Cong. Machane Chodosh Holds Kristallnacht Remembrance Event

I’m here to educate you, not to traumatize you” when teaching the Holocaust, said Julie Faska, keynote speaker at the 1938 Kristallnacht Remembrance Service held on Thursday, November 7, at Congregation Machane Chodosh, a Forest Hills synagogue started in 1939 by Jewish refugees from Europe.

Julie Faska, certified by Yad Vashem as a Holocaust educator, is a teacher at Bnos Malka Academy in Forest Hills. “Kristallnacht is a pivotal moment in history in what was coming. Kristallnacht began the Holocaust, not World War II. It foreshadowed what was coming for the Jewish nation.”

“What is it that we want for our children? What tools should they have when they are without us?” “Part of our own experience will inform our education,” said Faska, asking the audience to share their stories.

Victor Saltiel and his family escaped Alexandria, Egypt, in 1957 to live in Amsterdam, Holland, where fellow yeshivah students and synagogue members told their first-hand stories. One was hidden in farmland in northwest Holland where he heard the footsteps of the SS while in a crawl space.

Jane Stiefel’s mother watched as her synagogue burned while she went to a Jewish friend’s birthday party in Berlin that night. Jane’s great uncle came over to hide in her grandparents’ apartment. Jane’s mother was part of the Kindertransport to England while her father left Frankfurt earlier. Jane’s parents survived, but not her grandparents.

“It’s scary. How are we going to teach our children that it is safe but make them aware?” asked Julie Faska.

“A safe way is through artifacts. People very often have pictures, household objects, candlesticks, prayer books. Objects are not intimidating and are tangible. They provide context. We don’t talk about life before the Holocaust. There was a huge, rich life before the Holocaust.” One of Faska’s student’s mother’s recipes was passed down from Europe. “Roller skates, school notebooks, and textbooks are all very non-intrusive ways to start talking about the life before,” as well as reading.

Age-appropriate education is important. Children below sixth grade need specific parameters, said Faska. “If you tell a story to your child or grandchild, you need to know the end of the story and you need a survivor.” By sixth grade, one can start talking about concentration camps to students. By eighth grade, “students can process more about concentration camps but not the whole picture.”

“In high school, never to traumatize, never to scare, you can give more details about concentration camps. A lot of the ethical and moral dilemmas can start being talked about in the eighth grade. “Right, wrong, what would I have done in this situation?” We need to be non-judgmental to the people who went through this. “We should never be in these situations to make these decisions. It took strength, courage, to make these decisions. The people who didn’t survive, we can’t blame them. They had to make choices and have courage.” Dialogue about the Holocaust is necessary.

“The reality is it happened. We need to think about the future. What is it I want the person to learn? What takeaway can they have from their family history? What lesson of hope? We want all of our children to have hope. So it’s an incredible opportunity to teach not to be afraid to be Jewish and to contribute to society.”

“Also, emphasize the Righteous Among the Nations. There were good people who did the right thing. They took risks to save us, sometimes strangers.” Don’t teach just about the Nazis, the SS. “Don’t walk away hating non-Jews or thinking that they (the children) are not safe.”

The Talmud says that we must teach a child to swim. Children need to know what they are facing by having the appropriate tools, history, and education. The most important lesson is hope. They should have a strong backbone in history.

In a question-and-answer period after the presentation, Albert Silber asked, could it happen again? “You don’t shy away that there is anti-Semitism in the world. It’s in the news,” said Faska. Emphasize how adults will do everything possible to keep their children safe but “as children grow up, educate them to be agents of change.” “Children are great advocates. They can tell you exactly what they think.” They will need to know how to answer questions.

Michael Gadayev asked why the Holocaust happened. “No one can really answer why. I can tell you how it happened historically, but the why? No one is going to tell you that.” A discussion ensued how Jews have historically been scapegoats.

Elliot Arnold discussed how anti-Semitism is in the back of people’s minds that can be brought forth. Julie Faska discussed the power of the media and how there was tremendous propaganda both by Germany and even in America. “German school children were taught how long Jewish noses were.

“The prejudice can be fed into by the media. Be aware of the news; be aware of what’s going on. Point out biasness and prejudice. Just because it’s written out that doesn’t make it true. Who is writing it, who is the audience?”

Michael Cohen came not as Legislative and Communications Director for City Councilman Karen Koslowitz but because his mother was from Berlin. “It (the Holocaust) should not be politicized.”

Rabbi Yossi Mendelson of Congregation Machane Chodosh said, “The anti-Semitism today is not a new phenomenon. It may be surprising, unexpected, for us living in the United States, but it’s not a new experience for us as Jews. Isolation, bias, discrimination, this we know how to handle. The level of Jewish pride and accomplishment, we don’t know how to handle the opportunities.”

“There was a time when we faced anti-Semitism; we would appeal to elected officials, to people of influence, asking them to rescue us from a difficult situation. Thousands of Jews were saved this way. In today’s day and age, there is a new level of Jewish influence never seen before in Jewish history. Our response must be different as self-identifying Orthodox Jews.”

During November 9-10, 1938: 267 synagogues were destroyed, 7,500 Jewish businesses were shattered, 91 Jews were killed, and 30,000 Jews were taken to concentration camps in Austria, Germany, and the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Kristallnacht means “Night of the Broken Glass.” It was the beginning of the violent persecution of the Jews.

The premise was Herschel Greenspan shooting a German embassy delegate in Paris on November 7, 1938. Greenspan’s family and other Polish Jews were kicked out of Germany and forced into Poland with nothing.

The diplomat died on November 9. That same day, a Nazi convention was being held in Munich remembering the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch (when the Nazis tried to violently take power). Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist, convinced Adolf Hitler and Nazi leaders gathered there to start the violence.

 By David Schneier