HMTC Can Help People Scale the Empathy Wall
By Franklin Miller-Small
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
- Stephen Covey, from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
“We, on both sides, wrongly imagine that empathy with the ‘other’ side brings an end to clearheaded analysis when, in truth, it’s on the other side of that bridge that the most important analysis can begin.”
- Arlie Russell Hochschild,
from Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
A liberal friend of mine fantasized, “I wish the whole middle part of our country could just vanish, and we’d be left with only the Coastal Blue States.” A conservative work colleague moaned, “I’ve got to move to a Red State – I can no longer stand living in a Blue State.” Usually a very tolerant person, I admonished my Real Estate agent, as my wife and I sought to buy a house, “Please don’t take me to any more neighborhoods displaying American flags.” When she challenged, “Why not?” I shot back, “Because they’ve come to represent a right-wing version of patriotism I’m not comfortable with.” Is this really happening in America? If so, can we do anything about it?
These personal examples of sharp divisions fit into a broad trend in our society. When Americans were surveyed in the 1960’s whether it would matter if their child married someone of the opposite political party, only 5% of both parties agreed. Asked the same question in 2010, 33% of Democrats and 40% of Republicans registered their discomfort. Similarly, growing numbers of our fellow citizens choose to live near others who share their political views, resulting in increased polarization. Moreover, a study found that those most politically engaged “see other people not just as wrong but as so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.” Evidence such as this leads some authorities to assert our widespread political differences are a more potent source of hateful prejudice than race.
Disturbed by this dangerous rift, eminent liberal Berkeley Sociology professor Arlie Russell Hochschild, in her recent book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, attempts to understand the “other” side. She spent the last five years in the heart of Louisiana’s arch conservative enclave, her mission to “truly listen to the other side in order to understand why they believe – and feel the way they do.” She particularly focused on their emotions which she believes underlies political views. To accomplish this, without judgment, she shared deeply in their lives and conducted extensive interviews.
Hochschild was determined to climb over the empathy wall that prevented liberals and conservatives from effectively communicating with each other. An empathy wall she defines as “an obstacle to deep understanding of another person, one that can make us feel indifferent or even hostile to those who hold different beliefs or whose childhoods are rooted in different circumstances.” Throughout her research she trusted in the possibility, without losing our beliefs, to understand others from the inside, see from their perspective, and grasp the connection between life, feeling, and politics.
Her journey began by trying to unravel the knot of why so many in this region desperately need the Federal Government’s assistance with pollution, health, education, and poverty yet reject it. At first she searched for the answers in the cultural terrain– the companies, State government, Church or Fox News. Remarkably, she observed these problems were scarcely addressed by them, although they all expressed, to varying degrees, disdain of Big Government. Unable to find a sufficient cause to explain the discrepancy, she eventually theorized a larger influence that explained the paradox. She called it the Deep Story which she created based on scraps of evidence gleaned from many experiences and conversations.
The Deep Story becomes the centerpiece of her empathic understanding. It’s a “feels-as-if” story, told in the language of symbols, removing judgment and facts, and simply telling how things feel. Through this story both sides of the political spectrum can stand back and explore the “subjective prism” through which the other side sees the world. In metaphorical form the story represents the hopes, fears, pride, shame, resentment and anxiety in people’s lives. A summarized, conservative version of this story appears below.
You’re patiently waiting in the middle of a stagnant line up a hill, leading to the American Dream. In the back of the line there are many poor colored people. Then you get alarmed because people are cutting in line, not following rules like you. These are Blacks through Affirmative Action, and others like women, immigrants, and refugees. Soon you become suspicious of who’s helping the line cutters. You see a President who’s sympathetic to them and not to you. All the negative talk of whites, males, and Fundamental Christians strips away your honor. Like salt to a wound, you’re insulted or ignored throughout the media, and you feel like a “stranger in your own land.” You struggle to feel seen and heard.
Hochschild sent this Deep Story to many of her Tea Party friends whom she’d known for several years, asking them if this narrative fit their experience. Without exception they nodded their agreement, some with minor modifications. Her initial empathy allowed her to connect across difference and forge strong friendships which, in turn, afforded her ever higher levels of insight into their predicament.
We all need to get to know people on the other side, Hochschild recommends. For liberals, she assures they won’t find conservatives to be selfish, as some might expect. Probably, she predicts, leftists will meet individuals who can model healthy community, toughness and the power to deal with hardship. Liberals might also discover other positive qualities like loyalty, sacrifice, and determination. More importantly, through mental and emotional interactions, they’ll be able to put themselves in the other’s shoes, possibly gaining respect and seeing things somewhat differently. A similar surprising, enriching and transforming experience awaits conservatives meeting liberals.
