In Israel, a two-minute siren sounds at 10 a.m. on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Cars immediately stop, even on highways, and drivers get out and stand at attention. Terence and I walked down to Herzog Boulevard, a major thoroughfare and the same place we played in the intersections on Yom Kippur. As on that day, I found myself so moved.
I’ve been thinking about the social contract that says: stop your car, get out, remember, honor. It is safe. It is important. (I also acknowledge that this code is not pervasive. We saw a couple of moving cars; elsewhere in Israel, a couple of drivers were hit as they stood outside their cars; and Israeli drivers on settlement roads in the West Bank do not observe the siren in this way, probably for safety reasons).
I’ve also been thinking about how we talk about great tragedy with young children. In Israel, there is no postponing discussion of the Holocaust until children are “ready for it.” Last week, we went to story time in a local gan and this was the bulletin board, framed in preschool concepts of kindness. Hitler made the Yehudim very sad.
Since the siren rings throughout the country, our kids also observed Yom HaShoah. This is how Hannah’s teacher framed it:
In the morning I had a discussion with the class and told them what was
going to happen….I asked the children if they could remember other holidays or special days that we had learned about where people were not respected or were made to feel bad because they were different. We reminded ourselves about Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Thanksgiving and revisited what we had learned. I explained that there were and
are places and times where people were not as lucky as we are in our class. We all come from different countries, celebrate different holidays, speak different languages, and look different and yet we are all friends who get to celebrate our differences. I explained that during the siren we were remembering all the people in the world that weren’t as lucky as we are.
Of course, Hannah’s curiosity has led her to ask many more questions about the Holocaust, so she’s familiar with some of the difficult details. But I thought her teacher’s approach was so lovely, thoughtful, and reflective of the classroom environment Hannah is lucky enough to have this year.