The case for Holocaust education in a post-10/7 world

November 14, 2023

By Dr. Michelle Friedman (YCT Sharon and Steven Lieberman Chair of Pastoral Counseling) for Religion News

Since the horrific attack by Hamas against Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, it’s been pointed out numerous times that the massacre constituted the single most deadly day for Jews since the Holocaust. As important as the number alone is the targets: The more than 1,200 slaughtered, most of whom were tortured and terrorized first, Hamas’ victims, like those of ISIS and the Nazis, were ordinary people killed simply for who they were.

Brutality is shocking and incomprehensible on its own. The comparisons between 10/7 and the Shoah are meant to recall that violence against Jews is a dark and dangerous current in human history. But recalling the Holocaust only has value if listeners have a baseline literacy about what the Holocaust actually was.

The sad fact is that, even discounting the pathology of Holocaust denial, there is woeful ignorance about the Nazi campaign to exterminate world Jewry in the 1930s and ’40s. According to a 2020 survey by the Claims Conference, almost two-thirds (63%) of Americans ages 18-39 do not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. Almost half (48%) could not name one concentration camp or ghetto.

Even many people with some knowledge of the Holocaust have no idea that centuries of persecution, evictions, pogroms and murderous campaigns against Jews preceded the Nazis’ so-called Final Solution.

Delivering meaningful Holocaust education presents challenges. For starters, not only do many countries provide zero curriculum, at the present time fewer than half of U.S. states mandate teaching about the Shoah. In the past, many programs relied on the powerful experience of actual survivors coming into classrooms and speaking with students. As fewer and fewer witnesses remain alive, this firsthand experience will no longer be available.

But details matter. We cannot shorthand the Shoah.

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Photograph of a pro-Israel rally in front of a city college campus. Image of several people, most of whom appear to be college age or young professionals are gathered around a figure standing on the right on top of a platform and who is speaking into a microphone. Most of the figures have a pale, tanned or pinkish skin tone and many are wearing blue or holding posters or flags. There appear to be at least 9 Israeli flags, two of them are being worn by people on the bottom right like capes. There are also 2 large flags that each have the American flag on the left (a flag with 13 horizontal stripes that interchange between white and red, a large blue square on the top left corner which is dotted with 50 white, 5-pointed stars) and an Israeli flag on the right half (a white flag with two broad, blue, horizontal stripes, one on the top and one on the bottom, and a large blue Magen David in the middle, a six-pointed star made from 2 over lapping and opposite facing triangles). Several of the protesters are holding up posters that depict the American and Israeli flag with large white text over them saying "WE STAND WITH ISRAEL". Several of the protesters are wearing keepote and many of which are white, a few protesters are older, middle aged and a small number even older, and several individuals are holding phones. The figure on the right who is speaking is facing left with an arm extended and pointing outwards while the other hand is holding the black microphone. The figure appears to be male, is wearing a navy blue suit and pants, a white button down shirt, a black watch and a navy blue keepah with yellow or white patterns on the rim. He has brown, neat, short hair and beard. A poster is being held up by one of the people wearing the Israeli flag like a cape next to the speaker which reads "I (then a blue heart) ISRAEL". The poster is white with blue text and a blue stripe on the top and bottom. Around the rally are 4 large black street lamps that have a light glowing from behind a black cage-like design and the lamp is topped with a small black minaret. Behind the rally is a street with several cars and a yellow school bus either parked or driving behind them. In the distance are a few large rectangular buildings. One building is off-white, another dark grey and the last two large buildings are made of reddish-brown brick. The largest building, one of the reddish-brown ones, has a sign made of large white suspended letters that says "COLLEGE OF ART". The sky is an overcast greyish-blue and there are a few yellow-green leafed trees in the background.I'm So Proud Of Our Rabbis At This Moment - Reflections from Rabbi Linzer
Photograph of Rabbi Seth Winberg. Image of a man, from the chest upwards, angled to the right but with head facing the camera, he appears to be middle aged. He has pinkish-sandy toned skin, a shy toothy smile and eyes that are either green or blue. His hair is short and dark brown and he is clean shaven. He is wearing a cyan knit keepah and rectangular glasses that are rimless at the bottom and have black frames. He is wearing a navy blue suit with a white button down shirt and a royal blue tie with repeating pink starburst pattern followed by a small turquoise circle. The background of the image is blurry and appears to be a bluish-white series of square window panes.I’m a rabbi at Brandeis. Its decision voiding recognition for its Students for Justice in Palestine chapter was the right move