Inspired by the lessons of the Holocaust, our Center champions the humanity of all individuals and groups. We debunk stereotypes inviting prejudice which can escalate to violence. It’s true that our nation’s demeaning political sentiments don’t fit any of the traditional prejudicial categories such as race, religion, or sexual orientation. However, the ramifications arising from this negative political situation beg for our involvement. We’re called to action because this cancer, like other forms of prejudice, not only dehumanizes our neighbors but can morph into “violence,” in this case taking the forms of a dysfunctional political system and a toxic social environment.
Our Center can play an important role in repairing this breach. We can, as Hochschild advocates, encourage people to get to know some people on the other side. As we’ve always maintained, becoming acquainted with those we’ve prematurely judged often leads to greater knowledge, appreciation and closeness. In addition, facilitating empathy by holding constructive dialogues across political difference could promote more trust, moderate views, and lead to more fruitful solutions to common problems.
At a time when partisanship is rampant, tempers are flaring, and precious few are reaching across the aisle, HMTC can be a beacon of tolerance, enabling people to scale the empathy wall – the surest way to heal the wounds of our current crisis.
HMTC Presents Spring Professional Development Workshops for Educators
Educators will have three opportunities to attend professional development workshops at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County (HMTC) this Spring. Survivor: Aron’s Story, will take place on Tuesday, May 9, at 4 p.m.; Teaching Mockingbird, a Facing History and Ourselves workshop, will take place on Tuesday, May 16 at 10 a.m.; and Choice and Responsibility During the Holocaust, a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum workshop, will take palace on Thursday, June 8, at 9:30 a.m. All three workshops will be held at HMTC, Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY.
Humanities and art educators are encouraged to attend Survivor: Aron’s Story on May 9. Author Alex Teplish will immerse the audience into his grandfather’s memoir, utilizing Shoah Foundation video testimony, artwork from the book, as well as historical music and imagery. The first part of Survivor: Aron’s Story shared Aron’s experience of living in Odessa, Ukraine and his survival as a teenager until the Romanian/Nazi occupation during WWII. Aron’s story, visually depicted in graphic novel form, allows readers to experience the events first hand, though the eyes of young Aron himself.
The May 16 workshop will introduce Facing History’s resource, Teaching Mockingbird, which incorporates civic education, ethical reflection and historical context into a literary exploration of Harper Lee’s beloved novel. Participants will discover new interdisciplinary teaching strategies that reinforce historical and literacy skill and will also receive a free copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. This workshop is recommended for 6-12th grade English Language Arts, Social Studies or Humanities educators. There is a $10 registration fee for this workshop.
On June 8, HMTC and USHMM will present a one-day workshop that will provide teachers with resources and pedagogical approaches to teach the Holocaust. The workshop is open to middle school, high school and community college educators, as well as pre-service educators and administrators. Participants will receive books and resources from USHMM and a certificate of participation at the completion of the program. A light lunch will be provided. There is a $15 registration fee for this workshop.
To register for the Facing History workshop on May 16, visit https://www.facinghistory.org/calendar/w2017ny5-new-approach-teaching-kill-mockingbird/ . For more information or to register for Aron’s Story or the USHMM workshop, contact Tracy Garrison-Feinberg at (516) 571-8040 or email@example.com.
“Descent into Darkness”
HMTC presents a Yom Hashoah Holocaust Commemoration program, Descent into Darkness, featuring testimony from Twin Survivors of Dr. Josef Mengele, Irene Hizme and René Slotkin, on Sunday, April 23, 2017, at 2 p.m. The program will take place at HMTC, Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY. This is an extremely rare opportunity to hear direct testimony from twins who miraculously survived horrific “research studies” by Mengele, Auschwitz’s infamous “Angel of Death.”
Irene and René were born in Czechoslovakia. Their father was murdered in Auschwitz-Berkenau in December 1941. The twins and their mother were sent first to Tehresienstadt, and in 1943, they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After four months together the twins were taken by Mengele for “experimentation” and their mother was murdered that night. They were six years old. Irene said, “To talk about it is a descent into darkness.” Irene and René were separated at liberation and reunited in the United States in 1950. Both Irene and René live on Long Island. They may be the last living Twin Survivors of Mengele.
