By Harriet P. Gross
You’re tired, so you sit down for a while. Then when you’re rested, you stand up and get moving again.
Well, the Dallas Holocaust Museum is out to change our definition of “standing up,” and our behavior. “Sitting down” isn’t even part of the equation.
The Museum — also the Center for Education and Tolerance — has adopted “Upstander,” the word that’s on its way to becoming coin-of-the-realm everywhere Holocaust is a primary concern. It’s the opposite not of “downsitter,” but of “bystander.” The latter doesn’t have to sit down to be taking no part whatsoever in whatever’s going on.
Bystanders are particularly dangerous, the Holocaust has taught us, when bad things are happening to human beings. Which is why a center like the Dallas one, which educates hundreds of school-age kids every week at its downtown facility, is so concerned with the latest, greatest problem emerging big-time from that group: bullying.
Bystanders see, but let the bad things happen without taking any action. They don’t say no to anyone; they just keep quiet, as long as the bullying doesn’t target them. And in these situations, adults are often bystanders as well: parents who advise kids to “Just ignore it”; teachers and principals who look the other way, or take only ineffectual, minor-league stabs at action.
Upstanders, on the other hand, do something, even if it means putting themselves at risk. For school kids, this can be very uncomfortable. For those who hid and/or otherwise rescued Jews during the Holocaust, this was far more than uncomfortable; it was often a matter of threatened life and potential death. But they did it anyway. That’s the latest lesson being taught at our Holocaust Center.
The lesson itself may be uncomfortable. Kids hear survivors’ stories; it can be hard to take, trying to imagine oneself in a survivor’s place. But it happens. Alice Murray, the Dallas Center’s president and CEO, has heard kids leaving after such a presentation saying things like “I will never hate again.” Their schools, which often find these lessons the most compelling ones their students have ever had, report kids becoming more respectful of others. At the very least, this is a start.
The Center’s late driving force, Elliott Dlin, an internationally known expert on all phases of Holocaust, began using the word “Upstander” months before his recent, untimely passing. Many people thought he invented it. But he was quick to tell them this wasn’t so. A respected organization called “Facing History and Ourselves” began circulating a human rights curriculum to secondary schools back in 1995, examining racism and violence. Since then, it’s begun “linking history to moral choices,” inviting students to “Be the Change: Upstanders for Human Rights.” It’s even suggesting that “Upstander” might be a good substitute for the word “activist.”
But among Holocaust centers across our nation and elsewhere, Dallas’ is certainly leading the way with the introduction of its compelling invitation to young people to “Be An Upstander.” At the end of its recent Yom HaShoah commemoration, our Center rolled out bracelets in black and white: “Upstander” in stark light letters against a solid dark background. The message and the choice are clear.
These bracelets come wrapped with a pledge card offering the chance to be among the first official Upstanders. Kids 10 through 18 are in for $10, older individuals and whole families for $36. August will be the cutoff time for charter memberships.
The pledge says it all: “From this day forward, I will STAND UP against prejudice, hatred and indifference in all its forms … for what is right … not just for myself, but for all of humanity.” Watch for a regional contest: Those up to age 22 may create a piece of music, a video or some combo of the two, illustrating the Upstander mission; YouTube airings are promised, plus professional packaging and promotion for the winner. What could beat fame and possible fortune achieved while helping a good cause?
I now wear the bracelet on my right wrist, a worthy companion to the Sh’ma that always circles my left. And I shared its message with attendees at the recent Women’s League of Conservative Judaism conference in Dallas, who’ve taken it home with them. Will you join us? Get more information on Upstanding from Nanette Fodell at the Center, 211 Record St. #100, Dallas 75202; 214-741-7500. Like Lowe’s “Let’s build something together,” we’ll build a broadened Holocaust memory to extend far, far into the future. No one can afford to sit down on this job.