I watched my son gaze curiously at the wall of the synagogue; his eyes falling on a worn and tattered scroll behind a glass display.
We were visiting my parents’ synagogue during the first two two days of Passover, and my son wanted to learn more about the Torah, the hand-scribed scroll of the Old Testament, which hung on the wall. This particular Torah was desecrated by the Nazis during World War Two and was recovered by the Jewish people. This sacred object was very much a symbol of the resilience of my community and a source of pride for the synagogue.
My inquisitive four-year-old examined the tears and burnt markings and wanted to know what happened. He understood the Torah was usually kept in the Aron Kodesh, or holy cabinet, and is used during Jewish prayer service. He wanted to know why this particular Torah was behind glass.
My first thought was to deflect his attention to something else. The Holocaust was an awful time in history and one which triggers in me deep feelings of anger, sadness and hopelessness. How could I tell my child, who still has yet to really learn how horrible humanity can be, there was a time when the Jews were rounded up and murdered simply for existing?
Before I launched into a frightening rant about six million Jews, Hitler and Auschwitz. I paused and considered what my son was asking me. He had a question about a very specific item, the aforementioned Torah. Though it’s connection to the Holocaust is relevant, I knew I could explain what happened using age appropriate language and omitting (for now) the scarier facts of the time.
I told my son a long time ago, there were some mean people who did some bad things to the Jewish people. Refering to the Torah, I went on to say those mean people took things away from the Jewish people because they were special and the mean people knew taking them away would make the Jewish people sad. I told him the Jewish people fought hard and got the Torah back.
We won and the meanies lost. You could use those words to explain most of Jewish history. The timing of my son’s question was not lost on me. Here he was asking me about the Holocaust in the middle of a holiday celebrating the Jews being freed from slavery. This familiar story of hardship and perseverance is what sustains the Jewish people and helps us stay positive even in the darkest times.
Around the same time I was gently introducing the subject of the Holocaust to my child, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer managed to insult every person impacted by the Holocaust by insinuating Hitler’s actions weren’t as bad as those taken by Syrian President Assad. This gaffe outraged me and reminded me just how easily misinformation about the Holocaust can spread, and how teaching our kids about this and other genocides is imperative to their prevention. This doesn’t mean showing preschoolers pictures of mass graves, but it does mean being honest with them about human cruelty and reminding them about human kindness. It means acknowledging terrible moments in our history and building a foundation for righting those wrongs.
My Jewish son will grow to learn more about the Holocaust. He will attend public school in one of the small number of states required to teach the subject. He will hear accounts from the many descendants of survivors among his peers, and, if we are lucky, direct from the survivors themselves. He will find my photos from my visits to Auschwitz, Birkenau, Treblinka and Majdanek and may be inspired to embark on his own journey to those sites of unfathomable suffering.
And, maybe, one day we won’t need to speak of “meanies” anymore.
Reblogged this on prettyflyforawhitemom and commented:
I came across this post today and just had to share it on the committee’s website. Educating about the Holocaust is not always left for our older youth, but the very young as well. This mom has the right idea when tough questions come up.
Thank you so much for sharing
Awesome post. I reblogged this on another site I run called “I Remember Committee” a group I helped build at my previous school. Please check out the site. Thank you!
I will check them out. Thank you!
It didn’t “Reblog” like it was supposed to, so I pinged you twice- once to your blog in general and once to the actual post. I’m not sure where the “reblogged” one went to… I’m sorry I lost you in the blogosphere.
I think it ended up on your own blog. Either way, I appreciate it!
Aha! There it is! Lol!!
Pingback: “The meanies lost, or how I taught my four-year-old about the Holocaust” as posted by Maybe I’ll Shower Today – I Remember Committee
For once I don’t have the words to adequately express my thoughts on what you have written. Saying I am appalled at what that man said is a massive understatement. I am not Jewish myself but I once had close ties to the Jewish community in Toronto and I understand more about Jewish history than I would have done were it not for that period of time. Blessings to you and your little son.
Thank you so much. By learning from and understanding one another, maybe we can make this world a little better.
Wow. Just wow. This was spot on and so potently written. My father was a holocaust survivor and I really wish My parents had read it when they first started explaining things to me. Hope you submit this somewhere. Kveller? Also, aha! So you’re also Jewish, this explains why your mom is always watching, as you just wrote on my blog post. So glad to have found you! Stephanie (ps. See my recent PassOver the Rainbow post, you’ll get a chuckle)
Thank you so much. It was also posted on The Good Men Project. A lot of times I will send Jewish related originals to Kveller, but wanted this one for me. I’ll check out your Passover post!