It is almost over, this day we know as "Holocaust Remembrance Day." It is always a day that stirs my spirit deeply, but this year something happened that really brought to light how little awareness most of us have regarding this day, or even the horrific events that we are to recall on this day.
I received a call to substitute for the 9th grade English teacher at our local high school. Music and English are the two subjects I am passionate about and I relish the opportunity to interact with students in both those arenas. Right now the 9th graders are studying the book titled Night, written by the famous Jewish author, Eliezer Wiesel. I have known about this celebrated writer, but have not read his books, and so I checked a copy out of the school library and read the entire thing the night before my first teaching day. I couldn't put it down! Mr. Wiesel's own, gut-wrenching account of his experience in the Auschwitz death camp of Nazi Germany causes one to trudge in his young footsteps, seeing horrors that should never be seared upon the conscience and suffering pain and humiliation beyond anything any of us can imagine. I so looked forward to my time with these high school freshmen, in the hopes that I could engrave the words of this book upon their hearts and their memories, making it more than just a "history lesson," but rather a passionate determination to never allow such atrocities to occur again in their lifetimes!
I began by letting them know my love for Israel and the Jewish people. I told them of my many journeys to the Land and how I have forged so many close, personal relationships with Israeli families. To my astonishment many students were surprised to learn that there still is a nation of Israel in our day! And when I began speaking about the terrible resolutions being made in the United Nations against Israel and the right to build on her own land, I discovered that almost none of them knew what the United Nations was!
I only had two days. Two days in which to light a fire in a few young adolescents who live in a world of cell phones, entertainment and sports. Two days in which to stretch their world-view beyond the bubble of their daily lives, and ask them to put themselves in the shoes of this young Jewish boy who found himself naked in the frozen cold of a German winter, fighting for a scrap of bread and daily fearing that the "Selection" process would put him and his father in the next line for the black smoke of the death ovens.
I believe I did reach a few. After class on one of those days two girls came back to my desk and asked me, "What is the difference between Judaism and Christianity?" I told them I could answer the question in one word: "Jesus." That led to many more questions, and suddenly I found myself with the most unique opportunity to share the Word of God in a public school, because their questions needed answers!
Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Israel at 10:00this morning the sirens blared across the land and everything and everyone stopped and kept two minutes of silence. They stopped to remember - not just the Holocaust, but a grandmother, an uncle, a mother, a son. It is so excruciatingly personal for them. But my hope is that I caused the book to be deeply personal for these students - and I left them with a great challenge. With my eyes piercing theirs, moving up and down the rows of desks, I implored them, "Finish this book and then make a commitment to yourself and to your generation that THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN ON YOUR WATCH." The response was a stunned silence. But I'm choosing to believe that some will remember.