Artwork by Marlo D.
Artist statement: I created a barbed-wire fence, and above there are stars in the sky. The barbed wire fence is meant to symbolize people being blocked from the outside world, both metaphorically and literally. The stars are meant to represent hope and resistance, which sometimes seemed out of reach. The people might have resisted in small ways, and the stars are meant to symbolize that every act of resistance was a little piece of bravery and good in the world.
Today at PJA we commemorated Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day. Each year, the 8th grade students create a meaningful service that includes student reflections, traditional prayers, music, and a candle-lighting ceremony. Shoah is the Hebrew word for "catastrophe" and the term commonly used by Jews to describe the Holocaust. PJA’s 8th graders are equipped to conduct a program such as this after completing a special Jewish Studies class on the topic of the Shoah. The class is an important facet of our students' learning providing them with a comprehensive understanding of our past and a rich foundation for future study. High points of this year’s class included a group project investigating the significance of Kristallnacht (“Night of the Broken Glass”) through the use of primary sources and welcoming guest presenter Amanda Coven, Director of Education for the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education (OJMCHE), who helped students better understand the role ghettos played in Nazi Germany and how they contrast and connect to ghettos in America.
But beyond the historical details and terminology, Shoah class is, at its core, an opportunity to move beyond dates, numbers, and statistics and honor the human stories of the Holocaust. This is done through viewing survivor testimonies from the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education; engaging with correspondences, documents, and photographs; and reading first-hand accounts including Elie Wiesel’s Night and The Diary of Anne Frank. The learning was also enriched by speakers who shared their families’ stories. We were especially honored to welcome via Zoom Danelle Romain and Betsy Bergstein (mother and grandmother of lower school students George and Sam) who told the story of their grandmother/mother who escaped Berlin in 1939 and Keren Rosenblum who with her 8th grader Ariel shared details about their family including a recent visit to Germany to attend the installation ceremony of Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks) with the names of their relatives who were victims of the Holocaust. Two PJA teachers also presented to the class. Lower School Jewish Studies teacher Jana Hopfinger shared about her cousin who was one of just a few children who survived Terezin and Gita Pastala, Middle School Math teacher, who also had a family connection to Terezin with a more tragic outcome for her great grandparents. Their studies concluded with an introduction to Jewish Cultural and Spiritual Resistance, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Partisans, and the “Righteous Among the Nations,” non-Jews who risked their lives to save those targeted by the Nazis and have since been honored by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem (Israel’s official museum and memorial to the victims of the Holocaust). We were grateful to hear from former Jewish Studies teacher Naomi Leavitt who shared the story of her grandparents who were part of the Dutch Resistance.
Our school is fortunate to have access to incredible resources and individuals willing to share their family stories, including today’s guest speaker Rabbi Michael Cahana who shared stories about his mother Alice Lok Cahana who was a Holocaust survivor. We are especially indebted to our partner organization OJMCHE which reminds us that “we study the Holocaust to study ourselves: to examine our responsibility in an interconnected world where injustice persists on a grand scale.” Throughout our students’ time at PJA we encourage them to develop the perspective to see themselves as part of history and the wisdom and confidence to influence the present and the future. Through their study of the Shoah and their commemoration of Yom HaShoah, as well as their culminating Capstone service project and research paper, we see these goals become reality.