From the Editor | Elie Wiesel and Two Girls He Never Met

Black and white headshot of Nadine Epstein.

Shortly before Elie Wiesel, one of Moment’s two cofounders, died in 2016, I had an appointment to visit him in New York. I had watched age and illness creep up on him, and was looking forward to spending time together. I was at the Jersey Shore visiting my father, and was about to walk to the station to catch the train into the city. My dad, sitting in his wheelchair at the dinette table, asked, “Where are you going?” I explained that I was on my way to see Elie Wiesel.

No sooner had I said this name than whoops of excitement came from the kitchen, where my father’s caregiver, from Haiti, was braiding the hair of her twin nieces, Rashawn and Nellwyn. “You know Elie Wiesel?” asked Rashawn, wide-eyed. “We just learned about him in school!” “We read Night,” Nellwyn chimed in, adding, “We studied the Holocaust,” in case I didn’t understand the connection. The girls were about 12 and attended public middle school in a neighboring town. They were beside themselves. “How do you know him?” they asked.

My dad smiled, and I explained. And then I thought of how Elie often wrote back to people who wrote to him, and how significant it was that Rashawn and Nellwyn, the daughters of Haitian immigrants, knew who he was and had studied the Holocaust. “Why don’t you write him a note and I’ll give it to him?” I suggested. More whoops! Rashawn scribbled a note and I stuck it in my bag as I dashed out to make the train.

Later, as my train emerged from the tunnel under the Hudson River, an email appeared on my phone. My meeting with Elie had been canceled because he was not well. I carried the twins’ note around with me for months, but I never saw Elie again. Even after he died, I kept it in my purse for at least a year, unable to part with it, an unfinished communication between a survivor and two young girls that would have meant something to all three of them.

I kept the note for at least a year, an unfinished communication between a survivor and two young girls.

Fast forward to May 2021, a few months after my father died. I was in New Jersey and went for a stroll on the Asbury Park boardwalk with a man who had been part of the push to bring Holocaust education to New Jersey public schools. As we walked, he recounted his mother’s escape from Germany in the 1930s and how studying the Holocaust had become a staple in the state’s classrooms. Talking to him made me realize how it had come to pass that two first-generation American pre-teens idolized Elie Wiesel—and how little many people, myself included, really know about the movement to educate American public school children about the Holocaust.

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I quickly determined that Moment needed to dive into Holocaust education in the nation’s public schools and asked senior editor Dan Freedman to take on this gargantuan task. Unlike most stories I have read about Holocaust education, Dan’s story is not framed in terms that suggest failure: It is not frontloaded with statistics detailing Americans’ ignorance about Auschwitz or the number of Jews killed. Nor does it lead with the Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the world, who abuse and misuse Holocaust-related historical analogies. We do give these facts space, not to sensationalize or alarm, but, as is our practice, to deepen understanding and create the conditions for informed vigilance. Our story encompasses far more, from Holocaust education’s wide though still imperfect reach, to the dangers posed to it by political polarization, and to the profound themes it introduces to students who often remember it forever. Which brings me full circle to Rashawn and Nellwyn today: These two smart young women are unlikely to ever forget Elie’s harrowing story and the evil that was Nazi Germany. To me, they are proof that Holocaust education works.

Our winter issue is full of other topics that will expand your mind and open your heart, including “Beshert: Stories of Connection in a Universe of Love,” based on our popular online “Beshert” series (momentmag.com/beshert) featuring tales of twists of fate; a refreshingly nuanced debate over the importance of weighing Jewish views in the battle over abortion; and an “Ask the Rabbis” section that explores a foundational question: Is political compromise a Jewish virtue? Among other things, we also take a look at the biblical commandment of shmita and how it is observed today and marvel at the innovative Paris photography of artist Man Ray (originally Emmanuel “Manny” Radnitzky). “Literary Moment” includes Robert Siegel’s review of Michael Brenner’s new book, In Hitler’s Munich: Jews, the Revolution, and the Rise of Nazism, and a revelatory interview with Anita Diamant about her book Period. End of Sentence. A New Chapter in the Fight for Menstrual Justice. In “The Conversation,” you’ll find an array of thoughtful letters in response to last issue’s provocative “Big Question”: What should the role of American Jews be with respect to Israel today?

One more thing: Producing a Moment issue that meets our standards is a very demanding and collaborative process. By necessity, the final stages of production take place in person in our office. Just as we moved into our deadline period for the winter issue, our home city of Washington, DC was hit with more than a 3,000 percent surge in COVID cases due to the Omicron variant. Given the choice between endangering staff and getting the issue out late, I chose the latter. I know you would have made the same decision. I want to thank Moment’s staff and volunteers for
their beyond-the-call-of-duty dedication. And to all of you, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts with us. Stay well and safe!

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One thought on “From the Editor | Elie Wiesel and Two Girls He Never Met

  1. gloria levitas says:

    A thoughtful and well written article about Holocaust Education that takes a positive look at its past and prospects. I am, however, trying to square its optimism with the many responses of college students who have never heard of the Holocaust.
    I have always admired “Facing History and Ourselves” for the work they have done in bringing attention to injustice, genocide, slavery and other uncomfortable (to say the least) topics in school curricula, but I am seriously worried about all the so-called educators, pundits and politicians who do not wish to teach or say anything that might cause “discomfort” to their audiences. Of course, creating discomfort to Jewish students or students of color has never been their concern, and this absurd idea is merely cover for those who are primarily interested in maintaining their own supremacy by obliterating historical truth.

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