Growing up, Nancy Shanfeld was disturbed by the stories her mother and aunt told of facing antisemitism as some of the only Jewish children in their south Saint Louis neighborhood during the 1930’s. “Imagining these incidents still breaks my heart,” Shanfeld said of the harassment and threats her mother Mignon Senturia and aunt Ruth faced from children and adults alike. Though Shanfeld did not experience much direct antisemitism as a young person herself, hearing of the hatred and prejudice faced by her mother and aunt moved her greatly: “It was two little girls against the world.”
After Mignon’s passing, Nancy and her husband Tom Manheim searched for a way to use the inheritance to commemorate her life. They were drawn to the work of USC Shoah Foundation and decided to support the Institute’s Stronger Than Hate initiative. As a retired health educator, Shanfeld knows the value of using a curriculum to influence youth decision-making and behavior and saw the Stronger Than Hate initiative as a means to provide vital anti-hate lessons. “Reaching young minds may be one of the best and only ways to curb hate and violence, before people develop the mindsets that start to divide us,” she said.
Exposing students to the power of testimony, she believes, can create “beautiful moments that stay with children” and ultimately affect their behavior. “When you’re a child, you have experiences that are so formative,” she added. “One of the best ways to reach people is before they begin to cultivate these prejudices.”
Shanfeld considers this lesson especially important now, as our collective attention is being pulled in so many directions. The antisemitism Mignon and Ruth faced is still alive today, and the collection and dissemination of survivor stories can help mount a resistance to this rising hatred. “If we forget what happened and why, we’ll have to learn difficult truths all over again,” she said. By using her mother’s inheritance to support Stronger Than Hate, Shanfeld hopes to honor her memory: “She would be very proud to be a part of this.”