Last May I had the honor of going to Germany and Poland with students and professors from Nazareth and Hobart and William Smith to study the Holocaust. We traveled with two survivors who shared their stories and learned from tour guides that studied at Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel. It had always been a dream of mine to be able to go on a trip like this. To see the actual sites and places I’d read about for most of my life was a once in a lifetime experience. Being a part of a group that works to end injustices in the world was something that inspired me even more.
Growing up I always celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah. Although I was raised Catholic, I still appreciated my Jewish roots from my mother’s side. It’s what made me unique and exposed me to different traditions as well; something I looked forward to every year during the holidays.
Growing up in a small town, I was one of the only students in my school that had Jewish heritage. When I entered middle school a group of peers I went to school with started harassing me about being Jewish. As an escape from the things going on at school, I took a deep fascination with reading about the Holocaust and would spend my free time reading as much as I could. I was moved by the personal accounts and couldn’t fathom the suffering and horror that took place. Reading about their suffering made mine seem minuscule and motivated me to keep going. Despite the harassing that continued through high school, I was never afraid to hide my heritage. Often times people would ask me questions about being Jewish. I think that’s what it really comes down to: a lack of understanding. This is why I’m so passionate; the past cannot be forgotten. I don’t want others to face prejudices and go through what I did because of their heritage.
The trip taught me so many things: to appreciate life, go outside my comfort zone, and honor those who don’t have a voice.