Over the last month, and now in the coming week, my dad and I have had the privilege and honor to speak to students from all over, including Newark, NJ; Norwood, NJ; Old Tappan, NJ; and we will be speaking in Harrison, NY tomorrow. In each case the students continue to amaze us. These students range in age from 5th graders all the way up to 11th graders. Each situation is unique. Some students have already read the book and are coming into the assembly with questions formulated and an understanding of what my dad went through. In other schools, these students had no idea what they were about to hear. They knew that they were going to hear about a Holocaust survivor, but the details were never shared.
It's amazing how different many of the questions are depending on where these kids are being raised. Yet their is a common theme to them all. When we speak to a group of students that have many immigrants in the audience, they are very interested in how my father got here, what were his experiences. If the students are being raised in an atmosphere of violence, their questions tend to turn more inward - How do you live without hate? How do you get over it? But regardless of where theses students reside, their is a common theme to their questioning - What can we do?
Think about that for a moment. No matter where we go, our youth is yearning to know if they can make a difference. Can their voice be heard? For us to be able to speak to them and explain to them that yes - they are our future. It is about them, about what they take away from this story. The story is not pleasant. It brings up a subject matter that makes many uncomfortable. It is hard to try to imagine that this man standing in front of you today was once a child that suffered so much. And to see that he went on to live a full and complete life, and yes even a happy one, is truly amazing. But it is not about just his story. That would not be enough. It is about teaching the lessons that we can learn.
I know it may sound corny, but I have to believe that he survived for a reason. Perhaps that reason is exactly what we are doing now. To take these experiences and teach the next generation about tolerance, respect, perseverance and hope. Even if we can reach just a few, it is a few more than we had yesterday. I am hopeful for us as a society. I do truly believe that deep down most people are good. If we can get those voices to rise louder and stronger than the voices of hate we have a chance, and to do this we must start with the youth.
This weekend starts the week long commemorations for Yom Hashoah -Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this remembrance day let's not only remember, let's learn.