I’ve always been interested in the odyssey of the Jewish people through time and space. Even as a child, reading One-Minute Bible Stories for Children or The Fools of Chelm, I was always struck by the incredible drama and bittersweet nature of our stories. We build a temple only for it to be destroyed. We build another one and it is also destroyed. We are enslaved and set free, only to spend forty years in the desert. But we find meaning and purpose in wandering.
As I grew older, I learned darker stories of the Jewish past and present. They were not always touched with lightness or humor. My Great-grandparents who left behind their families and the persecution of Russia to cross an ocean and start a new life. My Grandfather who defied the quotas on Jewish students and graduated from medical school by selling bags of his own blood.
And slowly and under the care of gifted educators and compassionate parents, I learned about the Holocaust, and what such a trauma meant personally and communally. I learned how such crimes against humanity are perpetrated and joined a chorus of Jewish children who utter a solemn vow -- “Never again.”
Jews have always embraced our sorrowful and redemptive history. As a people who know what it means to be a stranger in a strange land, we are taught to spread compassion and uplift the other; that as Rabbi Eliezer said, the dignity of all people should be as important as our own. Our stories are not just our own, because when we share them we ignite their power.
Our traumatic experience makes us keenly aware of the suffering of others. We are not afraid to dwell in a world of discomfort or pain. We don’t shy away from confronting the realities of the world.
This mandate of the Jewish people played a great role in developing my PresenTense venture, Share Our Stories, a Holocaust arts education initiative of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. This project is an extension of the program founded by my boss and mentor Samara Hutman, The Righteous Conversations Project, a collaboration of Holocaust survivors and teens who come together for discussion and action. That project is rooted in the idea that by sharing the history of the Holocaust, we can help effect change in today’s world. In passing on the traumatic and instructive stories of our past, we encourage students to think critically about their own circumstances and the kind of contemporary sources of injustice that may surround them.
In a Share Our Stories workshop, we bring Holocaust survivors and teaching artists into public and charter schools across Los Angeles. Students hear the survivor’s story and work with an artist mentor to develop works of art that respond to what they’ve heard and reflect the universality of oppression. Students – many of whom face their own trying circumstances and institutional violence – are encouraged to express themselves and find their own voice with the support of a compassionate and invested community.
Because we are a people who know what it is to be ignored and marginalized, it is important that we uplift and amplify the voices of these young people who are calling out for change. A key component of Share Our Stories is the online gallery of student artwork. Students have the opportunity to share their work and their ideas with a wider, even global community.
My hope is that Share Our Stories will help to fulfill our Jewish commitment to remember the Holocaust and allow this history to feed and inspire advocacy today. We want to support the students in our community to ask difficult questions of this history and of the present. We want to empower them to tell their own stories, to recognize their own extraordinary ability and creative potential, and to articulate their own dreams for a better future.
It is our wish that the incredible partnerships that develop between people of different generations and faiths and backgrounds will result in creation of new stories, beautiful and imaginative and hopeful stories, for our city and for our time.