Forward Thinking

How Young Is Too Young for Shoah Education?

By Nathan Jeffay

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Israel’s Education Ministry has left Israeli parents asking how young is too young when it comes to Holocaust education.

Yesterday, on the Israeli Holocaust memorial day, Yom Hashoah, kindergartens began following a new government directive to teach the Holocaust. But is this really the right decision?

First, it’s not just that every parent has different ideas on the right age for Shoah education, but every child is different and ready for this kind of highly emotive issue at a different age. A government directive sets the start-age for Shoah education, to be conducted collectively, and sets it very young. But surely it would be better to leave it to parents to judge the right time for their child, raise it when they see fit, and then let the education system take over at an older age.

Second, there have been cases of teachers in schools being over-zealous when it comes to Holocaust education, overstepping the boundaries of taste to run simulations and other unsuitable Holocaust-related events. Thankfully, schools have checks and balances within the establishment, but Israeli kindergartens are often one woman (or occasionally one man) shows, with a single teacher running the establishment with an assistant or two. To ensure responsible education, the Holocaust needs to be taught in an environment that has a proper management structure — namely a school, not a kindergarten.

And third, while some of the Jewish holidays taught in kindergartens are themed around threats to the Jewish people, the tragedy of the Holocaust is far rawer, far more real to children, and far more harrowing. Educating about the Holocaust brings with it an inevitable sense of Jewish victimhood. But aren’t preschoolers too young for that? Should Germany really be the first European country whose name they learn, mentioned only because of its perpetration of the Holocaust? Shouldn’t Israel give its children a chance to learn something of the wider world today before confronting them with the tragedy of what happened to its Jewish citizens back during the war?

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