Less than two weeks ago, many of us participated in at least one Passover seder, which according to surveys, is the most celebrated Jewish ritual. While the holiday’s themes include stories of infanticide, slavery and more, one of the main goals of the ceremony is to bolster historical empathy and remember that we were slaves in the land of Egypt. Many families focus on modern parallels of oppression and slavery happening currently but some find historical empathy challenging because the events happened so long ago.
Starting last night, we observe Yom HaShoah, the day that is marked on the Jewish calendar as Holocaust Remembrance Day. While this occasion is not as widely observed as Passover in the broader U.S. Jewish community, it certainly is a significant day in Israel, the organized Jewish community and in our Yavneh community. For many of us, there is a much stronger empathetic/emotional connection to its narrative than to Passover – probably because it is historically closer to us, and many of us have connections to victims or survivors.
Our students take a central role in leading our community in both learning about and making connections to the Shoah. This morning on Zoom, Kitah Zayin led a moving ceremony that was the culmination of an in depth study of the tragedy that occured in Europe during the course of World War II and before. Students from Kitah Bet to Chet heard poetry, prose, survivor testimony, reflections, and song with powerful messages of what can be taken forward for the future.
We will continue our focus on remembering the past as we commemorate Yom HaZikaron, a memorial day for Israel’s fallen, and celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. Our teachers get excited over introducing our students to that connection to Israel, a Jewish state that is not only a safe-haven for Jews, but a place that holds values to incorporate all Jews into a common peoplehood. We want our children to take pride in its accomplishments in the fields of medicine, technology, arts and culture. At the same time, Israel is a very complex place, and as our children get older, it is important that they realize this.
One of my first goals when I came to Yavneh was to start an 8th grade journey to Israel – it’s the perfect capstone event for a Yavneh education. While we missed being able to journey to Israel with our 8th graders for the last two years, we are already planning the journey for next March. There is no better way to create connections and build historical empathy than to visit both historical and modern sites and to facilitate conversations. We will continue to look to the past so that we can build a brighter and more compassionate future.