Teachable Moments

Time to Care – Parenting and the Holocaust: Part 2

My husband came up with this idea, and I wasn’t sure how it would go over.  But we tried it anyway and now it has stuck for years. When our kids took to the stage or field and we wanted them to know where we (their biggest fans) were sitting, we put our hands over our head and made two “llama”s with our fingers and then, brought together the right hand llama and the left hand lama so they could kiss each other, several times. When our children would see the kissing llamas, they knew it was us and we were there cheering them on, so proud to be their Mom and Dad. As they grew older, they returned the llama kisses to us. Llama kisses all around!

This may seem small and somewhat silly, but it was our way to show we cared about each other. What does caring about one another involve?

  • They could depend upon us to show up.
  • We offered our unconditional support; win or lose, we are on their team!
  • We gave positive encouragement and, if needed, helpful feedback, after it was done.
  • We believed in their talent and their hard work, believing they could improve and succeed.

In the Holocaust, families formed a necessary support system for one another in which their care was expressed thoughtfully; they showed affection, concern and spurred one another on to creative pursuits.  While all those who were victimized in the Holocaust suffered, those families who failed to express care for one another were more negatively impacted than families who did express affection and encouragement. Families who could not rely on the support of one another were at a sad disadvantage.  

Why is a family that shows care so important to us as humans?  God created us to live in a family community with one another, a community that is encouraging, loving and supportive – a community that expresses their care in consistent and effective ways.  We are made in the image of God, and God himself as Trinity lives eternally within a loving relationship between the 3 persons. God is always in community with Himself and this perfect community is our prototype for what a family should be.

Families are indeed a God-given form of support for all of its members, and the love we share is necessary for our well-being, no matter the circumstances. It’s important to recognize the importance of family and take the time to tell our loved ones we care for them.

How do you show daily that you care for those in your family?  In times that are busy, and especially  in a crisis, taking the time to show that one another’s well-being is a top priority in your family helps each of us survive and thrive.  Some pointers in finding that time and showing care well:

  • Empathize with feelings – saying, “you are feeling excited and nervous as you go into this next game.” We need to recognize and acknowledge one another’s emotional experiences.
  • Encourage each other’s relationship with God – a verse, a prayer or a theological truth can help everyone keep perspective as well as remain thankful in both the good and bad times. Shape the verse according to what the person receiving it will find encouraging.
  • Memorialize big and little events with photos, encouraging letters, handmade notes, special treats or even a “this is your big day” celebration plate on which they can eat their favorite dinner (plates like this can be bought online or created at your local pottery shop)
  • Hug!  Appropriate physical affection never goes out of style – a pat on the back in any style is always a good idea.
  • Technological Know-How is helpful when you’re on the road and you still want to show-up (watch live but through a device) or give them a personal congratulations after the event.  Staying in touch is easier and can be personal when we use the technological advances available to us.

Dear Reader, however your family does it, don’t put off tomorrow what you need to do today – get your “care” on and express your love, concern, support and encouragement to your family.  Don’t miss an opportunity to let those you love know you love them.

Love and blessings to each of you!  Fondly yours, Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

Parenting and the Holocaust Part 1

As I write this blog, I am in Jerusalem.  I’d suggest that whenever you travel to Israel, you make Yad Vashem a “must-see” site.  I have wandered its halls a number of times and every time I observe the stories that tell of the Holocaust atrocities, I walk away inspired by how those captured into inhumane living and dying conditions found extraordinary ways to survive and thrive.  Today, I want to ask one question from my experience at Yad Vashem.

What can we learn from the men and women who raised children amidst such pain and grief while they survived in camps, ghettos, while hiding away or who joined the Jewish Partisans to fight against the enemy?

No matter what life throws at you, if you are a parent, you know that parents don’t get to quit.  This is true now and it was true for parents in the Holocaust. These parents protected, cared and fiercely loved their children.  Their children grew up to tell their stories and we can learn from 3 primary types of emotional memories that they shared. Their emotional memories can help us teach our children wisely today.

1) Conflicting emotions accompany memories

Children’s memories will contain conflicting emotions under normal situations, let alone situations rifled with crisis and trauma.  One story told regarding a daughter and mother relationship from one of the ghettos explains,

When we examine Anat’s (the daughter’s) narrative, for example, we see that in spite of the fact she was alone for long periods in the ghetto, witnessed the severe beating of her mother and had several other traumatic experiences as a very young child, Anat also had the positive experience of her mother always returning to her. In fact, her mother remained with her until the last day of her life. While there are signs in Anat’s interview that she also feels anger toward her mother, due to feelings of fear and desertion, these are interwoven with a deep admiration and a strong sense of protection by her mother.

This daughter’s memories evoked strong emotions that ranged from the very positive to the very negative.  This wide range of emotions allowed her to build an independent life as a woman, even informing her own role as a mother.

OUR APPLICATION:  Conflicting emotions accompany memories

Understand that two very different emotions can exist at the same time and those contrasting emotions then crop up in our memories.   Our children will have both good and bad feelings about their childhood and we shouldn’t be discouraged that they express both the good and the bad as they grow older.  Listening and working through the memories is what counts more than trying to hold onto a false remembrance of perfection.

2) Emotions interpret memories

For some Holocaust survivors, the emotions that accompanied childhood memories dictated the interpretation of events as an adult.  For example, some children who had one Jewish parent and one Christian parent survived because the Christian parent was able to rescue the child.  In some cases, the Jewish parent was taken away to be housed in a ghetto or deported to be gassed in a concentration camp. As adult children remembered the separation from the Jewish parent and that parent’s subsequent death, these adult children often resented the surviving Christian parent, even though the Christian parent saved their life.  Children remembered the division of the family and the horrible anguish of that moment of separation; that anguish later turned into anger and sometimes, even hatred toward the surviving parent.

OUR APPLICATION:  Emotions interpret memories

We need to be aware of how our own emotions get in the way of our recall of past life events

and inform our children how emotions can skew our perspectives.  Being aware of this will help us see life in a more balanced and true-to-life way; we need to make sure our emotions help inform our life, but we are not lead nor dictated by our emotions.  Emotions can lead us to wrong conclusions. What a great lesson to teach our children!

3) Emotions reflect the relationships within the memories

Some survivors explained emotional memories that while very painful, reflected the physical and emotional safety their parents provided.  Researchers who reflected upon one such survivor’s story said,

Even though most of his memories express negative emotions, the intensity with which he speaks leads us to believe that the ability to recall and willingness to openly express negative emotions connected to one’s parent during the Holocaust reflects closeness, even if the parent-child relationship was a problematic one.

OUR APPLICATION:  Emotions reflect the relationships within the memories

Even turbulent emotions show a parent-child relationship in which parents are engaged and caring about the child.  Even if parents are not always right, showing up and emotionally engaging with our children makes a big difference both when times are distressing and when the adult child looks back.  Let’s show up and engage and not worry so much about always having to be “the perfect parent”.


We as families will experience painful times and while most of us will not experience anything close to what the survivors of the Holocaust did, we have the opportunity to learn from the rich emotional memories that survive; even the worst of history can teach us.  These brave parents who taught, protected and fiercely loved their children throughout the Holocaust can remind us of some significant truths.  May we honor their memories by learning from their lives.

Fondly yours from Israel, Elizabeth