You must make your own map. ~Joy Harjo
One thing that Michigan residents have in common, regardless if they hail from the Upper or Lower Peninsula, they use their hand as a map to show you where they are from. When I met Corey Harbaugh, Co-Director of the Third Coast Writing Project and teacher from Gobles High School that is exactly what we did.
Corey and I became acquainted last summer at the Memorial Library’s Holocaust Educators’ Network (HEN) summer seminar in New York City. Partnering with the National Writing Project, the Memorial Library each summer invites a group of educators to NYC to conduct Holocaust inquiry. The Memorial Library was founded by Olga Lengyel, a survivor of Auschwitz who lost her entire family (including her two sons) and dedicated her entire life to honoring the memory of those who died as a result of World War II. Heather attended the summer seminar in 2007 and she convinced me that I needed to apply. She was right. It was one of the most awe-inspiring educational experiences that I have ever had.
After forging a bond as NWP teachers from rural areas in Michigan, Corey and I had the opportunity to submit a proposal to the Memorial Library to lead a HEN Satellite Seminar in the state of Michigan. Our application was accepted and once again Corey and I found ourselves in NYC showing people on our hands where we are from.
Our HEN Leadership Institute was intense and thought-provoking as twelve teachers from all over the country (California, Idaho , Montana, Nebraska and Michigan) engaged in conversations and deep planning for facilitating other teachers in Holocaust education. Sondra Perl and Jennifer Lemberg brought in two speakers to help frame our thinking and navigate us down various roads in our home states.
Bjorn Krondorfer, a scholar on Holocaust studies, pressed us on our own ideas of home. His presentation “Home, Roots, Rupture” impacted us in startling ways. I will never forget the concept of the “Two Hundred Year Present” that Krondorfer handed to us. He explained that we are embedded in history –for two hundred years (backward and forward) by who touched us from the moment of birth to those who we will touch in our lifetime. “What have you learned from your 200 year present?” he asked us. We have a deep network of roots, even though some of them may appear hidden. The word responsibility was at the forefront of our conversation and we discussed the responsibilities we have toward the future.
Karen Shawn from Yeshiva University spoke to us about “Coping with Teaching Trauma.” Shawn spoke of the importance of creating a safe community for our students and ourselves. We watched the short wordless film, “Ambulance.” The film shook all of us to the core as we watched images of the Einsengruppen (mobile killing squads) lead a group of school children to their death by gassing. The film uses an ambulance, the symbol of something good, being used as evil. To help us understand how we could help students process traumatic material she presented us with two tools. The first item was a piece of mock “beach glass” and the second was an eraser. Shawn explained that as educators we could choose to give both to our students to help them deal with traumatic images. The “beach glass” could help them find messages of hope and beauty, much like a prism, to allow them to work through heavy material. The eraser gives them the permission to remove images that make them feel extremely uncomfortable.
The experience that I had this summer, like last year, was life-changing. We stayed on the campus of Columbia University, walked to Olga’s home every morning through lush Central Park, ate at a Kosher Indian Restaurant, listened to traditional Jewish Klesmer music while experiencing an authentic NY diner, and discussed our Holocaust work with the Memorial Library’s own David Field. On our way to synagogue we walked through beautiful, upscale Gramercy Park. I was intrigued by this area of Manhattan with gorgeous townhomes and vibrant flower box gardens. At the heart of the neighborhood was a private park that you must possess a key to enter. We walked around the park and I was able to poke my camera inside the fence to snap a couple photos. This locked gate became a powerful metaphor that I pondered along our journey.
Heather and I are excited to work with Corey on our Holocaust Educator Network of Michigan Summer Seminar. Our plan is travel to “his part of Michigan” in Kalamazoo this October to collaborate on our vision. Corey eloquently uses the Mackinac Bridge as a symbol that joins our two writing projects together to engage educators on topics of social justice in Michigan.
While we still have many details to work out for our seminar, like every HEN participant, we left NYC with a very precious artifact in our hands. We carry Olga’s legacy and we will treat it as a very special gift.
THE HAND AS MAP ~~ A Poem
Thin pages of sacrifice – silver wings and dusty motes
wise with ideas.
Blue lines, veins, ruled notebook,
a train track crossing time
Spy the rant of a bird that
bounces off concrete.
Voices lurk like a locked garden gate—
You need a key to quench
your thirst for grass.
Swollen urns of pollen
masquerade as jewels when
the truth poses as a manicured veil.
The bars are not barbed,
but wrought with scrolls
and a flourish of curls
the message is clear,
We walk down crowded city streets
and not sure what to do with my hands
I become a thief and steal
moments of time with my camera.
Networks of roots rumble
underground. Heave up the cobblestones,
more powerful than frost and steam.
Roots do not speak the language of fences
a web of thick tongues crease
the divide, crash into waves, cross the line
to nudge the foundation of
Music issues from
a Klesmer band.
Though sound is not born
from the fingers
but from the reed
vibrating the past and present.
Birds in formation
seem to fly with purpose and we seek out
a message from the sky
though the clouds are apathetic and mute.
Kernels of wheat braid hunger’s knot
A dog’s yelp
is more potent than a siren.
if humans were able to unravel and read
the bark of birches and canines.
Line up the children and shield
their eyes. Allow a toy to be a prism
to dance light around
A vacuum steals the life
force – but the soul, the
spirit is not as obedient. It will
survive, thrive through haunted
Trace the lake of your fingers
onto the blackboard. Stand back
and you will only see a shadow–
the energy and potential
Together we will build and cross bridges
travel ribbons of highway
Walk barefoot and let the land
communicate stories through our
landmines, woven as a tapestry of roots
and unearth the tangle of skeletons
in our own backyard.
Learn how to knead flour and yeast
to nourish your classrooms,
communities, and inquiries.
Trace the lake of your fingers
~June 26, 2010
New York City