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Friday, January 21, 2005

Imprinting Memory

Musings #95
January 19, 2005
The 9th of Shvat

Imprinting Memory

Modern teaching theory definitely has one improvement over the old. It recognizes “multiple intelligences,” different “learning styles,” but don’t think that it’s really new. King David mentions it in T’hilim, Psalms, chapter 34, verse 9, that he wrote thousands of years ago: “Ta’amu ur’u, kama tov Hashem…” “Taste/experience and see that G-d is good…” It’s not enough to just listen or look; most people must have a kinesthetic, physical experience, a taste of something to truly understand it.

That’s the basic reason for the popularity today of our sending high school students to Eastern Europe and the Nazi concentration camps, and l’havdil, to differentiate, it’s the rationale behind the Birthright Program that brings young Jewish adults from the Diaspora to Israel.

No matter how much is spent on a Holocaust museum, it is still just a museum, artificial, sterile and lacking in true human emotion. The sort of person sensitive enough to be strongly affected by the museum can be even more influenced by a book. For many neither books nor museums succeed in enblaing them to deeply comprehend the evil done by the Nazis. I’ve never made the trip to see what remains of the “death camps” and the once vibrant Jewish communities of Europe, though I did send my husband and elder son. From what I’ve heard, most people come back from the trips to “Auschwitz” with a heightened sensitivity and awareness as to what the Nazis and their allies destroyed.

All over the world, most of us who are parents rely on the school system to teach our children history and the lessons of history. Apparently, Prince Charles of Great Britain is no exception. The international media broadcast that he was horrified to discover that his two sons, educated in “the best” British private (yes, they call them “public”) schools, were oblivious of what the Nazis were and what they had done.

This made me wonder what Prince Harry, Prince William, their friends and most of the British public really know about World War Two and what led up to it. We lived in London for two years, and I’ve tried to remember all of the references to the war. My mother’s cousin told us how she had to go to a maternity hospital in the countryside, and that “people were nice during the war.” And on TV there were some great comedies about WWII, such as “Dad’s Army” and a hysterically funny one about spies in France, in which the leading actor used a ridiculous Peter Sellers-type phony French accent. So it’s clear that for many WWII was a fun time. I don’t remember there being a section of houses destroyed by the Nazi aerial attack preserved as a memorial; I even checked with a friend who grew up in England. She confirmed that not only isn’t there something to show the younger generation, but WWII isn’t stressed, it’s barely covered in History classes, and she checked with her nephews to see if there had been any changes; there were none.

Since the September 11th terror attack in the states, there has been great controversy over how and what should be built on the land where the World Trade Center once stood. Many people insist that a large section should remain unbuilt. Thousand of people were murdered on that spot, and many of the bodies were totally incinerated. That’s their grave and to build on it would trivialize their memories and the horrific terror attack on American soil. The feeling is that it’s important to leave a section, undeveloped, a brutal sore to make people remember the horror.

In Israel in the Jewish Quarter of the “walled city” of Jerusalem there is a similar controversy. The famous, majestic Churvah Synagogue, rebuilt in 1865, was again destroyed by the Arab armies in 1948. There are plans to rebuild it again, but many people think that it would be a mistake. They say that I it is of crucial importance to have a strong physical reminder of the magnificence and vitality of the pre-1948 Jewish community of Jerusalem and to show what the Arabs destroyed.

In light of the British embarrassment, it seems more and more important not to rebuild it. Most people need to physically feel and touch and history in order to see, understand it. By teaching history well, we can prevent the tragedies from being repeated.

“Ta’amu ur’u… Taste/experience and see…”

Batya Medad, Shiloh
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