“My work involves engaging people in the lessons learned from the Holocaust,” Lillian Rappaport, 68, tells The Central Voice.
She is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Polish Jews sent to concentration camps, her parents were finally released in 1945. They met at a Displaced Persons Camp and married. By 1949 they were relocated to Harrisburg through the efforts of the local Jewish community.
“A train ticket, an apartment, and a job paying $20 a week as a tailor,” Rappaport says with pride in her voice.
Since 1995, Rappaport has served as the Jewish Education Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg. She currently focuses on Holocaust Education.
“Certainly the history of the Holocaust is important, what happened, where and when and to whom,” Rappaport explains. “I also focus on what we can all learn from what happened. How it applies to today’s world,” she says.
Do recent events make imperative a renewed emphasis on Holocaust education?
“These are very scary times,” Rappaport says.
Violent attacks in the US against the Jewish community doubled last year, according to a late April report issued by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Overall attacks that also included vandalism and harassment remained near record-high levels.
ADL is a Jewish civil rights group. Their recent report counted 39 cases of physical assaults involving 59 victims in 2018, up from 19 assaults and 21 victims in 2017. The 2018 tally includes 11 people who were killed and two congregants wounded when a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October -- the deadliest attack on Jews in the nation's history.
In addition to that shooting, 2018 “saw high levels of white supremacist activity, including propaganda on college campuses and in communities, and hateful robocalls aimed at voters,” the ADL said.
“I think ‘hate’ is attractive to our lost souls,” Rappaport says. She counts among those lost souls the “many white, uneducated, Christian men, angry at everyone not like them.”
That said, Rappaport also points out that “hate or the potential for hate lives in all of us” and believes that educational mission can defuse deeply held feelings of fear of others who are different.
Xenophobia is a dangerous trend and it seems to be rising worldwide, Rappaport observes. She asks in her educational sessions What responsibility do we have to one another? What kind of community do we want for ourselves and our children?
“Unless we address questions like this, we will not have communities and neighborhoods that come together, in spite of what makes them different. Coming together is what makes us all human,” Rappaport says.