My Bar Mitzvah Project: Encounters with Antisemitism and Resilience

In January 2020, I was only a month away from my Bar Mitzvah. On winter break, my family and I went to Jamestown, California in the Gold Country on the way back from a trip to the mountains and a stop to visit the Gold Rush town of Columbia. We went into an old antique shop to look for baseball cards. I was very surprised and disturbed to find Nazi memorabilia in that shop, and so were my parents. […] We got in touch with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and they wrote the shop owner a letter and asked her to get rid of the Nazi memorabilia and to stop buying and selling it. The ADL put us in touch with Yedida Kanfer, PhD, Director of Community Education at the Jewish Family Children’s Services Holocaust Center. I worked closely with Yedida, studying the history, experience, and effect of the Holocaust. After this Yedida said she thought I was ready to attend a few events where Anita, a Holocaust survivor, was speaking and teaching about her experience. [Anita is a member of the JFCS Holocaust Center’s William J. Lowenberg Speaker’s Bureau.]

Virtual Speakers Bureau Events with Holocaust Survivor Anita

I attended a JFCS Holocaust Center Summer Learning Series virtual event, “A Life Sentence”: Testimony from Anita, Holocaust Survivor, on June 8, 2020. At this event Anita talked about her experience in the Holocaust as a Hidden Child and her emotions. She expressed her sadness and anger about what she had been through. She described how her experience changed her and made her resilient.

My biggest take away from this was that by learning from a Holocaust Survivor we can better understand how to handle things in other instances. We can also appreciate the life that we have and see that some people have overcome really big obstacles in their lives.

I attended Part II of “A Life Sentence” on Zoom with Anita on June 16, 2020. At this event Anita described her experience after the Holocaust and how the Holocaust affected the rest of her life. My biggest lesson from this event was that something terrible can happen very early in life, or during it, and it can have a very profound impact on the rest of your life. Anita has managed to survive a very traumatic experience and create a very peaceful and fulfilling life. I really admire her for this strength.

After this, I wrote to Anita, and I was so excited when she responded to me via email and set up a time to meet virtually.

What I Have Learned Through this Project

This project has had a profound impact on me and my identity as a Jew. When we visited Jamestown and encountered the store with Nazi memorabilia I was only a month away from my Bar Mitzvah. I had heard about antisemitism but had never experienced it directly other than sometimes hearing Jewish stereotypes. The stereotypes bothered me and hurt my feelings but did not change my way of life. I had never really encountered someone who had their way of life changed by antisemitism.

The experience of seeing Nazi memorabilia sold in a store just a short distance from San Francisco made me feel vulnerable and scared. It was like this time in history was not in the past but the present and had touched my life. This meant that I had to look at it or look away. [….]

I am grateful to Anita for the gift of getting to know her. I am so deeply impressed with what Anita has endured in her life and by what a great attitude she has. She taught me a great lesson of something I have heard: what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger and more resilient. I have so much respect for Anita and all survivors of the Holocaust.

This project has helped me understand how important it is to take antisemitism and racial and ethnic prejudice very seriously and commit to trying to make a difference. I find myself in a great place in history with the opportunity to try to help with reforms in our society with race, ethnicity, and prejudice. I would like to help educate people on Jews and our history to try to help create tolerance and acceptance and peace. I would also like to explore ways I can educate people on other groups in our society who have been oppressed. I would like everyone to be treated equally and have equal opportunities.

[….] To be honest, in the weeks before my Bar Mitzvah I kept thinking that I wish we had never gone into that store to look for baseball cards since it was so upsetting to see the Nazi memorabilia, but now I can see that it has been a growing experience I will cherish. I hope to keep my growth mindset about this experience and use it to educate others about how harmful prejudice can be.

The author is an 8th grader at Roosevelt Middle School in San Francisco.

Parents, students, teachers, and administrators are invited to join the JFCS Holocaust Center, Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Marin County Office of Education, and Beyond Differences for a timely series of virtual workshops: Confronting Antisemitism.

Posted by Admin on October 12, 2020

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