We must never forget

By Glen Pickus, Temple Beth Or | May 02, 2012

The education of Jewish youth always includes learning “never forget” about the Holocaust.

Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, is observed on the 27th of Nissan on the Jewish calendar (this year, April 18-19) as a memorial day for those who died in the Shoah. Shoah means catastrophe in Hebrew. The Shoah is also known as the Holocaust, which comes from a Greek word meaning "sacrifice by fire.”

Temple Beth Or’s Religious School has Gerry Friend, of Mukilteo to help educate our youth about the Holocaust. She is a Temple Beth Or member and has been a religious school teacher since 2006.

Though not old enough to be a Holocaust survivor, Gerry’s life was dramatically affected by Adolf Hitler’s plan to annihilate European Jews – his “final solution.” Her grandfather was one of 15 children who lived in pre-World War II Poland. Only five survived the Holocaust.

Thanks to a Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle-sponsored trip to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel, Gerry is fully trained to deliver the “never forget” message to Temple Beth Or’s youth.

Yad Vashem is a living memorial to the Holocaust. It is committed to the commemoration, documentation, research and education of the Holocaust to ensure the memory of the past and to impart the meaning of the Holocaust for future generations.

Religious School Principal Debbie Zainwel, of Mukilteo, had received information from the federation, so Gerry learned about the Yad Vashem Winter Program for educators.

She jumped at the opportunity to learn and to go to Israel to visit her 91-year-old cousin Liza Wyschnia, who survived the Holocaust and settled in Israel in 1951. Liza’s father was Gerry’s grandfather’s brother.

“I really wanted to see her again,” Gerry said of her cousin, whom she hadn’t visited since the early 1980s.

Last December, Gerry spent two weeks in Israel. The first nine days she attended classes at Yad Vashem. The last five days she visited with Liza and her family.

The 65 hours of classes covered German history from just before Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 through his demise and the fall of the Nazis in 1944.

“I really got an education,” Gerry said. Part of that education included three intensive days of exploring every square foot of the Yad Vashem museum. “It was very emotional. The museum was just fascinating. You would go room to room. Sometimes it got to the point where I just had to stop and meditate on what I was seeing, and at other times I just had to leave because it was so emotional.”

Gerry brought back with her new knowledge, skills and resources to use to teach Temple Beth Or youth about the Holocaust.

“You have to teach the little ones so they can carry it with them and pass it on to their children so it will never happen again,” Gerry said.

“And to those who say it never happened, I say, if so, then where is my family?”

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