Riverdale, New York
March 5, 2017
At 10:00 on a Sunday morning, Professor Mehnaz Afridi’s class on Religion and the Holocaust came to school to participate in a three-hour Memory Project workshop. For homework, they’d each interviewed a family member about a life-changing experience and brought their stories and black and white photographs of the people into the lovely wood-paneled library. The three-hour format enabled them to work with Holocaust-era portraits and stories, their own family stories and to create an exhibit incorporating both—linking the past to the present.
There were stories of a brother’s near-death experience and a younger sister’s religious epiphany. Jorge A. spoke about how his mother fled Mexico after witnessing a massacre of 30 people by the Mexican drug cartel Knights Templar. “She’s always smiling and laughing…She told me that life is so precious and she wants to live every moment…”.
Jamie P. said his mother often chided him for “wasting my dad’s hard-earned money.” Through the interview, he learned that his father at age 16 or 17 had become the sole supporter of his own large family in India. “I respect him more as an individual [now].”
“It was like a Ph.D class in life,” said Laurie Weisman, one of the workshop leaders, after hearing the various stories of resiliency and courage. “We have to to do more of these workshops around the country. The sharing is profound, and the students are so glad they asked these questions. They talked about who, one day, might tell their stories.”
Special thanks to Dr. Afridi and the Holocaust, Genocide & Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College.