For an upcoming book report, Maya and the students in her sixth-grade English class had to choose a book about a culture other than their own. Because the book seemed to be about a girl's adventure through time, Maya chose a book called The Devil's Arithmetic. The girl in the book does travel through time; on Passover night she is transported back to 1942 Poland just as the Nazi are making their round ups. Maya enjoyed the book, but connected more to the girl and her personal adventure rather than comprehending the gravity of the situation. I explained more in depth what the Holocaust was, but who really understands six million people extinguished?
Last night, Maya and I watched Paper Clips, a documentary about a middle school in Tennessee that took on a Holocaust project. The school knew very little diversity in their area and they sought out to understand a group of people that were not white, christian Americans. The teachers read books about the Holocaust and looked on the internet and did their best to explain to the kids what had happened. The kids reacted much like Maya did at first, empathetic without deeper comprehension. Until one kid asked, "What does six million mean, what does it look like?" This sparked a years-long journey to collect six million paper clips to better understand what a devastating amount of people that is. In the film, there are many, many powerful and heart-crushing moments and by the end Maya was crying in huge, gulping and whooping cries. "I didn't know," she cried. "I didn't know it would be this painful to know about this." It's one thing to read about the significance of the chimney smoke in a book, quite another to hear a 70 year old man weep as he retold watching his own mother and brothers billow from a chimney.
And I say this again, there are not many things harder as a parent than having to introduce them to the evils of the world. It reels in her mind still, what would cause such hatred and intolerance, and it hurts me to see that innocence and trust peeled away. It's absolutely necessary too, this introduction, because it doesn't go away, those pockets of evil, and she needs to know to never be influenced by it and to never tolerate it.
Not far from us, there is a Museum of Tolerance and I asked Maya if she wanted to go check it out. She's not sure right now. She said, "What if I cry like that in there?" I said, "I'm sure many people cry like that in there. It's not meant to make you feel good. It’s there to remember it and to squash intolerance, spark compassion." She said, "Can I tell you next week if I want to go?" Of course she could. She was born all tolerance, all compassion. She can tell me whenever she's ready for the next round, when it's a little less raw.
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