“The deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.” – President Biden, October 11, 2023
From April to September 2023, JCC Chicago hosted the most expansive and longest running Violins of Hope project since the founding of the initiative in 2006. Violins of Hope is a collection of Holocaust-era stringed instruments that have been rescued and restored and travel the globe as instruments of peace and hope. Violins of Hope was founded by Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein, an Israeli father-son team of master violin makers who recognized the opportunity to do something extraordinary.
What was planned as a three-month program anchored in Chicago became a six-month residency that reached nearly 200,000 people across Illinois through in-person exhibits, performances and programs. For six months, we partnered with libraries and schools, synagogues and churches, organizations and corporations, public venues and civic leaders to bring meaningful Holocaust education to our community. For some, it was an opportunity to remember and to honor. For many more, it was an opportunity to learn.
While Illinois was the first state to mandate Holocaust education, the current state of this education in our schools is thin at best. Fifth graders on Chicago’s south side asked, “What is a Jewish?” Upper classmen attending an elite Chicago high school kept their hands down when asked, “Who knows about the Holocaust?” School by school, classroom by classroom, child by child, moment to moment, we taught our history to inform a future of tolerance, understanding and kindness.
It was wonderful to see Violins of Hope Chicago covered nationally by NBC Nightly News, The Today Show and Scripps News Network as well as by a multitude of Chicago-based media outlets. In every story, there was mention of the Holocaust and recognition that such a tragic period of our human history must be taught, honored and remembered. The words “never again” were spoken over and over and over.
Glued to the news for the past few weeks when Holocaust reference and parallels have been undeniable and pervasive, I realized that prior to Violins of Hope Chicago I had never before heard the word “Holocaust” as part of mainstream media. As the comparison is drawn between the barbaric assault against Jewish people on October 7, 2023, and efforts to exterminate the Jewish people some 80 years ago, reference to the Holocaust is now on the news daily, if not by the hour.
We must remember our history to inform our future. We must embrace our collective peoplehood. While we mourn for lives lost and forever altered, we must stand together. We must do everything in our power to instill core values of tolerance, acceptance and understanding, resilience and hope in our young people—tomorrow’s citizens and leaders. They are our future and we are counting on them.
While the six-month Violins of Hope Chicago residency has come to a close, the programming is ongoing because it must continue—there has never been a more important time for effective Holocaust education. In just two weeks, the Paris Violin will be played on November 6 for the We Are Here program at The Salt Shed in Chicago in recognition of the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the 1938 assault on thousands of Jewish businesses, synagogues, and homes. This one-night-only concert features songs that were written in the ghettos and concentration camps of Nazi-occupied Europe, interspersed with true stories about the writers’ lives. More stories we must hear.
Over the course of the year, JCC Chicago will launch expanded Holocaust education programming that, like Violins of Hope Chicago, focuses on the human stories of the Holocaust. That new stories over these past few weeks are striking in their similarity to the stories of the Holocaust drives our steadfast commitment to help realize a better world where our collective humanity is clearly in focus. We are growing hope for our future—teaching our young people so they embrace their opportunity to change the course.
These are dark days and, still, we know there will be light. With broken hearts, strong spirit and a belief in what is right and good, we stand with Israel.
Am Yisrael Chai,
President & CEO