Read more about Chosen Traumas and Chosen Glories

Building Community out of Trauma

by Lee Shapiro

I am a Jewish teen. I have learned about the Holocaust in school,in temple, and through my family. In school I have learned the global history implications, in temple I have studied the implications for Judaism, and with my family I have discussed the implications that the Holocaust had on Jewish family structures. Among all three of the groups there have been common themes: education and understanding.

I am not religious. I am not a big fan of sitting in temple reading Torah and chanting prayers. If anything, everyone sitting there chanting in unison makes me a little uncomfortable. Even though sitting in temple makes me antsy and uncomfortable, I keep coming back and participating in the general Jewish community. This year, I am the President of the Youth Board at my Temple. I try to bring new high school students to participate in the general temple community. I also create programs and activities for the youth at our Temple. My ancestors who were killed or had to flee the Holocaust had that community of Jews taken from them. I am lucky that I do not have to escape from my Jewish community, and I want to make it as big and vibrant as I can.

At my temple, the youth board takes different age groups on trips around the world. These trips tell the stories of the Jewish people. I have been to Atlanta, Alabama, and Memphis to explore the Jewish community of the American South and their role in the Civil Rights Movement. Last February, I had the privilege of going to Prague and seeing the beauty of the Czech Jewish Community despite the persecution they faced. I usually sign up for these trips not knowing many people because I want to learn about the Jewish struggle and see my place within the history of the Jewish people. Whenever I travel by myself or with my family, I always try to find the Jewish quarter or a synagogue, and learn the story of the Jews from that specific location. As a relative of many Holocaust survivors, I feel I have a duty to continue the Jewish community. No matter what form it may take I feel that I need to defend my community passionately, since it was once nearly totally destroyed.

Commentary by Bernice Arricale

Like many Jewish people today, Lee has found meaning in the traumas suffered by the Jewish people during the Holocaust and like many, the sheer miracle of survival has led him to seek and build a vital community.

Consider what might happen to a group (or individual) if a past trauma, however horrific, entirely defines how it encounters the world today. Is there a way to both honor and embrace our chosen traumas and still meet the future with an open and accepting spirit? How can we live within the shadow of trauma and still find the light necessary to grow and change?