Jeanette Friedman had long suspected that the usual methods of Holocaust education weren’t working. That suspicion was confirmed after the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado 10 years ago.
“I realized we’d failed, because Columbine was a school with mandated Holocaust education, and yet kids blew it up to celebrate Hitler’s birthday,” said the journalist and author.
Her answer to the problem, “Why Should I Care? Lessons from the Holocaust,” hits bookstores and the Internet today.
Friedman, the daughter of a couple who lived through the Nazi nightmare, has been helping survivors put their memoirs into print for the past 30 years through her New Milford pre-press business, The Wordsmithy. Her many Holocaust-related involvements include founding Second Generation North Jersey and the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and serving as communications director of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.
Her new book was co-written with David Gold of Rockland County, N.Y., with whom she was a student activist at Brooklyn College in the 1960s. While paying a shiva visit to Gold in 2006, she raised her idea of writing a book “not about the Holocaust but about what you learn from it.” Their collaboration began during Chanukah two years ago.
“This book is not about 6 million dead Jews,” said Friedman. “It’s about the way people treat each other and whether or not they take responsibility for their actions. It’s about doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. It’s about accountability and responsibility.”
Aimed primarily at a high-school audience, “Why Should I Care” uses quotations from a plethora of sources, ranging from Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer to Yoda of “Star Wars.” There are bon mots from Harry Potter, Steven Colbert, “Twilight Zone,” and partisan stories, too.
Gold – also a child of survivors – was responsible for much of the research, using the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Spring Valley, N.Y. “We wrote the book on Google Talk, sitting in front of our computers and kicking it back and forth,” said Friedman. “We went into all kinds of book services to get the quotes.” An introduction was written by Holocaust historian Michael Berenbaum, overseer of the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
The underlying message of the book is that people had choices, said Friedman. “When we talk about God, we want to remind [readers] that God didn’t build the gas chambers, or put people on the trains, or rat out the neighbors. People did those things.”
At the urging of scholars and teachers who were shown early versions of “Why Should I Care,” Friedman and Gold reluctantly included a concise history of the Holocaust at the end. “It should be handy to the reader, but it’s not what the book is about,” she stressed. “Our goal is to get kids to start thinking. We’re trying to build bridges and get rid of stereotypes.”
The $15 paperback will be available on Amazon.com and its Kindle wireless reading device, as well as two sites offering educational materials for teachers. The companion Website, www.whyshouldicareonline.com, is expected to go live today. “There will always be fresh, new links on the Website to relevant topics,” said Friedman.
She has already sold first-run proofs of the book at a lecture for Hadassah International’s Fair Lawn chapter, and is eager to speak to school groups. “We can do special print runs for donors at reduced rates to give to schools of their choice,” she noted.
Friedman chairs The Brenn Institute, described on thewordsmithy.com as “a think tank of experienced professionals tuned into the ideas, trends, and issues affecting the world Jewish community” whose “main mission is to make Jewish education exciting and fun.”
She has previous experience writing for a young audience. In the mid-1980s, as the in-house writer for a company that produced fan magazines for nine- to 16-year-olds, she wrote “Rock Hudson: Story of a Giant,” “The Miami Vice Scrapbook,” and a book about the original “Cosby Show.”
Her current work is just as rooted in pop culture even if its message is not.
“‘Don’t forget’ means don’t forget to do the right thing,” said Friedman.