This week’s Progressive Judaism debate tackles…holocaust education.
Q: Is kindergarten too early to teach children about the Holocaust?
Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers
Educationally, we need to be very careful about just how we use the memory of the Shoah. I’m certainly not saying we should forget and move on, absolutely not, but I do worry about the emphasis we give the Shoah in Jewish education.
Shoah educational programmes and memorials always draw people together, and this is right. But if that is the only thing for which a person comes into a synagogue, or if children are raised feeling the responsibility to continue Judaism because six million were lost, it makes me wonder about the future of Judaism.
There must be something more compelling for our children (and adults) to cling on to, and it must bring them joy and meaning. They must understand the happiness of chagim, the importance of creating holy time on Shabbat, the responsibility they have and the power of community.
But that cannot be built on the back of guilt and fear of persecution. The horrors of the Shoah will be part of their Jewish knowledge for years to come. Perhaps we should make the most of these first years we have to really instil a love of Judaism, not a fear of no longer existing.
• Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers is the Movement for Reform Judaism’s community educator
Every year at Apples and Honey Nursery we mark Yom HaShoah by sharing memories. How else would we honour those who didn’t survive to gather their own? The issue isn’t whether we should teach about the Shoah, rather how we do it sensitively and carefully.
At this age, obviously, we don’t give graphic details. We teach through empathy. We talk about happy and sad memories. We light six candles and have quiet time. We think about how we can protect and look after others.
Yom HaShoah is integrated into the cycle of celebrations and commemorations that make up the Jewish year. For little children, Purim and Pesach are as immediate as Yom HaShoah. Children don’t understand the concept of time, so don’t react in the same ways as adults who are much closer to the events that destroyed our family and friends.
It is older children who have been “protected” from the Shoah by their anxious parents, who are often traumatised by finding out later in life. If Yom HaShoah is part of Jewish identity from a young age and its truths are revealed gradually, learning about the Holocaust is less distressing and influences relationships for the good.
• Judith Ish-Horowicz is principal of Apples and Honey Nursery, London. Many of her family died in the Shoah