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Hands together painted like planet earth

Featured Blogger: Daniel Wu, a 2016 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Gold Medalist and a 2016 Gedenk Award for Tolerance recipient. Daniel is a junior at Timber Creek High School in Orlando, Florida. He’s an avid debater, participating in that grand school-sponsored activity of dressing up to verbally assault colleagues. His interests are multifaceted, but include critical race theory, gender relations, and societal constructions of health.

What can we learn?

The Gedenk Mission is a very straightforward one – to improve Holocaust awareness, and tolerance – so that the Holocaust remains firmly in the past, instead of the future. The issue is that, for every single mind we enlighten, there are scores more that remain ignorant of the many hidden Holocausts peppered amongst the annals of history.

In the Ottoman Empire, Armenian activists and Armenian leaders disappeared. Armenian Men were massacred. Armenian women and Armenian children lined up and marched into the Syrian Desert; even as whips, chains, and Ottoman rape wore heavily on their minds, the ruthless desert took its inevitable toll on their bodies. Their crimes weren’t capital; they weren’t felonies or even misdemeanors – They were simply Christian. They existed. And then, they didn’t.

An estimated 1.5 million Armenians died.

Historians have dubbed this the first genocide of the 20th century. They called it the greatest state-sanctioned death to taint the earth, unparalleled in both its scope and magnitude. Those historians, of course, wrote before WWII.

And yet, not only are relatively few people aware of the Armenian Genocide, those who are, notably, world leaders, refuse to acknowledge its import. Turkey, as the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, naturally wants to divest itself from that little earmark in its history books; in fact, its complicated analyses of the event have resulted in token acknowledgement and qualified denial – of course, all in the spirit of “true” historical accuracy. Here’s the Turkish position, you can decide for yourself.

Even those recognizing the atrocity have done so sluggishly and half-heartedly. Something has to be wrong when the Kardashians beat the Pope to the punch. Senator Obama on the campaign trail once said, “The Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.” However, upon becoming cognizant of Turkish reticence and even outright hostility over the boorish term “genocide”, President Obama discretely shifted to phrases such as “mass killings.” He’s just being pragmatic. Armenians are powerless, spread out in diaspora communities around the world, while Turkey is a vital ally in the hothouse of the Middle East.

The terror of today, the fear of mass conflict to come, has caused us to forgive, and more importantly, forget, the mass conflicts of the past.

The message we are told isn’t that we should tolerate, rather, we are told to beware. Tolerate not the shattered histories of our Armenian brethren, but rather beware the violent posturing of ISIS. Forget the atrocities of the past, for the perils of the future are much more terrifying.

What can we learn? The lesson isn’t really “Don’t commit genocide!” although that’s a worthwhile one to know. Could it be, “Watch out for tyrants and dictators”? Not really.

Surely, the deeper lesson can only be obtained by looking at deeper causes. Hitler didn’t cause the Holocaust – rampant anti-Semitism did. Pol Pot didn’t murder millions – extremist Cambodian nationalism did. Rwandan Hutus, fueled by social class hatred, and a storied past of violence, removed 70% of the Tutsi population.

Certain concepts – anti-Semitism and tolerance, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, hatred and cordiality – are fundamentally opposed. The lesson that events like the Armenian Genocide teach is a simple one, and one we should be learning every day of our lives: Be a better person. Realize that all members of the world are human beings, and the tensions that antagonize us, the borders that divide us, would melt away.

The root of Turkish denialism, the roots of worldwide denialism, are the same sentiments that oppose international tolerance. The wool over our youths’ eyes is the thickest and most dangerous, for the children of today are the policymakers of tomorrow. Let us bring these hidden Holocausts to light, lest the world force another into the present.

 

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This blog features Lauren Wyman, our 2016 “Gedenk Award for Tolerance” recipient. Lauren is a freshman at the University of British Columbia pursuing an arts degree, which allows her to pursue a broad range of interests that include environmental sciences, art, photography, and archeology. When not studying, she can be found drawing, taking pictures, and hiking.

The Gedenk Award for Tolerance impacted my life in subtle and profound ways. First, and most important, it served as validation of my artistic ability.

Prior to my experience with the Gedenk Movement, I had not shared my artwork with my closest friends or family, and definitely not with a large international community of artists! Drawing was a very private and personal hobby. All that changed when my work was selected as a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Gold Medal and Gedenk Award for Tolerance recipient. Refugee was on the cover of our local newspaper and subsequently shown on a large screen behind me as I stood on stage at the National Ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York City. My work was no longer private.

I was uncertain how people would see my artwork and whether the message that I was hoping to communicate would be successfully conveyed.  Through the exposure offered by Gedenk, I feel that my artwork and the message it delivers have been validated. I received emails and messages from people who were touched by my work. The acceptance and positive feedback I have received has been an incredible experience.

Art has always been an outlet for me to express thoughts and emotions. Sometimes what we see or feel can be too difficult for words to convey. Art can be a voice for this. My artwork serves as a vehicle to help me capture and share these thoughts in a more effective medium.

On a recent trip to Sicily, I visited refugee camps that housed countless Syrians trying to escape a war-torn country. While safer in the camps, these people were still behind fences and isolated. I struggled to imagine the fear, anger, sadness, and uncertainty that they must be feeling. I felt uncomfortable and helpless but didn’t know what I could do. I traveled home moved and impacted by the experience.

Upon my return to school I learned about the Gedenk Movement’s mission to increase tolerance and ethnic understanding. Through this mission I saw the opportunity to express myself by submitting my art. Refugees became a vehicle for me to share the emotions of what I saw and experienced. Art allowed me to present a global issue to a larger audience in a way that transcended language, race, gender, and bias.

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This blog features our 2016 “Gedenk Award for Tolerance” winner: Jasmine Cui. Though some disagree, Jasmine Cui likes to call herself a 90’s kid because she was born in 1999. She is majoring in Political Science, Economics and Violin Performance at SUNY Geneseo. Her celebrity crush is Kurt Vonnegut and she aspires to be like her parents who are first generation Americans and fought an extraordinary battle for their place in this country.

As a person of colour, “justice” is more than another word in my lexicon. It is a term which holds immense social, and moral implications –  implications which I am forced to face, bear, and reckon with every single day of my life.  The truth is that we live in a society wherein colored persons are perpetually denied justice. Today, the reality – our reality – is that black boys are dying for brandishing toy guns. Latino women can’t secure loans because of redlining. Even today, I’m still called a “chink.”

It is overwhelmingly true that colored persons experience a different society, and that this “colored society” is one rife with, not justice, but injustice. One wherein principles like equal opportunity and fairness, principles which should apply as universally as the laws of gravity, do not apply in the same “cause-effect” manner enforced throughout white society.

                              When a man is murdered, our laws dictate that his killer be punished.

Consider Vincent Chin. A twenty-seven year old who died for the sins of a country from which he did not even originate. When they found him, auto workers Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz did not see a man; they saw an automobile industry failing at the hands of Japan. Chin was nothing more than an opportunity to exact revenge upon the Japanese. He was also Chinese and set to be married the next day. In one night, a wedding became a funeral, and neither Ebens nor Nitz spent a single day in jail because – as presiding judge Charles Kaufman put it – “These weren’t the kind of men you send to jail. You fit the punishment to the criminal, not the crime.”

Consider Emmett Till. A fourteen year old who was killed for flirting with a white woman – his body so disfigured than an initialed ring was all that remained of his identity. A boy whose real crime was simply that he was too black to be young and male and American. His killers, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were declared “not guilty” after just an hour of deliberation.

Consider Eric Garner. A forty-three year old who was held in an illegal chokehold, brutally strangled, and murdered. Daniel Pantaleo – his killer – was not even indicted. When the colored are involved, laws apply disproportionately, and oftentimes not at all.

In physics, when a quark, and its antithesis – the antiquark – collide, annihilation occurs. Thus, the solution to injustice, the key to its destruction, must be justice.

Even so, studies report that fifty eight percent of millennials believe racism will heal with the passage of time, but what we forget is that change has always been catalyzed by human effort. Without activists like Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr., society wouldn’t have changed, and if our inaction continues, it never will.

And this is why the Gedenk Movement is important. As a society, we can only achieve justice by acknowledging the realities of those who are marginalized. It is impossible to solve the problems we choose not to fight and even more impossible to fight the things we choose not to see.

When a bone heals incorrectly it is “malaligned.” To correct this deformity, an osteopath will utilise the process of fracture reduction. Put simply, the physician will re-break the bone so that it will regenerate appropriately.

The Gedenk movement is a departure from the blasé culture of today. It refuses to accept injustice and celebrates the stories that are hard to tell. Though the process of fracture reduction is a painful one, it is also absolutely necessary. Without it, a society cannot heal properly.

As essayist Kiese Laymon once wrote, “remembering starts not with predictable punditry, or bullshit blogs, or slick art that really ask nothing of us; I want to say that it starts with all of us willing ourselves to remember, tell and accept those complicated, muffled truths of our lives and deaths and the lives and deaths of folks all around us over and over again.”

Gedenk is the Yiddish word for “commemorate.” Gedenk is a reminder to remember in a time when it has become all too easy to forget.

 

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In this Huffington Post article, Miri Ben-Ari talks about the creation of Gedenk’s new program, “50 States Of Tolerance:” middle and high schools educational program, touring 50 states to promote tolerance with a live performance, multimedia and class activities. Enjoy!

Everyone is talking about tolerance these days, perhaps as a result in need to redefine “tolerance” in a world that has lost its innocence over intolerance and constantly tries to adjust to new realities.

I have come to realize the impact tolerance has on young people in reviewing submissions in the final stage of the “Gedenk Award for Tolerance”, a national contest and scholarship program for middle and high school students to promote tolerance. Gedenk, a nonprofit organization, runs this creative program, in partnership with “Scholastic Art & Writing Awards”, asking young students across America to create original works of art, digital media or writing that reflect upon the lessons learned from the Holocaust and other genocides.

In the past three years the “Gedenk Award for Tolerance” received thousands of submissions, created by talented young people. The submissions reveal that many students today are deeply passionate about promoting tolerance. The extraordinary works reflect the students desire to see more tolerance inside and outside the classroom, in a world that seems so connected, so small – yet so divided.

Promoting tolerance in schools?

Not an easy task! However, it is essential to include tolerance as a part of student’s curriculum and educational experience. There are many different approaches when it comes to teaching tolerance to students and it is important to remember that young students are more likely to be receptive, retain and apply what they have learned when they are inspired.

Recently, I visited the Elisabeth Morrow Summer String Festival to give a music master class to 300+ young string players, ages 4 to 18 years old. We performed a song together: my original composition “Symphony of Brotherhood” featuring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. I was welcomed to the school gym by an enthusiastic chorus of young students screaming my initials “MBA”. I took a second to get to know them and to explain the power of music and how it can deliver a message, in this case: a call to action for tolerance. Then I performed the song for them. Afterwards, I asked the students if they would like to play the song with me, although it was clearly visible while looking at their eager faces. The power of music never ceases to amaze me with its ability to inspire, unite and connect people. Based on my professional experience, when a group of people becomes creative together, having to listen to each other in order to play in harmony, literally in this case, the outcome is very inspiring. That day in Englewood NJ, the diverse group of young students has realized the essence of Dr. King’s Symphony of Brotherhood, and the sparkle in their eyes while playing their musical instrument together with me, was priceless.

Music is like magic. When people play together differences vanish and all that’s left is a common ground and the sound of the music. Take my story for example: I grew up in Israel and moved to the US with a suitcase, violin case and (very) broken English, but when I got to jam with other musicians none of this mattered. During the master class I shared with the young students that “I wish the entire world could just feel for a second how it feels when you play music together, which is a true Symphony of Brotherhood.”

Music speaks volumes and has the power to transform both musicians and audiences. I plan to continue promoting tolerance to students with the announcement of Gedenk’s “50 States of Tolerance”, an educational program touring 50 states taking place at middle and high schools to promote tolerance with a live performance, multimedia and class activities. “50 States of Tolerance” represents Gedenk’s philosophy of utilizing artistic outlets, connecting to young people, thinking outside of the box and making tolerance relevant.

Photo credit: Micah Spayer

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Miri Ben-Ari to connect generations with violin music

In this article Miri discusses what inspired her to found Gedenk.

In sixth grade, I asked my mother, “Why do we study history?” I couldn’t understand why events and stories that happened in the past could be relevant to my life today. My mother explained that we must understand where we are coming from in order to better understand who we are in this life. It took me many years to understand what she meant.

Continue reading “Gedenk’s Founder Featured In The Huffington Post” »

God Almighty when will it end1

It was in Tel-Aviv Israel, April 2006, that we filmed what’s considered to be the first Holocaust music video; featuring Miri Ben-Ari, Subliminal, and six dancers to represent the Holocaust’s six million Jewish victims and the six arms of the Star of David – a symbol for Jewish belief and identity.

The violin, which is also considered as the “instrument of the Jewish ghetto,” plays the melody of the very popular Jewish song, “Adon Olam,” which translates to “God Almighty,” written by the renowned Israeli writer and composer, Uzi Chitman. The combination of Subliminal’s lyrics and Ben-Ari’s violin performance powerfully convey the story of the Holocaust.

Continue reading “God Almighty when will it end ?” »

2015 Gedenk Award for Tolerance winning works

The following students were elected the winners of the 2015 Gedenk Award for Tolerance. Congratulations to all of the winners and participants!

 

Ella Corwin: “One”, Mixed Media. Grade 8, Age 13, Northshore Christian Academy, Everett, WA.

Lilianna Harris: “Legs”, Photography. Grade 11, Age 16, American Heritage School: Plantation Campus, Plantation, FL.

Candace Seeger: “Victory?”, Ceramics & Glass. Grade 12, Age 16, Yorktown High School, Arlington, VA.

Jo de Waal: “Let Light In”, Personal Essay/Memoir. Grade 10, Age 15, Greenwich Academy, Greenwich, CT.

Continue reading “2015 Gedenk Award for Tolerance winning works” »