Middle school students from a synagogue and a church in East Brunswick traveled together to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and returned home to East Brunswick determined to fight the kinds of intolerance that resulted in the death of six million Jews.
The seventh- and eighth-graders from the religious school of Temple B’nai Shalom and the full-day school at St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church visited Washington on Jan. 18 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — in a trip sponsored by the synagogue’s Daniel Pearl Education Center. Parents, advisers, and teachers went along.
The following night they gathered at the synagogue to share thoughts under the guidance of moderator David Litt, a member of the Pearl center committee. They also heard Polish Holocaust survivor Moshe Gimlan of Monroe speak of the loss of his entire family and his experience as a concentration camp prisoner (see sidebar).
“Unfortunately, you are now the survivors,” Litt told the youngsters. “You have the responsibility, the obligation to continue to tell their stories so these atrocities don’t exist in the future. In school when you see someone treat someone incorrectly, if you don’t stand up for them, who will?”
Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Dist.18), chair of the assembly’s education committee, started the program by saying he believed “every kid should visit the Holocaust Museum.”
“I believe learning tolerance should be a part of every child’s education.”
St. Bart’s student Alexis Consalvo, 13, of East Brunswick, admitted that going to the museum was “a really hard experience.”
“I was really surprised that people would go along with doing these horrible things,” she said. The lessons learned impressed on her the necessity for standing up “against intolerance and ignorance.”
Fellow St. Bart’s student Leon Tkacenko, 13, of North Brunswick said he found all the stories very moving. But he was particularly touched by the museum’s exhibits of shoes and other items belonging to the victims.
“It was very moving and upsetting and will very much change how I treat and think of others,” he said. “I also thought it was a good experience because we got to spend time with our Jewish neighbors.”
Twins Alex and Jacob Paul, 15, from B’nai Shalom, said although they knew about the Holocaust, the experience enhanced that knowledge.
Alex described the trip as “a mind-bomb so amazingly overwhelming” that it was “difficult to take in.” Jacob said it changed his perspective; “when you see it rather than reading text or seeing pictures, you really get a deeper understanding of what these people went through,” he said.
The Pearl Center was named in memory of Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002 because he was Jewish.