There is a $10 suggested donation to attend. Seats are limited; RSVP in advance is strongly recommended. To RSVP contact Deborah Lom at (516) 571-8040 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Film Screening of “No Asylum: The Untold Chapter of Anne Frank’s Story” at HMTC
The Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center’s David Taub Reel Upstanders Film Series presents a screening of the film, No Asylum: The Untold Chapter of Anne Frank’s Story, on Sunday, March 12, 2017, at 12:30 p.m., at HMTC, Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY.
The film is about the stunning discovery of lost letters by Anne Frank’s father, Otto, which reveal an unknown chapter of their family’s life. There will be a discussion following the film with Joan Adler, author of For the Sake of the Children: The Letters between Otto Frank and Nathan Straus, Jr.
There is a requested donation of $10. RSVP to Deborah Lom at (516) 571-8040 or email@example.com. Reel Upstanders was established in honor of David Taub (1932-2010), a Holocaust Survivor and respected friend to HMTC.
Toby Tobias to Perform “Journey from Johannesburg” at HMTC
South African born songwriter and musician, Toby Tobias, shares his personal story of hope during a time of division, war and upheaval across three continents during a performance of Journey from Johannesburg, Sunday, March 5, 2017 at 2 p.m., at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County, Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY.
Toby Tobias’s life story, captured in his original music, begins in Johannesburg, South Africa under apartheid rule, then continues in Israel as it battled for its own identity, and finally to America where he makes his home. In this special performance, Toby will be joined by members of Glen Cove’s Calvary A.M.E. Church Choir led by music director , Robert Meeks and Choir Director, Dolores Waller. Huntington based musicians, Mike Nugent on guitar and Richie Guererro, on percussion, will round out the band.
There is a requested donation of $10. RSVP to Deborah Lom at (516) 571-8040 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
HMTC’s David Taub Reel Upstanders Film Series Presents “No Asylum: The Untold Chapter of Anne Frank’s Story”
HMTC’s David Taub Reel Upstanders Film Series presents a screening of the film “No Asylum: The Untold Chapter of Anne Frank’s Story,” on Sunday, March 12, 2017, at 12:30 p.m. at HMTC, Welwyn Preseve, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY. The film is about the stunning discovery of lost letters by Anne Frank’s father, Otto, which reveal an unknown chapter of their family’s life. There will be a discussion following the film with Joan Adler, author of “For the Sake of the Children: The Letters Between Otto Frank and Nathan Straus, Jr.”
There is a requested donation of $10. RSVP to Deborah Lom at (516) 571-8040 or email@example.com. The David Taub Reel Upstanders Film Series was established in honor of David Taub (1932-2010), a Holocaust Survivor and respected friend of HMTC.
Submissions Due March 10 for HMTC’s 22nd Annual Creative Arts Competition
One of last year’s Creative Arts Competition winners, Maia Schlusse from HAFTR Cedarhurst, with her artwork, “We Remember.”
Each year HMTC holds a creative arts competition, open to 5th-12th grade students in Nassau or Suffolk County. The deadline for submission of entries for this year’s competition is March 10, 2017. Categories for which entries can be submitted include poetry, visual arts, photography, music and multi-media (still and video).
The theme of this year’s competition is “First They Came For…”. What does it mean to stand up for others, to be an ally? What are the obligations and responsibilities involved in being an ally? Martin Niemoller, a German clergyman, famously stated after World War II that when other groups were targeted, he didn’t step in, and when the Nazis came for him, there was no one left to speak up. Art submissions this year should reflect on Niemoller’s Quote and on the consequences of choosing to make a difference, or not.
An awards ceremony recognizing the winners will take place on Sunday, April 30, 2017 at HMTC. All students who submit an entry will receive a certificate of participation. Group entries will be considered as one entry and the award will go to the submitting school.
For questions or more information contact Tracy Garrison-Feinberg at (516) 571-8040 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Guidelines for submissions can be found at hmtcl.org/creative-arts-competition.
Applicants Wanted for the 2017 Friedlander and Gillman Awards
Two Opportunities for Long Island Students to Receive Awards from HMTC
From the 2016 Tolerance Benefit, pictured are (Top Row L to R: ) Lt. Matthew O’Malley, Suffolk County Police Department; Steven Markowitz, Chairman of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County; Tracy Garrison-Feinberg, Director of the Claire Friedlander Education Institute; Det. Lt. Jevier Espinosa, Nassau County Police Department; Peter J. Klein, Claire Friedlander Family Foundation; (Bottom Row L to R: ) Recipients of the 2016 Friedlander Upstander Award – Justin Houston of Melville, Michael Gadinis of Syosset, and Kyle Persaud of Miller Place.
The Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County (HMTC) annually honors middle school, high school and college students on Long Island who confront intolerance, prejudice or other forms of social injustice. High school and middle school recipients of the Friedlander Upstander Award receive a $2,500 scholarship, and recipients of the Daniel Gillman Goodfellows Award, for college students, will receive a $1,000 award. The awards will be presented at HMTC’s Annual Tolerance Benefit on May 1, 2017.
The Friedlander Upstander Award, presented by HMTC and the Claire Friedlander Family Foundation, in conjunction with the Nassau and Suffolk County Police Departments, will be awarded to Nassau and Suffolk middle school and high school students who have acted as Upstanders against bullying or intolerance in any of it’s forms. The student’s action as an Upstander could be one of intervention or prevention, big or small. Applications for the Friedlander Upstander Award are due March 1, 2017.
The Daniel Gillman Goodfellows Award, presented by HMTC and the Gillman family, will be presented to a Long Island college or university student who has demonstrated a commitment to helping others and who has intervened against (or prevented) an act of intolerance or acted in the service of helping others in need. The award memorializes and honors Daniel Gillman, a kind and generous young man who dedicated himself to aiding young people and adults. His altruism was a reflection of the selflessness of the Belgian Rescuers who saved the life of his grandmother during the Holocaust. Applications for the Gillman Award are due April 7, 2017.
The application for the Friedlander Upstander Award can be found here.
The application for The Daniel Gillman Goodfellows Award can be found here.
For more information call (516) 571-8040.
“After the Silence” edited by Lillian Gewirtzman and Karla Nieraad Available for Purchase
On Sunday, April 2, 2017, at 2 p.m., HMTC will have a special program about the new book, After the Silence: Reflections of the Descendants, edited by Lillian Gewirtzman and Karla Nieraad. The book is an anthology of personal essays from descendants of Holocaust Survivors and post-war Germans. Eleven Americans and eleven Germans from the collaborators extended circle of contacts wrote about their memories, feelings and recalled stories as children and grandchildren.
For those who are interested in purchasing the book prior to April 2, you can order the book at amazon.com by doing a search for the book’s ISBN number which is 978-3-86281-106-9. In addition, from everywhere in the world one can order the English version at British amazon.co.uk and at amazon.de from Germany (in the department “fremdsprachige Bücher”).
Also, the book is available directly from the publisher’s online shop.
For more information or to RSVP for the April 2 program, call (516) 571-8040.
Jewish Heroes of Boxing
The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County (HMTC) presents, Max Baer and Barney Ross: Jewish Heroes of Boxing, a lecture and book signing by author Jeffrey Sussman. The program will take place on Sunday, February 26, 2017, at 2 p.m. at HMTC, Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY 11542.
Max Baer and Barney Ross: Jewish Heroes of Boxing is about two champions of boxing in the 20’s and 30’s who were an inspiration for Jewish fans across the country and throughout the world. The book paints an evocative picture of boxing and the crucial role it played in an era of rising antisemitism. Though they came from very different backgrounds—Baer grew up on his family’s ranch in California, while Ross, who grew up in an Orthodox family, roamed the tough streets of Chicago and was a runner for Al Capone, both became boxing champions.
In the book, Sussman discusses how Baer fought Hitler’s favorite boxer, Max Schmeling, in 1933 in front of 60,000 people at Yankee stadium while wearing boxing shorts adorned with a Jewish star. Barney Ross had a trilogy of bouts with Jimmy McLarnin, who was known as the Jew Killer for all the Jewish boxers he had defeated. Ross, whose real name was Rosofsky, beat McLarnin in their first encounter, lost to him in the second, and won in the third. McLarnin’s manager was so upset by the final decision that he sued Ross and his managers, claiming undo Jewish meddling in the decision. The case was laughed out of court.
Jeffrey Sussman is the author of 11 nonfiction books including No Mere Bagatelles, a biography of handbag designer and Holocaust Survivor Judith Leiber, and his latest book, Max Baer and Barney Ross: Jewish Heroes of Boxing. His first experience with boxing was at the age of 12 when his father took him for 10 boxing lessons at the legendary Stillman’s Gym, where numerous championship boxers trained. He has since written many articles and short stories about boxing and is a regular contributor to the boxing website, boxing.com.
There is a suggested donation of $10. For more information or to RSVP call Deborah Lom at (516) 571-8040 x 107 or email email@example.com.