WN ENTRY: What do we do when we find ourselves repeating history?

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

My high school History Teacher, Tom Wilcox, didn’t originate that phrase, but he repeated it to us quite a few times during tenth grade. It stuck with me. I remember this phrase each and every time I have to teach something difficult from our nation’s past (or our world’s past). I started reading Number the Stars by Lois Lowry to my class during Interactive Read Aloud today. Teaching the Holocaust isn’t exactly a fun topic, but it’s one that I know Mr. Wilcox would be proud of me for teaching my students about since “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

When I finished the first chapter of Number the Stars this afternoon, I looked out at the 16 pairs of young eyes staring back at me and asked, “Why bother learning about this?” The kids’ responses ranged from, “It’s important to know about our past,” to “We should know what the Holocaust is in case our fifth grade teacher asks us about it.”

Then, I put up the quote on the board: “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” I asked them what it means. They turned and talked and came up with responses that I was satisfied with. Then, I looked at them, put the dates of the Holocaust on the whiteboard, and then wrote the word “Darfur” next to it. None of them knew what Darfur is, which didn’t shock me. Were I to belong to a different synagogue than the one I’ve been a member at for the past several years, I don’t think that I’d truly know about the genocide happening in Darfur.

So, I asked my kids, “If people vowed that the Holocaust would never happen again, and we learn about history, then why is there another ‘Holocaust’ happening in Darfur?” But then I realized, this conversation was hard to have with them since they don’t know about Darfur.

Last year, when I read Number the Stars to my fifth graders, I found myself in the same place. I recall finding information about Darfur online and editing the heck out of it so that they wouldn’t be scared out of their minds. (What’s happening there is too horrible to fully explain to young children.) The New York Times provides a nice overview of the conflict, which I suppose I can use in my classroom tomorrow… Afterall, we’ve read The Butterfly, The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X and Chicken Sunday this year. My kids know the basics about the Holocaust. They can handle an overview on Darfur…

However, I’m left wondering about why the world is standing by while millions of people are systematically exterminated in Darfur. I know I haven’t done enough. Maybe this blog post is a call to action to me… but what can I do here in Rhode Island to help those who are being killed thousands of miles away?

I went online to find out since I realize that I don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t use my voice to bring about change. Here are some basic things that I (and you) can do to help with the crisis in Darfur:

  • Buy and wear a wristband.
  • Make a donation.
  • Demand international action by signing a petition.
  • Find a local event.
  • I want to show my students that I know what happened during the Holocaust and therefore I do not sit idly by and watch it happen again. Besides, if I were in Darfur, I would hope that someone would speak up for me.

    Why be an activist? Because it’s the only way to play a melody. In that symphony of life, which plays the leit motif of human dignity, I have no right to be silent in the face of injustice! — Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer