"For whom are you responsible?"
That question was posed to a group of Temple Emanuel middle school students as part of the JETS Israel class on Defiance -- the fourth lesson of the Remembering and Rebuilding After the Holocaust unit.
Almost all of the students' answers related to responsibility to friends, family and other personal acquaintances.
"Sometimes a friend needs help -- food if they are sick, take care of their kids when needed, invite them over" J.C.
"Family, friends -- they look out for you." D.B.
"Having an obligation and doing that obligation for our family and friends" S.R.
The class proceeded to view an old Seinfeld clip that showed the show cast's arrest under the Good Samaritan Law for ignoring a person in distress. Most of the students were unaware that such a law even existed but they expressed surprise and dismay that such a law was needed, even after the instructor pointed out that, according to their view of "for whom are you responsible," the Seinfeld characters were, in no way, responsible for the person who was being mugged.
Now, the questions became more challenging. What does Judaism say about helping your fellow man? What does morality say about helping someone in distress? And from there the discussion moved into the crux of the day's lesson -- how does someone weigh the desire to help with the risk that it might mean to his or her own future and maybe, even to his/her life and the life of his/her family? How do you educate people to be responsible to their fellow man? The group moved into two separate groups to discuss the issues and consider the alternatives.
"It is a judgment call; you have to balance the risk you are taking with the need someone has for help." J.S.
"God expects us to be the best person we can be and do what is right in his eyes."S.R.
"You can only guide people in the right direction. You can't always make someone do something" C.B.
"You can teach that by setting good examples" J.C.
"You draw the line when the one who needs help expects the help and doesnt need it anymore" J.F.
By this time the students had begun to look at the question of "to whom am I responsible" differently. The class joined together to read some pertinent quotes and watch two videos about people who had acted honorably and courageously during WWII.
They then contrasted this behavior with an account of a Jewish family that was faced with unexpected anti-semitism from a formally trusted friend during the Nazi era. A collection of quotes was presented
[re: the quotes]
"I feel this speaks to me the most because it demonstrates how most people don't do things for themselves" J.F.
"If more people do good and if we can be good after some evil and stay good the world will be a lot better " D.B.
"Everyone is trying to do good, but not always in the right way" B.G.
The groups moved to linoboards to continue their research into some of the best-known and not-so-well-known heroes of the Holocaust. The students in each group added their impressions of the readings and movies.
The lesson concluded with a Google Presentation (PPT) in which each student will create a slide about a Holocaust hero that s/he wishes to honor.
As the lesson ended, the question was again asked -- "to whom is each of us responsible?"
"I have learned that anyone can help anyone." S.R.
" I am responsible for anyone who I see." M.H.
"Anyone who needs my abilities more than I do." J.S
On Wednesday February 5th 2014 the class will meet with class instructor and JETS director, Smadar Goldstein, to plant trees in the memory of the Righteous Among the Nations at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley. The group's Google presentation, prepared by the students, will guide the ceremony.