By Yitzchak Rudomin, Museum Gallery Educator
A few weeks ago I emailed my doctor. I live in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I was due to attend the wedding of the youngest son of my next door neighbor. I asked my primary care physician if I could, given that so many communities were introducing restrictions, and also given my age, 67, and my underlying heart and other health conditions. He called me back personally in a flash and instructed me not to leave home under any circumstances until further notice. He told me he shut his local Brooklyn office indefinitely and that this past Shabbos the entire Far Rockaway area he lives in shut its Shuls and Yeshivas. So now I am confined to home and I am left with my thoughts and the ability to put “pen to paper” which I am now sharing with you.
The crisis impacted me personally because for the past two years I have volunteered my time at the Museum. I lead tours for all kinds of students, from public and private schools, including Yeshivas, Bais Yaakov schools, and Jewish day schools. In the course of my life as a Jewish educator I have taught at Jewish day schools, lectured on college campuses, conducted kiruv (outreach) for Jewish adults in Manhattan, and taught crash courses in Hebrew and Judaism. Now I am able to focus on what I call “Positive Holocaust Education”. I am the child of Holocaust survivors and I wrote my MA Thesis at Teachers College, Columbia University on “The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy” which I published online. The subject of the Holocaust is close to me in a very, very personal way.
Towards the end of every tour at the Museum, in the gallery called “Persistence and Resistance” in the exhibition Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. I try to stress to the students that they need to see the larger picture, that Jews were not just victims but where they were allowed to join the armies of the Allies they fought back and together with their comrades-in-arms were victorious. There were over half a million Jews in the American armed forces and at least half a million Jews fought in the Russian army, plus the Jewish soldiers in the British, Canadian, Australian, South African armies. From them would come many who fought for the establishment of Israel in 1948. And then the 6 million Jews who were murdered are not mere “victims” but are regarded as kedoshim “Holy Ones” in Judaism because they died al kiddush HaShem, as martyrs whose lives were taken for the Sanctification of the Name of G-d!
So now for me personally, that avenue of expression and interaction with students is temporarily closed as major institutions in New York City and across America and the world have been shut down to fight the spread of Coronavirus.
There is a lesson to be learned by everyone though. The way we have to confront the Coronavirus is starting to remind me a little bit of the way those living under Nazi persecution responded, on a reduced scale of course. We must confront this with fortitude, with a mental attitude of resistance, and finally with utmost persistence and dedication, or in the language of the Jewish religion, with kiddush HaShem, each to his or her own level.
People are scrambling for food and toilet paper in supermarkets. Billionaires are running to “safety” in their doomsday shelters, ordinary citizens are panicking, many are under some degree of curfew now. It’s so easy to lose sight of the basics of Jewish Life and Faith. I am trying to live by that too, now that I am in isolation.
May we hear only good news from each other in the time ahead.
This article is from our Spring 2020 Gallery Educators newsletter.
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