Sunday, July 29, 2012

When We Say "Never Again"

A good friend of mine (who is not Jewish) recently asked me how my teachers in Jewish day school approached modern-day genocide -- whether we were encouraged to speak out about it, rally about it, raise awareness about it, etc. -- given our very personal connection to a genocide perpetrated against our grandparents.

I remember my middle and high school education well. There was concerted energy and effort put into ensuring that we were all educated about the Holocaust so that it would never again happen. We went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington for our 8th grade class trip. On Yom HaShoah, we had all day, school-wide assemblies -- Holocaust-related films were screened, graphic pictures covered the walls. As a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, the Holocaust meant something very personal to me, but I believe that even if I had not had this connection, I would never be able to forgot. Those images are seared forever into my mind.

I was in high school from 1993 to 1997. It was during that same period of time that a genocide was perpetrated against hundreds of thousands of Tutsi in Rwanda and thousands of Muslims in Bosnia. I do remember learning about this in my Social Studies classroom. It was taught with the same sort of detachment and casual rhetoric that any other current event was taught. It was not mentioned in any of my other classes, in any school assembly, in any other venue. I don't remember it having been discussed in shul (which, I'll grant the benefit of the doubt here, as my memory of that is rather weak and blurry) or at any of the Shabbos tables at which I ate lunch.

My friend was shocked to hear this and, in speaking it, I was shocked to remember it. Why was there not any concerted effort to try to get students involved (or, at the very least, concerned)? Why did we not at least mention these ongoing genocides in our discussions of the Holocaust? I think of how powerful a statement that could have been -- As your grandparents and their families were being tortured and killed because of the ethnicity into which they were born, so these people are being tortured and killed today for the same reason. When we say never again, let's mean it. Let's do something for those who suffer today. Let's refuse to be silent.

Obviously, I don't know what it was like in other schools. And I don't know what it's like today. I suspect (or at least I hope) with Darfur, that conversation has finally emerged.

If you're reading this and you've attended a Jewish day school (or are there now, or have children who are there), I'd really appreciate your letting me know what your experience with this has been. (If you're too shy to write in the comments section, you can email me at onherown100 AT gmail DOT com.)


JRKmommy said...

I was in university in 1994, so I can't say what was taught at the time in the Jewish schools.

I did find this interesting link:

I also know that the Rwandan genocide is mentioned at the Holocaust museum in Washington. I read one of the books sold there, "We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed with our Families", by Philip Gourevitch (grandson of a Holocaust survivor). He brings that POV to his writings - documenting the evil of those involved, refusing to accept false moral equivalency and denouncing the politics of those that said "Never Again" while refusing to come to Rwanda's aid. [It amazes me that Clinton and Albright never really had to account for their roles in deliberately refusing to acknowledge that a genocide was happening and for preventing the UN from authorizing any more powers for UNAMIR.]

I do see kids in the local Jewish day schools who are involved in Darfur activism today.

JRKmommy said...

I also found this disturbing article from Philip Gourevich:

kenAnahora said...

I was in yeshiva long before 1994, but I was in touch with many Jewish organizations then, and the way they treated Rwanda brought the words "self-righteous" and "insular" to my mind more than once. I have since spent more time with groups that put their energies where their mouth is, and lost touch with the Jewish organizations that I used to used to belong to.

On Her Own said...

Wow, JRKmommy, that article *is* really disturbing.

I'm comforted by the girl using her Bat Mitzvah to try to do something re: Darfur. I wonder if it gets bigger than that and/or if it happens in the US too. My experience with my Canadian friends has been that there Jewish education was a lot more in touch with the rest of the world than mine was in the US.

kenAnahora -- Can you give me a little more info on your experience with Jewish organizations in 1994 re: Rwanda? What happened that made you think they were "self-righteous" and "insular?"

Undercover Kofer said...

The approach I experienced was more like;

Hey, it happened to goyim, so why do we care?

kisarita said...

I don't believe that the holocaust obligates jews to collectively have any special sensitivity to anything. If it inspires some jews toward that, more power to them, but there is no objective lesson that one must learn from the holocaust.
This being said, I agree that the orthodox community's indifference is deplorable.
just no more deplorable than any one elses.

On Her Own said...

I don't know, Kisarita. I feel like there are many, many lessons we can take from the Holocaust (although they're subjective lessons, of course, just as lessons we take from most things are subjective.)

But that's almost irrelevant. It seems like we have, collectively, as a people taken a lesson from the Holocaust and that is raising awareness so that it never happens again. We build Holocaust museums and institute Holocaust education at our schools to that end. Personally, I feel like this makes sense. The Holocaust (as is any genocide) was a terrible crime perpetrated by one group of humans against another, and it caused so much pain and agony.

And if taking that stand makes sense, if we're going to say, "never again," shouldn't we be taking a stand against other, similar crimes that are happening against other people in the world? Or, when we say, "never again," do we really just mean, "never us?"