There are Stars on the Ground

Posted on by Rabbi Barbara Symons

On Sunday, we brought our 8th-10th graders to the Keeping Tabs Holocaust Structure in Squirrel Hill. We gave them three minutes of quiet time in each of the points of the Jewish star plus a few places outside of the structure for guided contemplation and reflection. Here were the questions we asked them to respond to:

  • Why do you think the Jews didn’t react sooner and didn’t see the Holocaust coming? Why do you think the Germans went along with the Nazis and didn’t try to stop them?
  • Take a full minute to look closely in the glass boxes and take in the enormity of 6 million people. What is the impact of collecting 6 million tabs to represent 6 million Jewish lives murdered?
  • If you were creating a memorial would you have a specific focus on righteous gentiles and if so what would this look like?
  • This was a school project started by one teacher with one class that grew to involve more classes, the entire community and even the world. Why do you think the teacher and students decided to make this exhibit public?
  • What do you think Hanna (the main character upon which My Real Name is Hanna was based) would think and feel standing here right now?
  • The real person that Hanna’s character is based on is Esther Stermer. Esther says, “Long ago, people believed that spirits and ghosts lived in the ruins and caves. Now we could see that there were none here. The devils and evil spirits were on the outside, not in the grotto (caves).” What are today’s evil spirits?
  • If you could build a structure next to this structure to include the other 5 million people killed in the Holocaust, what would this look like?
  • What would you hope that a non-Jewish person of your age would experience while standing here?
  • The author Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust Survivor, wrote “The opposite of Love is not Hate, it’s indifference.” What do you think this means?

We wanted the students to explore in silence so the other teacher and I sat in the middle quietly. Prior to coming, I had thought about what I would do for that time – about a ½ hour to 40 minutes and I decided to bring a book. That may sound inappropriate. But I did not bring just any book. I brought Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.  I had already heard her speak and had read (p. 17) “Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The tragically accelerated, chilling and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi German. The lingering, millennia-long caste system of India. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States.”

I felt it was the right book to read sitting in the exact center of a Magen David, surrounded by 6,000,000 silenced voices calling out and a minyan of students and parents experiencing silence in order to find their voices.

The final question we asked the students was: How will you remember and never forget?” My answer, in part, is: to follow Elie Wiesel’s words from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: “Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.” Let us interfere.

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