Today marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. On November 9, 1938, Nazi officers and German civilians unleashed a campaign of violent demonstrations against Jews across Germany and Austria. They burned approximately 7,500 Jewish homes, businesses, synagogues and hospitals while firefighters stood by and watched.
There had been anti-Semitic talk and legislation before that, but Kristallnacht marked the beginning of a major increase in violence against the Jews. That ultimately escalated into “The Final Solution,” the Nazi program to murder all of the Jews of Europe. When the full horror of that campaign, which we now call The Holocaust, was revealed to the world after Germany’s defeat, humanity made a pledge, “Never again.”
We’ve seen genocides in Europe, Africa and Asia since the Holocaust. And here in the U.S., we’re witnessing an escalation in violence motivated by hatred against Jews and others. Less than two weeks ago, on October 27th, a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh ranting that “all Jews must die.” He murdered nearly a dozen people at a baby-naming ceremony before he was stopped. A few days before that, a white man with a history of violence shot and killed two African-Americans, seemingly at random, at a Kentucky Kroger store following a failed attempt to barge into a black church.
What do we do? We mourn. We comfort each other. We come together to support and protect each other and other vulnerable populations.We wonder how to counteract this kind of hatred. We know the grave consequences of inaction.
So, we were very grateful that on Election Day—after casting our votes, we had the opportunity to do a presentation at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. There were about about 300 teachers from the New York Area. We shared our resources for cultivating compassion through creativity and remembrance. The Memory Project Face-to Face program encourages people to observe and to go past their preconceived ideas. It encourages people to learn the stories of Holocaust victims, survivors, and rescuers and to explore and share the stories of their own families and friends through art. The program is about honoring the past and the present and connecting to each other. Connection, creativity, remembrance and respect—those are the ideas we want to promote to counteract hatred and violence.
The teacher evaluations showed that the message resonates with many teachers who plan to use the project:
“Such an amazing project. Bringing lost lives back to life through art is such a simple concept that embodies so much. I would love to participate in this project.”
“I think it is a genius idea to teach compassion and kindness while encouraging curiosity about people, history, and loved ones.”
“It was an extremely powerful presentation to use creative outlets to help build identity and community.”
“As someone who’s really bad at drawing, I can’t wait to make a portrait of someone whom I love and share their stories.”
If you’re reading this, you’re probably someone who knows and supports our work. So, thank you for helping to promote compassion and creativity at a time when we desperately need them.
On Kristallnacht itself, we invite you to participate in a simple initiative called Remember and Be the Light. Launched by Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey, it asks us to each put a candle in a window on the night of November 9th as a sign of protest and solidarity: “Each person who lights a candle on November 9 protests all baseless hatred. The light from our candles will serve as a reminder that this democratic nation in which we live, and to which we commend our future, is founded upon the precious principles of freedom, liberty, and justice for all.”