumph.
The ancient story of Jewish subjugation and suffering that we recall at the seder is one that has been repeated tragically often throughout our history. The modern chapter of the Holocaust in which our annihilation was attempted and six million of our People perished, has become part of the ritual story telling at many seders, as we recall the Warsaw Ghetto uprising on Passover 73 years ago. Telling and retelling our story, ensuring that each generation claims it as its own, is at the core of what it means to preserve not only the Jewish people, but Judaism itself.
Sharing the story of the Shoah– not only within the Jewish community but also with the broader audience of Greater Boston– is one of JCRC’s most hallowed duties.
Ten years ago, when Mary Beth Donovan, a public school teacher in Methuen, began teaching a unit on the Holocaust, she was appalled to discover Holocaust deniers within both the student and parent community in her school. Seeking advice, she reached out to JCRC’s member organization and partner – the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants of Greater Boston. Israel (Izzy) Arbeiter, survivor, human rights activist and then-President of the Association immediately agreed to speak at the school and share his experiences first hand with the community. His story of struggle and survival changed Mary Beth’s life – as well as those of her students – and an enduring bond was forged. The essay contest established by Mr. Arbeiter that year has become an integral part of the Methuen curriculum and hundreds of students have contributed their own reflections on the legacy and lessons of the Holocaust in the last decade. Ms. Donovan eloquently expresses her appreciation for “the opportunity for (her) students to explore their ideas of a just world. It is all about dropping that stone and watching the ripples reach out.”
We are pleased to award Ms. Donovan, now Principal at the Tenney Grammar School in Methuen, with the inaugural Leadership in Holocaust Education Award when we gather for this year’s Yom Hashoah Community Holocaust Commemoration, taking place on Sunday, May 1, at 10:30 AM.
We at JCRC are charged with the sacred task of sanctifying, preserving and ensuring the legacy of the Holocaust through our programming at the New England Holocaust Memorial and our annual Yom Hashoah program. Though many local synagogues organize their own meaningful remembrances each year, ours reflects JCRC’s own unique mission. We hold our annual event in a civic space – one with a rich history of public discourse on our country’s cherished values of independence and freedom. We invite and reach out to the broader community to join us in our commemoration and to honor and learn from the legacy of the survivors in our own community.
This year’s theme, “From Holocaust to New Life: How Will We Remember” will shine a light on the extraordinary way in which survivors rose from the degradation of the Shoah to build new lives, create families, transmit their legacy and contribute in myriad ways to the new communities they joined. Our program will feature the testimony of Eva Fleischmann Paddock, survivor of the Kindertransport and will honor this year’s Essay Contest winners – young people who shared their personal reflections on the theme of remembrance and redemption.
I hope you will join us for this gathering to retell our story, to ensure the endurance of our legacy and to honor the heroic survivors in our midst.