In the Aftermath of Tragedy in Florida

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 12:37pm

At the exact moment a former student was destroying lives at Stoneman Douglas High School, a group of students inside a classroom was studying ways to make the world a better place.

These were students in a Holocaust history class, where they were exploring the 1936 Olympics in an IWitness learning activity to teach them about compassion and respect, and about the perils of living a life filled with hate and violence.

Two of those students were murdered during the Feb. 14 killing spree that left 17 people dead and untold numbers of people devastated. I too am shocked by the news and send my deepest condolences to everybody whose lives have been turned upside down.

Three teachers at Stoneman Douglas use our educational resources, which stands as a bulwark against the type of hatred that continues to destroy so many lives.  Some may consider it ironic that a school so involved in teaching ethical behavior could be the setting for such wanton misery. But I take a different view. The teachers at Stoneman Douglas see the world for what it too-often is: a place of hatred and cruelty. Yet, it is also a world where individuals can push back against the tide of history to create something better.

At USC Shoah Foundation, we know from the history we study and the news we see daily that there is unimaginable ugliness that human beings can inflict upon each other. But we also know that through education and work, people can learn to treat each other with more dignity. It may seem impossible at times like these, but it can be done. It’s something we’ve dedicated our lives to accomplishing.

Even during these darkest of times, a small light can shine through. When you listen to the victims of the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the Armenian Genocide and others from people who have lost everything but the breath of life, one message comes through again and again: the pain of loss may never go away, but a life filled with meaning and love can still be had.

The Institute is reaching out to the teachers we work with at Stoneman Douglas and offers any support it can for the victims of this horrible crime in Florida. I also make a personal plea to those of you who see the importance of teaching about ethical behavior. Please don’t stop. Please don’t let this terrible setback knock you off your course. The world needs you now as much as it ever has.  We stand with you to accomplish this goal. Together, we can be stronger than hate.

Stephen Smith