As a Muslim Monroe High School sophomore, Sara Mohamed is often disturbed by the portrayal of Muslims in the media as terrorists or hostile to other religions and beliefs.
So when she began learning about the Holocaust in school, she related to those victimized by the Nazis for their religion or beliefs.
“Judging another person because of their race or religion without getting to know them is always bad,” said Sara. “People need to put their stereotypes aside and focus on what is important, who these people are. That was the important message that came out of the Holocaust. It is a message we need to remember today, that we should accept people for who they are, not where they come from.”
It is also a message the 15-year-old chose to share in the annual essay competition at Monroe High sponsored by the Henry Ricklis Holocaust Memorial Committee. She was asked to read her essay during the committee’s annual Yom Hashoa program April 22 at the Monroe Middle School.
In addressing the crowd of almost 800, district superintendent Dr. Kenneth Hamilton said regular visits to schools by survivors and active participation in the Ricklis program reminded students of the consequences of bigotry and hatred.
“It is an opportunity to teach our students tolerance of those who look different or sound different,” he said. “The Holocaust is a reminder of the lives lost to intolerance.” Hearing survivors’ stories firsthand and learning about the Shoa, he said, can “shape the minds of our children” so they can be inspired to making the world a better place.
Sara, the daughter of Meer and Susie Mohamed, came to the ceremony with her mother and younger sister. She took her turn on the podium with survivors, political leaders, and Ricklis committee representatives.
‘Get the experience’
Sara told NJJN she found the study of the Holocaust both interesting and unimaginable. Although she had certainly heard of the murder of six million Jews and others and had seen movies, the details of the horror and cruelty shocked her.
“I feel kids my age should learn as much as they can about the Holocaust so that they get the full experience and can put themselves in the position of those involved in the Holocaust,” she said. “To us it sounds like a nightmare and I don’t think people realize how bad it was.”
Dressed in black leggings and lots of sparkly jewelry, the teen said she did a lot of on-line research and read books on her own. “Even knowing the brutality of it, it doesn’t seem real that something like that could ever occur,” she said.
Sara said among the insights she gained from exploring the Nazi treatment of Jews, communists, gypsies, and homosexuals was “that the comments you make about others really can have a big impact on society.”
“That’s how the Holocaust started, with comments, and then it escalated,” she said. “It’s little things like that, especially in high school — there are so many mean comments. Then others retaliate with words that hurt others.”
Sara said she is grateful her parents have always taught her respect for those different from herself, but the lessons of the Shoa have made her even more conscious of her own actions.
“I try to think twice about what I’m saying and how it will impact others,” she said. “If I’ve learned anything from studying the Holocaust, it is that people need to get educated and learn that words and stereotyping do hurt people.”
During the program, Monroe high school students held roses and candles, leading a procession of survivors and family members who lit candles on two menoras and read poems and sang songs in memory of victims.
Monroe Council president Gerald Tamburro offered greetings and David Zajac, who survived the Holocaust in France with his mother and brother, gave the keynote address.