Teach me to be tolerant

Chronicle Staff

By Michelle Yousefzadeh

“Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu,” sang a group of Polish Catholic high school students and American Jewish teens in the town of Otwock, Poland. The song is a Hebrew folk song foretelling peace, and Otwock used to house a vibrant Jewish community. For some of the students of the Catholic high school, this was their first encounter with Jews. For all of them, it was the first time they’d seen more than 100 Jews in the same place.

I was one of those 160 American Jews as a student on March of the Living. The purpose of the trip was to teach us about the Holocaust in Poland but the trip included some not so heavy days such as this one that meant just as much, if not more to me than the tours of death camps such as Auschwitz, Majdanek and Treblinka.

At the Catholic high school, I met a girl named Marta. Her family owned a shop and she was an aspiring tattoo artist. She loved to hunt for cute clothes from Forever 21, Hot Topic and Top Shop. I told her about my life in Los Angeles and she told me about her life in Otwock. Although we had only met for a couple of minutes, I felt so comfortable talking about myself and my culture with Marta. I then asked Marta if she had any relatives who were involved with the Holocaust. She gravely admitted, yes. Marta’s uncle was a Nazi and although her family no longer associates themselves with him, she understood that her uncle killed Jews.

She knew all about the death camps and the Jewish ghettos and recognized the Holocaust as a dark time in her country’s history. Still, she wanted to learn more about my religion and my practices. A little surprised by the warm hospitality my group had received, I asked Marta if all high schools in Poland were as accepting of Jews as hers. She understood why I had asked this and explained that tolerance is a movement sweeping Poland.

In every city there is still anti-semitism, and it is only the more forward thinking and open minded groups who recognize anti-semitism as a problem. At Harvard-Westlake, religion has never been an issue. Still, I now notice how words can make people feel pushed to the outside.

German Nazis were successful at exterminating 6 million Jews because other citizens accepted that the Jews were different and didn’t have a problem pushing them to the outskirts of society.

Try to notice how many times you push someone away or separate yourself from someone because you consider that person to be too different. In the week I have been home, I have noticed intolerance a lot in my own life.

I am glad that I had the opportunity at such a young age to identify this flaw that is innate in our society.

Hopefully by recognizing this problem, I can try to stop it and be as accepting as Marta was of me.