Sunny with a Chance of Rockets: Part 4

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 1:10pm

Posted in: Holocaust Commission, Stop the Sirens

By Elena Barr Baum
Read Part 3 here.

1705 Thursday brought The Third and Fourth Generation: The Relevance of the Story. This is where the rubber meets the road. How do you make the Holocaust important to the “digital natives” growing up today, who see the 20th century as ancient history? Kids who will never meet a survivor, or hear an eye witness account of the Holocaust?

In the morning we heard about Generations Y and Z, born after 1988 and 1995. Unlike Boomers and Gen X, the Y and Z-ers are more self-focused, have a different attention span and different distraction levels than their predecessors. They tend to multi-task, doing many things at once, rather than look at a subject in depth. But as our speakers from Google, the USC Shoah Foundation, and the International School at Yad Vashem told us, there is no replacement for face to face interaction. Even the Gen Z-ers, who don’t understand a world without the internet, still need to “get together with people.” As we heard from the Director of Google’s Israel R&D department, bringing historical content online is a huge job, but it brings access for people who can add to the body of knowledge. And then once exposed to something online, people are more likely to want to explore it and experience it further. The online experience does not replace REAL things, but can greatly enhance them.

Lost yet, old people? I have to admit, I sort of was. Then Stephen Smith of the USC Shoah Foundation started talking. Remember that old FedEx commercial from the 80s with the fast talking actor? Imagine him talking about how to effectively impart Holocaust education on the next generation! The big takeaway was that learning through testimony (the Foundation’s IWitness program has over 1200 testimonies available online for educators) is non-linear – it is visual and personal. When students can interact with someone’s story, and retell it, they are making it their own. This, he stressed, is the way that personal stories will carry forward down the generations.

Well, that is one way, and it is related to another way that was the reason the Holocaust Commission was there. What We Carry. All four of us had spent the previous two days talking up our program with colleagues and people we were meeting throughout the conference. Even though our session was “sold out,” we told lots of new contacts we’d met to come anyway! We spent our lunch break setting up the two suitcases we’d brought a third of the way around the world. We dealt with the inevitable technical issues and the continued stress of being essentially in a war zone. Our presentation was shifted from the first in the session to the second, so the other presenter, a Yad Vashem colleague, could leave and go home to her 9 and 10 year old sons, who were home alone and a bit “freaked out” by the situation. Then, Janice’s tour guide texted her just before we began to cancel her Friday and Saturday plans, essentially telling her “you’re on your own!”

But we forged ahead, and delivered what we came to deliver. Among the 40+ people in our workshop, 13 countries were represented. Everyone truly appreciated that we had brought two of our suitcases the thousands of miles, and displayed them as we do in schools and other venues. In addition to showing the trailer of the What We Carry films (which is also available on our website, we talked about the importance of preserving individual stories in this dynamic way, in order for them to resonate with people who will not have an opportunity to meet survivors in person. We shared our successes with the program, which has been presented to over 14,000 people in its first 2 ½ years, with many repeat presentations. We gave a “mini-presentation” of one of our survivor’s stories, so those assembled could understand how a docent connected the films to the suitcases seamlessly.

The response was wonderful, from professionals associated with Yad Vashem, who spoke with Janice about possibly creating some sort of partnership, to those from around the US and other countries. We were invited, SERIOUSLY, to come present in Salonika, Greece, and are working on the possibility of bringing What We Carry to a variety of locations from New Jersey to Namibia.

Elena Barr Baum is the Director of the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater. For more information about What We Carry, and the mission of the Holocaust Commission, click here.(

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