Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Make a Difference!"

So when I took two of my teenagers to the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, IL Saturday, I had NO idea what an experience was in store for us!

My kids are somewhat Holocaust Museum connoisseurs, they have been to museums all over the country on school and family trips. I was excited to go and see this beautiful newer center but I do not share their love of the study of the Holocaust, per say.

Let me just clairify, this is not an endorsement of the Illinois Holocaust Museum, just the personal story about my experience there with my family. However, I would like to point out that IHM&EC did invited myself and other ABCters to participate in teacher trainings that they host regarding bullying and acceptance. We were honored and excited to attend and learned a lot from them :)

So, back to my story... We walked through their main exhibition for hours - reading the abundant plaques, watching videos, listening to stories of survivors and perusing the rare artifacts. We were all immediately horrified by merely standing inside the authentic German rail car they have on display, the type used in Nazi deportations. H.O.R.R.I.F.I.E.D!

We continued on to their current special exhibit, "Keep Calm and Carry On", about the history of the textile industry and studied many pieces of artwork in their gallery filled with artist's depictions of the Holocaust. We were saving the Room of Remembrance and the Hall of Reflection for the end of our visit.
Well before we left the first level of the Center, I told my teens, "let's check out the children's area". It is designed for kids ages 8-12 and my kids seemed less than thrilled by the idea but they happily followed along. (They're awesome like that).
All I can say is when I walked into "The Harvey L. Miller Family Youth Exhibition" I was immediately blown away. I mean, being the Anti-Bullying enthusiast that I am, I believe I heard the Angels sing... 'aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaa'! This was the very first thing that I saw when I walked in:
Then this:
Welcome to "Make a Difference!", the exhibit that teaches children they have the power to be upstanders, not bystanders. L.O.V.E. First set of computer monitors is where you can createe your own "Upstander Oath". Here's mine:
Everyone gets to sit at a computer, pick their three favorite pledges then add them to their personal oath. They can print it off and sign it there, email it home, or both. It's awesome! My kids chose, "Brighten the world and smile often!", "Get involved" and "Lead by being a good example", just to name a few. (Yes, I'm super proud of them!). There are private computer stations where children can share their personal bullying story without fear. And there are inspiring signs and screens EVERYWHERE:

Just imagine a world where THESE were the message children were seeing everyday. Imagine a community where adults were living by these words. Just I.M.A.G.I.N.E. what a different world this would be? The power of one is real, that's why at ABC we say " <3 Together We Can <3 " Each one of us alone, yet each one of us together, we can make this the atmosphere in our communities, in our schools, and in our homes... We just have to DO IT! And then we have to inspire others to DO IT too!!! And then we can't idly stand by, we MUST speak up to injustices each and every time we have the opportunity.
The Holocaust was bullying. Genocide, still in existence today, IS bullying! Racism, sexism, anti-religious AND rigid pro-religious are all bullies. Homophobias are based on beliefs of ignorant bullies. Mean girls are bullies. Angry boys are bullies, social isolation is bullying, segregated countries and neighborhoods are based on bullying. These situations can ALL be eliminated by ONE person standing up, YOU! All of us should read the six signs above and write down our answers... this could be our personal 2014 New Year's Oath!
I will not give away all of the secrets of the amazingness of The Harvey L. Miller Family Youth Exhibition, but I will tell you this... If you live within driving distance or you are EVER in the area - GO. Don't think about going - GO. And maybe you're even lucky enough to have something like this available in your area of the world - GO. And if there is nothing available - maybe THIS is YOUR chance to make it happen. Start a movement. Start a lesson plan. Start or continue to stand up!
And as we left our amazing experience, thinking it just could not get any better. We walk up to the gift shop on our way out and there is the sweetest most soft spoken man sitting at a table outside the doors. We walked into the shop and looked around, the next thing I hear was this little tap on the window from the foyer. The little Mister summonsed me to him which I of course immediately obliged. He told me his name was Joseph and he was a survivor. I took his hand and told him I was SO glad that he was. And not only a survivor but a warrior to fight threw all of the mental anguish he must have felt in the years since. He just looked at me with a tear welling up in his eye and nodded yes. I asked if I could give him a hug, he replied "but of course!" in his thick accent and opened his arms. He gave me a true hug, a loving, appreciative, grandfatherly hug. I loved it! Then he handed me a copy of his book and said "This book, it's my story of how I made it". He had autographed a copy for me, it's called "I CHOOSE LIFE - Memories of a Holocaust Survivor Joseph Koenig" by Beth Hawkins Benedix So then,  as any self respecting gentleman would do, he planted a kiss on my lips and then gave me another HUGE HUG and we shook hands for a few more minutes looking into each others eyes. I never once felt sorry for him, I just am SO happy he survived and even more appreciative that he's willing to volunteer at the IHM&EC so that we can meet him, hug him and tell him we are proud of him.
I bet Joseph Koenig has been an upstander a time or two in his life. BE. LIKE. JOE.
Aunt T~