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Yom HaShoah

Answer By: 
Stephanie Fink

The Holocaust is an important topic not only in Jewish history, but in the history of humankind. The topic is disturbing, and it is appropriate to feel uncomfortable and upset by the stories, the facts, and especially the images. I applaud your thoughtful approach to how – not if – your tween grandchild should be taught about the Holocaust. Here's one teacher's story about why it's so important.

There are many ways to lead into the subject at younger ages, depending on the child’s temperament and emotional development, how much the child already knows, and what is prompting the question. There is general agreement that parents and educators should be cautious about how much explicit detail children are exposed to before middle school, but that isn’t to say you should avoid the topic altogether.

In the field of Jewish education, the general guideline is to teach topics “up to the gates” until fifth grade. Yad Vashem - The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel requires visitors to its main exhibits to be at least 10 years old. Of course, parents know their own kids best – and as with all difficult subjects, it is best to be sure that you and the child’s parents are on the same page about what is appropriate.

Reading and discussing books together can be a doorway into topics related to Holocaust history. In some public schools, students read Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars in 4th grade and The Diary of Anne Frank in 5th or 6th grade. There are developmentally appropriate books for even younger children that explore the importance of memory, of human dignity, of standing up for others, as well as picture books set in that historical time period in Europe. For additional book suggestions, we recommend searching the titles curated by PJ Library® and PJ Our Way®.

I encourage you also to reach out to the rabbi and educator at your synagogue (and if you don’t yet belong to a synagogue, you can find one through our directory). This is an area in which they are likely to have some expertise, and they should be able to provide some helpful resources.

Answer By: 
Cantor Rebecca Garfein

Kristallnacht, which literally means, “the night of broken glass,” occurred on the night of November 9, 1938, and marks the beginning of the Holocaust. On Kristallnacht, Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses were destroyed by the Nazis and the streets in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe were covered with  glass from the shattered windows of synagogues, Jewish homes, and businesses. 

November 9, 1938 marks the end of normalcy in Jewish communities in Germany and throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. Shabbat services went underground, and the beautiful music that once rang out in synagogues, like the magnificent OranienburgerStrasse Synagogue in Berlin, was silenced.  Louis Lewandowski, the first musical director of the OranienburgerStrasse Synagogue, composed much of his music specifically for that magnificent space. Lewandowski, who had also worked with Viennese Cantor Salomon Sulzer, shared Sulzer’s music with his Berlin congregation as well.  Lewandowski and Sulzer's music lives on to this day, when we continue to sing many of these classic melodies during the High Holidays and on Shabbat. Jewish communities throughout the world, regardless of denomination, still use Sulzer’s Shema and Lewandowski’s Kiddush.

Kristallnacht commemorations in Reform synagogues often include candle lightings, guest speakers, poems and prayers, and documentaries. At Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City, Kristallnacht is most often commemorated with the magnificent music of Sulzer, Lewandowski, and other composers that inspire and harken us back to the beginning of Reform Judaism in Berlin and Europe. Each and every year, Congregation Rodeph Sholom includes a special memorial candle lighting on the Shabbat closest to Kristallnacht, lighting a seven-branched menorah that was specially designed by our congregant Irwin Feld, in memory of his father, Hazzan Steven Feld, a survivor. The six branches represent the six million with the seventh candle being one of hope for future generations. 

Here are some musical resources to help plan a Kristallnacht memorial service:

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor S. Appell

Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Memorial Day. It is a mitzvah to remember those who perished during the Nazi Holocaust. Many congregations and Jewish community centers hold memorial services on Yom HaShoah. Some light a memorial candle, often yellow, as a tangible reminder. Reading about the Holocaust or watching one of the many films about the Holocaust are appropriate and educational ways of marking the day. If you are spending the day with children, consider reading a book about the Holocaust through a child’s perspective. Many middle and high school students have learned about Anne Frank or read books by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. These can be topics for a meaningful discussion.

Interested in attending a Holocaust Commemoration event near you? Check out this interactive map from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

See also: Technology Provides a New Way to Observe Yom HaShoah

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