Holocaust Service for Children

A Holocaust memorial service for children, hailed as the first of its kind by its author, has been written by Marcia Smith Barnestein, a Hebrew teacher at Ezra Academy in New Haven, Connecticut. Mrs. Barnestein told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that she wrote her service, “AI Hashoah V’al HaGevurah–On the Holocaust and Heroism,” to fill a void that she felt existed.

“I’ve been thinking of writing something of this nature for many years, ” she said, “because I’ve learned through my teaching experience that even kindergarten children can grasp some knowledge of the Holocaust.” Mrs. Barnestein has been developing special Holocaust lessons for children in Hebrew day schools in Albany, N.Y. and New Haven for the past seven years, and has succeeded in teaching the subject to children as young as five years old.

The lack of existing material for young children on the Holocaust prompted Mrs. Barnestein to write her presentation, which is geared to children aged 5 through 12. While working with the New Haven Holocaust Committee on a method of presenting a service for children, she found “absolutely nothing” that was appropriate and decided that the time had come for her to “do something about it.”

In writing her presentation, Mrs. Barnestein said that she wanted to emphasize to young children that the Holocaust really happened and that it happened within the lifetime of their parents and grandparents. “Ultimately, one of my major goals is that all people should be better human beings and never let this happen again,” she said.

The service begins with a candle lighting ceremony in memory of the six million. The children are then told, “This really happened. It is all true. It is part of our Jewish history. It happened when your own mother and father were tiny or when your grandparents were young.” Hitler is described as a “crazy, mad man” who wanted all Jews. killed because “their only crime was being Jewish. Imagine, they were to die just because they were different.” “The Song of the Partisans,” “America, the Beautiful” and a poem by Nobel Prize winner Nellie Sachs are also included.

Mrs. Barnestein said that she “absolutely, very consciously left out specific atrocities” and instead used symbols that the children could understand. The service has already been presented at several New Haven area synagogues. Mrs. Barnestein said that she is gratified, from children’s reactions, that her service has been a “significant and meaningful experience” for them.

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