To Life: Birmingham Holocaust Education Center’s Event, L’Chaim!

Commentary

As a Jew, I don’t like talking about the Holocaust.

As an author, I have a preference for events of antisemitism that displaced and killed Jewish people living in every other Jewish community on earth, from Argentina to China.

As a Jew, I need to tell people that hatred towards Jews is ancient and that bloody, catastrophic events make up almost the entirety of Jewish history, not just 90 years of it. As a Jewish educator, I do not teach the Holocaust. My students will learn to say Mourner’s Kaddish when the time is right. As a millennial with progressive, socially forward friends, I am frequently pointing out the antisemitism of American and world politics, and the fact that this is often accompanied by “this has nothing to do with Israel” is testament to the mentality that it is still thought that Jews are not to be trusted.

As a Jew, I am horrified by how little my peers know about the Holocaust. “I don’t know, we spent, like, three days on it in middle school.” “We read Anne Frank, but it was so boring.” “I was sick that week, I think.” And we wonder how the world could be seeing the mentality that gave birth to the Holocaust on our screens now, in 2017.  We’ve seen it. We’ve seen Anne Frank banned from schools for being “too depressing.” We’ve shied away from confronting history, made Captain America a Nazi, made “liberty and justice for all” into a phrase followed by asterisks.

{Mark your calendar – L’Chaim 2017, Honoring Cathy O. Friedman on August 20th in Birmingham}

 

And of course, no one really wants to talk about genocide. If you’re in a place where there aren’t any of the people who were targeted, why spend your time thinking about something so unpleasant? Raise your hand if you had no Native American students in your class and you sheepishly skimmed through the chapter on the Trail of Tears. Who learned anything about Bosnia?  Rwanda? It’s not easy. It isn’t supposed to be.

 

The thing is, there aren’t a lot of Jews period, not just in Alabama. Instead of using that as an excuse to not learn about antisemitism, let’s use it as a reason to learn about it.

 

Out of curiosity, I surveyed my Facebook friends regarding their Holocaust education in the Alabama public school system. The post read: “If you went to school in Alabama … please tell me what your Holocaust education looked like, covered, and so on. I am also interested in any other Jewish history that was covered, if any, like Jews in the Soviet era, Jews in the American Colonial era, or any important Jewish figures whose Jewishness was mentioned in discussion.”

 

The response to my status was that mention of Jews, Jewish history, and the Holocaust started and ended with Anne Frank. Our country’s most famous woman, Lady Liberty, stands on the words of a Jewish woman, yet Emma Lazarus remains a faceless name with no religion in the American imagination. How are we supposed to care about the slaughter of a people we don’t know?

 

Education.

 

I have written about this time and time again. As a Jew, I am demanding that we talk about the Holocaust.

 

Luckily, we have a Holocaust Education Center here in Birmingham. And luckily, not all of the events are gloomy and dark. On August 20th, The Birmingham Holocaust Education Center will hold a show at the Alys Stephens Center  called L’Chaim, or “to life” in Yiddish. There will be music, desserts, and a performance by The Steel City Men’s Chorus, an amazing local musical initiative that does so much community outreach, you should really check out their website because there is almost too much to list here. Please click on the link to get more information about the event.

 

The BHEC is a valuable resource for Birmingham, and it is vital now that we utilize them. The Jewish community needs allies. It needs support from non-Jews, not because they are pro-Israel, not because they want to convert us, or any of the ulterior reasons  that have left me feeling used and disgusted, but we need allies who care about the safety of Jews because they care about the safety of the people they share the world with. Because doing the right thing is part of inhabiting the planet. It is how we are able to stay here and thrive. To simply survive is how we live when we live in fear.

 

My Birmingham neighbors have shown great support in the wake of recent antisemitic events that have shaken this community. We are grateful for the response. But being a neighbor is a responsibility that doesn’t end with a sympathy card. It’s a responsibility to each other, to have each other’s back, to learn about each other, to sometimes mow each other’s lawn by accident (wait, sorry…I got out of metaphor). L’Chaim is a great place to start. If you want to know why your Jewish neighbors worth getting to know, come see how we party! Come share some food! Come smile with us!

Look at how tasty Jewish dessert looks!

 

It isn’t all black and white footage of suffering. There is life, there is music. There is a place for you to celebrate with us, neighbor.