“To save one life is to save the world,” a Jewish tradition professes. It is this mentality that the University of Richmond Hillel and SPIDERS Step Up! are trying to encourage through education at the Virginia Holocaust Museum.
The university’s bystander program, SPIDERS Step Up!, was added as a sponsor of the Holocaust Museum tour and dinner this year. University Rabbi Andrew Goodman said one benefit of this was to show how the “bystander effect” (when people witness something negative, but do not act to change it) relates to the Holocaust, and to issues within our current society and university community.
Emphasis on the bystander effect during the tour will also help to create a more sustainable model for educating people on the Holocaust after there are no longer any living survivors to share their personal stories.
One goal of the event is to challenge students to see how the Holocaust relates to present-day events, Goodman said. Brian Strauss, a senior, altered the Jewish traditional phrase into one of his own: “To help one life is to help the world.”
The bystander program at the university focuses on multiple issues, including how to confront friends who may have eating disorders or drink excessively. Many campus scenarios can be found on the university’s website for student development.
“If you’re able to help your friend and be an active bystander,” Strauss said, “then you’re helping not just your friend, but everyone else, too.”
Junior Rachel Poplack also said the bystander effect during the Holocaust equated well to what is seen in current issues. People often think Holocaust narratives are too extensive and that the issues were too big for any one person to solve, she said.
Poplack also shared another Jewish saying: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it, either.”
The lack of active bystanders led to the Holocaust little by little, she said. This is often referred to as the “salami effect:” when certain events would not or could not have happened if the events that took place beforehand did not happen.
“If Jews hadn’t been evicted from having businesses in the center of town, then they wouldn’t have been evicted from having homes in the center of town,” Poplack said.
During the Holocaust Museum tour and dinner, guests are expected to meet with two survivors, said Matt Simpson, director of guest services for the Virginia Holocaust Museum. Simpson said in past years, the dinner has had as many as eight survivors in attendance. But in future years, he said, guest speakers might have to include children of Holocaust survivors, or survivors of other similar genocide events for the firsthand accounts to still be part of the event.
The dinner was originally scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 13, but was rescheduled for Thursday, March 27, because of impending weather conditions.
Contact reporter Rebecca Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org