Teen’s Holocaust essay brings her to Washington conference
Rivkah Rappaport did not know much about the Holocaust.
The Teaneck High School student one of 10 finalists in the Holocaust Remembrance Project’s national essay contest for ninth- to 1’th-graders told The Jewish Standard that "before I wrote this essay, I didn’t understand [what happened during] the Holocaust. As I was writing the essay I realized I had a passion about the subject."
The finalists were invited to a weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., to discuss the Holocaust with eight survivors, learning to view it through their eyes. From July 13 to 18, the teens attended lectures, toured museums, and discussed the importance of education in preserving the memory of the Holocaust. The Holland and Knight Charitable Foundation sponsored the trip.
Rivka Rappoport introduces Holocaust survivor Leo Bretholtz at a U.S. Capitol reception last month for Holocaust Remembrance essay finalists and their congressional representatives.
"The survivors were the happiest, most amazing people that I ever met," Rivkah said in a telephone interview. "They were warm and loving. If they were bitter people, one would understand and not question, but here they were [filled] with so much life. They would close their eyes as they spoke [about their experiences]. Not only did they go through the Holocaust once, but [they] are willing to relive the darkest time of their lives multiple times for the sake of preserving the memory. Why shouldn’t we help it live on?"
Applicants were asked to "analyze why it is so vital that the remembrance, history, and lessons of the Holocaust be passed to a new generation and suggest what they, as students, can do to combat and prevent prejudice, discrimination, and violence in our world today." Rivkah’s essay focused on the importance of widespread education, the narrowness of prejudice, and the all-too-present human capacity to commit genocide.
"There is no greater form of education with which to combat the spread of prejudice than education by example," she wrote. "The Holocaust should be mandatory in all curricula and should be revisited regularly omnipresent."
Teaching the Holocaust is mandatory in New Jersey’s public schools.
Her school’s curriculum included the Holocaust, but "we barely touched on [it] this year," she said, explaining that she was a freshman at the time. "We do have a Holocaust assembly on Yom HaShoah, which I found surprising and was extremely grateful to discover."
At the end of the Washington trip, the finalists attended an awards dinner, where each was presented with a $’,500 dollar college scholarship. The top three essayists received $5,000, $10,000, and $18,000, respectively.
"Ever since the trip I have been in a whirlwind. It’s like all the puzzle pieces were thrown at me; I still haven’t had time to reflect," said Rivkah. "One of the most important lessons that I learned was that you can triumph over anything. We must teach tolerance, we need to stand up to prevent genocide, more so than ever."
Rivkah is the third finalist to be chosen from Bergen County since the contest began. In ‘007, Jeremy Feigenbaum of Teaneck won $’,500, and in ‘005, Courtney Sender of Montvale, won $1’, 500.
According to its Website, www.holocaust.hklaw.com, Holland and Knight Charity Foundation formed the Holocaust Remembrance Project to "encourage and promote the study of the Holocaust."
The project "serves as a living memorial to the millions of innocent victims . [W]e recognize the moral imperative of passing on to future generations a profound understanding of the consequences of the Holocaust and a sense of responsibility to the human community."
Students of any faith from any high school in the United States or Mexico may participate in the annual contest.
Rivkah’s essay, along with those of the other finalists, can be found at http://www.holocaust.hklaw.com/essays/’008/