Six Million Pennies Towards a Better Future
by Jenna Steinbrink
History repeats itself because we do not or choose not to remember what happened and because we are afraid of change. Therefore, we have an obligation to our future to remember the past and break the cycle of years of hatred, discrimination, racism and intolerance. My name is Jenna Steinbrink, and I am 12-1/2 years old and I believe that one person can make a difference and affect the future of how we as Jews live together to ensure a world of peace and equality. This is a difficult goal to achieve in an of itself, let alone by my Bat Mitzvah on September 20, 2008, but I believe that through my Mitzvah project, Millions to Remember, there is a way to remember, work as a community and be tolerant to change.
The goal of Millions to Remember is to collect six million pennies – one penny for each Jewish person who perished in the Holocaust. To me, each of these pennies represent who these people were – doctors, teachers, parents and children – all of whom had dreams, like me. Fortunately, I am able to pursue my dream and have chosen to remember their dreams as well. The six million pennies will be donated to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in New York City. I have chosen the Simon Wiesenthal Center because it is an organization that educates people about tolerance and the effects of discrimination on Jews as well as other ethnicities around the world.
“Forgive and forget” – that is what we are told to do when something bad happens between people in order for us to “make peace” and move on. But I disagree. I have learned from reading books about the Holocaust since I was six, meeting Elie Wiesel, interviewing a hidden child and visiting the Simon Wiesenthal Center that we cannot and must not forget. It is now up to you and me to pass on the stories from the survivors who are now in their 70’s and 80’s and won’t be around much longer to tell keep the memory alive.
I never realized what the expression “it takes a village to raise a child” meant until now and how relevant it is to my Millions to Remember Mitzvah project. I realize that I am me because of the love, support and help of friends, family, teachers, neighbors, my Rosh Hodesh group, synagogue, local store owners, etc. as well as those less fortunate who I have helped in my village. In order to reach my goal, I need the help of my Jewish community to provide me with pennies, spare change and any other contribution “my village” is willing to make. According to the 2002 American Jewish Yearbook, there were 3,727 synagogues in the United States as of 2001. So if each synagogue had 100 congregants, including children, parents, grandparents, teachers, clergy, and each congregant donated 20 cents, or 20 pennies, we as “village” would together surpass my goal and raise 7,454,000 pennies. And in the process of raising this money for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, we will have also collectively raised our voice about the importance of tolerance.
Just like traditions are passed down, discrimination is as well. Like the Egyptians thousands of years ago, the heart of discrimination is fear of change. Tolerance is about being able to accept and respect differences in people and opinions even when you may not believe in them. But this attitude is not just buried in our Jewish past, but very much a part of life today in the United States and around the world. Many people are hesitant to elect Barak Obama or Hilary Clinton, not because of their abilities, but because having a black or female President in office would break with tradition. Think where we would be today without inspirations like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Golda Meir, Elie Wiesel and Sandra Roberts who weren’t afraid of change and the unknown.
While I realize I am just one person, that is a child wanting to make a difference, know it is possible within our community. As my inspiration for this project, Sandra Roberts, recently said to me: “Always remember: A child’s voice can silence a crowd of adults, when she speaks with passion and knowledge.” I hope you will be inspired by my passion to raise pennies and awareness about the Holocaust, tolerance and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in your own congregations by donating or writing a check to “Millions to Remember”:
c/o Commerce Bank
929 Horsham Road
Horsham, PA 19044
PO Box 872
Ambler, PA 19002-0872