This year’s theme for Holocaust Remembrance Day is Never Again: Heeding the Warning Signs. I have been thinking about this at both the large and the small levels. What are the warning signs? When and where do bigotry and prejudice start? When do human beings learn to either point to someone who is “different” and be mean or to stand up against that meanness and embrace the person who is “different?”
In some ways it starts with the children. Children can be taught to love or to hate. Children can be taught to be inclusive or to leave others out. Children will watch and imitate their parents, their older siblings, their peers and the media. We, all of us, need to teach our children not only to be tolerant of others, but also to celebrate people who are different from them.
When children are young we teach them to try different things. We introduce new fruits and vegetables by putting them on their plates many times so they get used to the new colors, aromas and tastes. How do we teach them about accepting different cultures? And how do we teach about people who are different if we don’t have a full understanding ourselves?
We can’t do this if we don’t truly understand human differences ourselves. Jews should experience a Good Friday Mass and find out why their Christian friends enjoy it. Christians should ask a Jewish friend what the symbolism of the shank bone is on the Seder plate. Heterosexual, gay and lesbian couples should discuss the differences they encounter when visiting loved ones in the hospital or filing taxes or writing their wills. With experience comes knowledge and with knowledge comes understanding. When we can truly understand someone who is different, then they don’t seem so different after all. It is harder to put down someone else when you can see your common humanity.
My challenge for everyone today is to find a way to experience something different. This can be a small event or a big one. Go to the house of worship of a religion other than your own. Shop in the Asian market or go to a Vietnamese restaurant. Look up a recipe and cook collard greens or spend an hour listening to classical music. The point is to go beyond your usual neighborhood and to try to see the world for a short period of time from a different perspective. What does it feel like? What do you notice? When you go back to your normal routine, do you see it any differently now that you have stepped outside? What have you learned?