In a world that’s gone sideways and considering the horrific events taking place in the Middle East and Ukraine, what John Muir Middle School in Burbank recently offered its students is all the more appropriate.
Muir United opened its sprawling campus to 27 presenters including three holocaust survivors, Joseph Alexander, Eva Perlman, and Harry Davids, Armenian National Committee of America, APPI Equity Alliance [Understanding Asian Pacific Communities], Artivists United [Diversity, Inclusion And Tolerance Skits], Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, Leon Legothetis [The Kindness Guy], Denise Brown [Struggles, Progress And Resilience: A Timeline of Black American History], Muslim Public Affairs Council, National Bullying Prevention Center and Special Olympics, to name but a few.
“It’s important because my saying is that from small acorns of hatred, big oaks of genocide grow. You have to nip things in the bud. When you start with hate speech, it never stops with hate speech,” said the 81-year-old Davids, who was born in Holland. “It develops into other things that can get out of control. It’s especially dangerous right now in the case of young people who use social media without abandon, without any nuance, and to accept these social media sites as if they were the gospel of truth.”
Because they are young, they’re impressionable, believes Davids, who wrote the book, “Witness To Truth.”
“They have not yet reached the age where they can start learning critical thinking, which is a real problem,” Davids explained. “On the one hand, you can’t deny freedom of speech. Then on the other hand, there’s the proper use of it.”
Standing up to hatred and racism is critical because if one doesn’t, the problems become even bigger.
“We also need to teach young people what it means when you stand by and then things happen, instead of coming forward to help,” Davids said. “The reason I’m alive is because of these upstanders, I like to call them. The fact that I lost so many family members at the same time is because there are so few people. There were 76 members of my extended family still living in Europe at the time I was born in the middle of the war. Of those 76, only five came out alive.”
Perlman was born in 1932 in Berlin, Germany, and moved with her family to France when she was 18 months old.
“History repeats itself. I do this [give talks] to educate people about anti-Semitism,” she said. “I’m a simple woman who lived an extraordinary life. I was a child of the holocaust. I survived because of several miracles during the war. We were divinely protected.”
Perlman, a longtime nurse, published her autobiography, “Eva’s Uncommon Life: Guided By Miracles,” and it’s available to purchase through Amazon.
“I keep up with the news. I’m very anxious and very afraid,” she said of the current situation in the Middle East and elsewhere. “Some people have been brainwashed to hate the Jews. I think our country has lost its moral fiber. They don’t want to know the truth. They won’t listen. We’re trying to talk to those in the middle.”
Despite all the trouble and turmoil in the world, Perlman tries to stay positive.
“I live a life of gratitude. I’m happy for everything I’ve been given and I’m thankful,” she said. “But sometimes it’s difficult to be optimistic when you see what’s happening.”
The all-day event was overseen by Dr. Greg Miller, the Muir principal.
Miller hopes that the lessons learned will be helpful throughout these students’ lives.
“Muir United is more important than ever. Just looking at the news we see so much hate and violence toward others, simply because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any of the elements of their background and being,” he said. “This is compounded by the fact that kids are growing up in a time when social media is a huge part of their lives and can be a platform for hate and discrimination.”
Miller went on: “Muir United attempts to teach kids that we need to be inclusive of everyone, literally everyone,” he noted.
Miller spoke about the life lessons he hoped that the students learned during the event.
“Teaching students about respect and inclusion are important principles for our students because of the diversity on our campus and in our world,” he said. “Our students interact daily with students who are vastly different from them, yet they need to understand that we don’t judge people on those differences. All of us, students, adults, need to be kind and respectful to everyone, no matter their background or identity.”
Miller is thoroughly proud of what the school stands for and what he and his staff put together.
“It was a tremendous day in so many ways,” he said. “We had 27 different presenters who were amazing with the kids, sharing their own stories and challenging students to be open and empathetic to others. We’re hopeful that what our students experienced will create a change on our campus and in their future.”