The winners are in! In Ami Issue #195, I announced a high-school visual arts and literacy contest under the auspices of our Education Division, led by Mrs. Julie Golding, called Silent Voices of the Holocaust. The contest was based on selected artifacts from the Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center’s historical collections. We received hundreds of entries from dozens of schools and yeshivos across North America, and the essays, poems, and beautiful works of art inspired all of us at the KFHEC. Our Educational Advisory Committee was charged with selecting the winners, and we thank all of the students who entered the competition. I also wish to congratulate the winners of our ArtScroll Gift Certificate Raffle for participating teachers: Miss B. Shulman of Bais Shifra Miriam in Monsey, New York; Miss Gutman of Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh Boys High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Mrs. S. Taub of Mosdos Ohr Hatorah Girls Division in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
So for this week (only), I am happy to turn my pen over to our winners—talented individuals of the next generation.
PENINA HACKERMAN – 11th Grade, Bais Shaindel High School (Lakewood, New Jersey)
Seeing Past Externals
1938. All Jewish passports issued by Germany are stamped with the red letter “J.” In 2015, over 70 years later, what message does this hold for us? How can our communication be enhanced by this message?
Labels. Branded on a paper, an imprint of accusation. One letter summarizing all that we stand for, all that we are. One letter that signifies hatred and discrimination; one word that attempts to sum up the essence of our vibrant, glorious nation. “J” for “Jude,” rubber-stamped on the passports of all those who are Jews, all those who are not from the “superior” Aryan race. One letter, negating all the beauty and splendor of our heritage; one word that turns our sacred legacy into an epithet of disgrace. A silent accusation, it still cries out so many years later: Forget not! Remember the hatred, the discrimination, the taunts and persecution. Remember, for it may yet happen again.
Labels. Branded upon a person, an imprint of proclamation. One word that seems to summarize all that they stand for, all that they are. Words that signify division and discrimination; words that sum up the essence of the person—but fall far too short of doing so. ”Chasidish”; “Chareidi”; “Yeshivish”; “Modern Orthodox”; “Mizrachi”; “BT”; “Chiloni”… the list goes on and on. We ‘rubberstamp’ all of those who are “not our type,” all those who are not from our “superior” segment of Judaism, negating all the beauty and uniqueness in their customs. How easily we pass judgment on those who are not like us, never looking twice to see past their labels. This problem still cries out today. Erase the divisions, the discrimination, the slurs and friction between us! Does it only take a tragedy for our nation to come close?
Labels. As teenagers, we brand people with them all the time. “Cool”; “Nerd”; “Not My Type”; “Wanna-be”; “Snob”… our preconceived notions bring us to the point where we can no longer view people without seeing some sort of description stamped upon their foreheads. And we don’t keep these descriptions to ourselves, either. With one swipe of our finger, we let the world know exactly what we think of them, erecting barriers and boundaries that need not exist.
These labels negate all the uniqueness of the person’s character, leaving nothing but a fraction of their personality. They block us from seeing the true essence of a person; for first impressions are far from the true essence of a person, and yet first impressions are what our labels are based on. When will we learn to stop viewing people as mere words; when will we stop branding letters on their foreheads?
And then there are our own labels, the ones that we give ourselves. They limit us to stay within our own borders, within the boundaries we ourselves have defined. They dismiss our talents, our self-worth; they negate all of our special qualities. That little voice inside of us evokes those labels whenever we want to do something a bit “out of the box”: It’s not your type; you’re not that kind of person; you can’t do it. You’re too quiet, too dull, too small to change the world. You are an average student. You can’t write. You can’t act. You are a failure. You can’t do better. But it is not true!
It is up to all of us to break out of our boxes, to see past the labels by which we define ourselves, to broaden our horizons and expand our boundaries. For only then can we grow; only then can we work on ourselves, change our natures and change the world.
This, then, is the message of that 70-yearold passport, a message that rings true until this very day: If we put aside the labels by which we define nations, communities, our friends and ourselves; if we stop taking things at face value, at first impression; if we look past the external trappings to discover the truth; then—and only then—can we get to know people as they truly are. And when we do so, we will truly enhance our communication with others.
GEDALYA ROSENBERG – 9th Grade, Mesivta of Greater Los Angeles (Calabasas, California)
Fear strangles communication, but grasping the words of Hashem always opens a new channel.
(Boy pictured in photo is classmate Chaim Berkowitz.)
RACHEL ZEMBLE – 10th Grade, Ilan High School (Ocean, New Jersey)
The British Prayer Book
Germany, 1933. Not a chancellor, but a
Surrender. But did it ever end?
Try to count the stars in the sky, try to
count the lives lost.
Six million bodies, one soul.
One soul, under one heaven, no matter
where you stand down here.
Poland, Russia, France, across the sea in
This British Prayer Book symbolizes
the Jewish unity that the Nazis failed to
The Nazis, the Greeks, the Romans,
Where are they now?
The power of prayer vanquishes all
bombs, guns, chariots.
One son, one cry, one plea.
One look at this prayer book and I know
as a Jew I will never be alone.
Brothers and sisters whom I have never
met are supporting me across the globe.
I know when I call out, G-d is listening.
And He is listening to all of us.
Many languages, one message.
Various ethnicities, but one nation.
Throughout the years of suffering, we still
In this chaos we call the present, all
we can do is turn to G-d and pray for
One prayer changes the world.
And it starts with you and me.