METUCHEN, NJ - Beth Moroney, consultant to the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust and an Edison Board of Education member, addressed a group of parents, grandparents, students, and teachers on the topic of “How to Teach your Children About the Holocaust and Other Difficult Events” at Temple Neve Shalom in Metuchen on April 12.
The well attended event, sponsored by the Men's Club, was part of the congregation's commemoration of Yom HaShoah.
Moroney, author of the book, "Commemorative Anniversaries of the Holocaust and Other Genocides," cited a survey conducted recently by the NJ Commission on the Holocaust, in which public and private schools throughout the state reported on how the Holocaust and other significant genocides in history are incorporated into the school curriculum. Moroney reported that teachers across the curriculum and in all grade levels sent detailed responses as to their approaches to this sensitive subject matter.
“Many schools begin as early as the first grade by sharing the book "Sneetches" by Dr. Seuss," Moroney stated. "This book was lauded by elementary teachers as a great place to start discussing with children how to respect those who are different from us and include them in their worlds.”
Moroney shared "Sneetches" with the audience and also introduced the listeners to the elementary school curriculum guide that is published by the Commission and available on-line for free to parents and educators.
After discussing how schools approach the Holocaust, Moroney spoke on how personal experiences drew her into a lifelong study of the subject matter.
“My great-grandmother was shot by the S.S. on the porch of her home in Austria,” Moroney said. “I was aware of her death at a very young age, and because my generation was the first after World War II, we just grew up knowing about the Holocaust. It never had to be introduced in our household. We just knew.”
Moroney's father, Jay Dakelman, the renowned football coach and Athletic Director from Highland Park, had served in World War II as a medic with the First Army Corps of Engineers. During his time in active duty on the European front, Dakelman's unit liberated a small concentration camp in Schongau, Germany.
“It was a difficult subject for him to talk about. He would tell me by rote, 'It was bad, it was very bad,' but getting specific details from him was difficult,” Of his experiences with the camp Moroney commented.
Of course, knowing this information about her father enhanced Moroney's awareness of the Holocaust.
“It's different today,” Moroney stated. “We are now into the third generation away from World War II, and to kids now, it's ancient history. Therefore, we must teach what happened to make sure that it never happens again.”
Moroney warned parents that before broaching the subject of the Holocaust with youngsters, a parent has to gauge how sensitive his/her child might be in hearing too many graphic details.
“Schools are incorporating the study of genocide with the New Jersey law on Anti-Bullying and Harrassment. By learning the terms 'upstander,' 'bystander,' 'bully', and 'victim' the children become cognizant of the importance of speaking up when one sees an injustice being perpetrated on someone else. Using the Anti-Bullying law as the foundation for genocide studies, the teacher can make the events of the Holocaust more relevant to the modern child,” Moroney said.
This is also why the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust has branched out into creating curriculums on genocides in Rwanda, Darfur, Armenia, the Native American, and many others.
“Suffering was not unique to the Jewish people,” Moroney stated, “and the Commission feels strongly that children need to be aware that such atrocities can occur to any group of people in an unstable political climate.”
Of Moroney's lecture, Oren Chaplin, organizer of the event said, “I thought this was a fantastic event. I particularly liked learning about the Dr. Seuss book "Sneetches" and I intend to get a copy to share with my children.”
Audience participant Debbie Schildkraut stated, “Beth's lecture was a very relatable overview of creative ways to address talking about the Holocaust to a wide range of age groups. There were Hebrew School teachers here today who learned about new resources that they didn't know about before. The readings that Beth shared with us today were very moving and gave us good ideas as to what literature we can share with our children to open a discussion on the Holocaust.”
“As a parent, teacher, and as a Jew I found it paryicularly exciting to hear how so many schools around New Jersey use creative ways to teach the Holocaust. Edison school teacher, Wendy Hurwitz, said. "I would hate to see the study of the Holocaust cut out of the school curriculum due to standardized testing.”
New Jersey is one of five states in the country that mandates Holocaust/genocide history. The New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust has been in existence for 21 years. For further information you can visit the website at http://www.state.nj.us/njded/holocaust.