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When our son was learning to read, every piece of writing was a new adventure, including the Jewish calendar on our kitchen wall.

Sounding out a new set of words one spring day as we were chopping vegetables and setting the table, he asked: "What's Holocaust Remembrance Day?" 

We weren't ready to talk about the Shoah (Holocaust), but my wife, quick on her feet, started to explain this enormous and incomprehensible thing to our six year old.

"Oh," he said. "It's like Purim, but without Esther and Mordecai."

That people hated Jews enough to try to kill them did not shock our six year old; he was already familiar with that story. What made the Shoah different was that they succeeded.

It took the Jewish people a while to figure out how to deal with the shock of the Holocaust; we are still figuring it out.  The immediate aftermath was silence. Eight years after the war ended, the Israeli government created YomHaZikaron laShoah v'laGvurah (Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day).  The full name reflects the desire of Israeli leaders then to emphasize the narrative of Jewish resistance along with that of destruction.

Over the years, Yom HaShoah, Holocaust remembrance, and Holocaust studies have evolved and become anything but silent. In fact, according to the 2013 Pew Study of Jewish Americans, more American Jews identify the Holocaust as essential to their Jewish identity than anything else.

Holocaust educators here and in Israel are re-evaluating our teaching methods. In the years ahead, as the remaining group of survivors leaves our midst, I believe Holocaust remembrance and education will again change.

Many educators who have relied on survivors to share their stories face a practical question of how to teach the subject without those personal testimonies.

Ritual has been a time-tested Jewish approach to memory. Consider the Passover Seder, which employs rituals around the maror, the 4 cups of wine, and the afikomen rather than direct narrative to evoke the Exodus.  Rabbi Avi Weiss suggests a Yom HaShoah Seder, to challenge us to feel as if we ourselves were liberated from Auschwitz.  At the Passover Seder we say "in each generation" we must tell the Passover story; Rabbi Weiss asserts, similarly each generation must tell the story of the Holocaust.

"Each generation must remember the Holocaust in its own way," suggests our resident Holocaust educator Adrian Schrek.  Adrian leads a fellowship in Holocaust education, in which educators develop new tools to help their students grapple with this difficult subject.  In Adrian's view, Holocaust education and Holocaust remembrance evolve as we evolve and as the conditions from which we view the Holocaust change.

It's a fine line - seeing the Holocaust through the prism of our own experience makes sense. Yet, if we twist the story to fit our own conceptions and sensibilities we dishonor the victims and ourselves.

My Passover Seder resembles that of my grandparents Seder. But within that traditional structure, our Seder is quite different - we experience the Exodus through the prism of our own lived experience, and shine the light of our tradition's wisdom on our own conditions.

My grandparents could not separate their experience of the Holocaust from their commitment to Israel.  Had Israel existed a decade earlier, their parents and siblings would have survived.  Their take-away - we must never again let this happen to us!

My children cannot separate their understanding of the Holocaust from their commitment to social justice.  Their take-away - we must never again let this happen to others!

To paraphrase Yossi Klein Halevi - forgetting one risks losing our lives; forgetting the other risks losing our souls.

The Passover Haggadah emphasizes that God redeemed us from Egyptian slavery.  In the Purim story, Esther, inspired by Mordecai, prevents the slaughter.  

Neither God nor Esther was found during the Holocaust.  Their absence is part of this story. Perhaps God is found not there, but now, in our efforts to honor the memory of those who fell. And perhaps we and our students honor them not only by remembering them, but by learning how to "be Esther" 
- to stand up and speak up, to realize, as Mordecai made Esther realize, that "never again" relies on us.

David Waksberg
CEO Jewish LearningWorks
Professional Development Opportunities

Building a Culture of Continuous Engagement

A workshop for educators, directors, clergy and the community at large

Thursday, May 19th 10am - 12pm
Jewish LearningWorks | 601 14th Ave, SF
Led by Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith

The world of Jewish education could look very different if all of our children transitioned seamlessly from our early childhood centers to our schools and then to our teen programs. Learn to help families experience a journey of continuous engagement.

RSVP to to secure your spot

Wilderness Torah's Training Institute 

Connect to Nature, Build Village, Mentor Youth, and Awaken Earth-Based Judaism

Wednesday, July 20th - July 24th 
Felton, California

For four days in the wild, take a journey of discovery in nature-connection, renewing earth-based Jewish traditions, and building holistic community through mentoring. 

All who wish to learn about earth-based Judaism and Wilderness Torah's nature-mentorship models are welcome to join.
This training is great for Jewish institutions looking to expand their nature-based programming; Jewish educators and lay leaders who want to offer this kind of teaching; and those interested in their own education. 

 Jewish Community Library
Jews by Choice, Jews by Chance: Leadership in Bay Area Jewish Life
Thursday, May 5th
7:00pm - 8:30pm 
Jewish Community Library

Presented by: Rabbi Susan Lieder, Sue Fishkoff, and Dr. Peg Sandel

INCLUDE Special Needs
Family Camp *SOLD OUT*

Friday, May 6th - Sunday May 8th
Camp Newman, Santa Rosa 
for wait list, email

Presented by: Dr. David Neufeld

Jewish Community Library
Yom Ha'atzmaut Hebrew Storytelling
Hebrew Storytelling Audience   
Sunday, May 8th
11:00am - 12:00pm
Jewish Community Library, SF

Presented by: Koren Zuckerman

Israel Education Initiative
Yom Ha-atzmaut Community Celebration
Wednesday, May 11th
5:30pm - 7:30pm
Temple Emanu-El, SF

Presented by: Congregation Emanu-El, Jewish Community Federation, and the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

Jewish Community Library
Italian Illuminated Ketubot
Thursday, May 12th
7:00pm - 8:30pm 
Jewish Community Library, SF

Presented by: Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan

Jewish Community Library
Dying/Death/Burial: What Jews Do
Sunday, May 15th
1:30pm - 3:00pm 
Jewish Community Library, SF

Presented by: Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan

Professional Development
Building a Culture of Continuous Engagement
Thursday, May 19th
10:00am - 12:00pm 
Jewish LearningWorks, SF

Presented by: Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith

Jewish Community Library
Film Class: The Merchant of Venice
Thursday, May 19th
7:00pm - 9:30pm 
Jewish Community Library, SF

Presented by: Howard Freedman

INCLUDE Special Needs
Walk With Friendship Circle
Sunday, May 22nd
10:30am - 1:00pm 
Osherman Family JCC, Palo Alto

Presented by: the Friendship Circle

Jewish Community Library
Count and Sing with Jonathan Bayer
Sunday, May 22nd
10:30am - 11:30am 
Jewish Community Library, SF

Presented by: Jonathan Bayer

Jewish Community Library
The Man that Got Away: Appreciating Harold Arlen
Sunday, May 22nd
1:30pm - 3:30pm 
Jewish Community Library, SF

Presented by: Walter Rimler, Jack Dynis, and Ross Gualco

Jewish Community Library
So Much to Be Done: The Writings of Breast Cancer Activist Barbara Brenner
Tuesday, May 24th
7:00pm - 8:30pm 
Jewish Community Library, SF

Presented by: Suzanne Lampert, Barbara Sjoholm, and Elain Elinson

Professional Development
Wilderness Torah's Training Institute
Wednesday, July 20th - Sunday, July 24th
10:00am - 11:00am
Felton, CA

Presented by: Wilderness Torah

For Families with Young Children

Jewish LearningWorks | 601 14th Ave | San Francisco, CA 94118