I took solace in knowing there would always be an explanation, a because to each why. For a time, there was nothing I could wonder about my life as a Jew that couldn’t be summarily answered in the Jewish Book of Why, Volumes I - III.
But as I got older, and left home, the answers to my questions were more difficult to find. In college, I studied the Holocaust, and the philosophical responses to the communal and personal trauma. How could the Jewish tradition reckon with such destruction? There were no clear answers, but one theologian’s response resonated with me: Emil Fackenheim wrote that the Holocaust was an undeniable part of the Jewish narrative and had to be remembered and incorporated into contemporary Jewish life. It was our communal obligation to do so in the same way that we are called upon every week to observe the Sabbath or every Passover to reenact the Exodus.
In fact, remembering the Holocaust became a key way I thought about my own Jewish identity. I am not alone in this feeling: According to the Pew survey came out 73 percent of respondents saw Remembering the Holocaust as their primary expression of their Judaism.
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 the dignity of all people should be as important as our own.
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.
My PresenTenseLA venture is Share Our Stories, a Holocaust arts education initiative of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. By teaching this history of the Holocaust to students across this city in an innovative and creative way, we also encourage students to think critically about their own circumstances and the kind of contemporary sources of injustice that may surround them.
As part of our work, we bring Holocaust survivors and teaching artists into public school across Los Angeles for intensive workshops. 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 on 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 community.
Share Our Stories helps to fulfill our Jewish commitment to remember the Holocaust and allows 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.