How Sixth Graders Turned an Idea into an International Event: Six Million Steps to Holocaust Awareness

6 Million Steps

Holocaust education becomes more challenging every year. How do you make the Holocaust relevant to a child born in this century when the dates seem ancient, and parents, themselves born a generation or two after the atrocities, struggle with the subject?

Realizing that the standard curricula wasn’t getting through, a teacher in Broward County, Florida decided to try something different.

Ronit Goldstein asked her sixth-grade class at Temple Beth Torah Sha'aray Tzedek what they could do to educate their community about the Holocaust.

Their answer, Six Million Steps to Holocaust Awareness, earned a 2015 Solomon Schechter Recognition of Excellence Award for Community Embrace (Inclusion). And it is now an international event, drawing hundreds of participants in the United States and Israel.

A simple program that packs a powerful lesson.

Six Million Steps is held on the first Sunday in April—generally after spring break but before Passover. People walk around a quarter-mile track at a local high school with names of Holocaust victims safety-pinned to the backs of their shirts.

“We wanted a program that would be active,” notes Ronit. “Not passive where you sit in a classroom and people just talk about the materials.”

The goal was to have enough people walk enough laps to reach 6,000,000 steps—one for each Jewish victim of the Holocaust.

Involving parents in Holocaust education.

On the day of the walk, each child chooses a name to wear from a list of victims downloaded from the Yad Vashem website. Parents come and help their children select the name. They may choose the name of a relative who perished in the Holocaust, or someone from the same city or country as their family. Or they may pick someone who shares the child’s name or age.

“It’s a very safe way for children to learn,” explains Ronit, who is now Temple Beth Torah Sha'aray Tzedek’s Director of Education.

Children as young as five ask their parents about the Holocaust and the parents answer on a level that their children are comfortable with. Even without the graphics or horrific details, young children learn that something bad happened.

In the days prior to the walk, children at Temple Beth Torah Sha'aray Tzedek research Holocaust topics as part of their Holocaust studies at Hebrew School. They present what they learned at the temple’s Yom Hashoah program.

The children keep Six Million Steps going and growing.

Part of Ronit’s plan to involve children in their own Holocaust education is to change Six Million Steps to Holocaust Awareness a little bit every year. She asks students for ideas.

In the third year, a student came up with an idea for track markers. Families can have names of loved ones placed around the track, so people can read them as they walk.

This year, the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel, participants wrote greetings to the people of Nesher, Broward County’s sister community in Israel.

New ideas can come from anywhere. A mother who lives in the area heard about Six Million Steps and called Ronit. Her six-year-old created rocks with different messages of peace and she wanted to put them around the track.

Four students from the original class still come every year and they keep bringing ideas. Two years ago, one student made bracelets that said Six Million Steps to Holocaust Awareness and sold them at the event.

All proceeds from the event go to Broward County March of the Living scholarship fund.

The program expands to unite Jewish Communities in America and Israel.

“This is meant to be an educational program for all,” Ronit says. “The first year we did it, I approached the schools in the area and asked them to be involved.” 150 people from two schools walked. The following year, the program attracted 250 people from four schools.

This year, 350 people from five Hebrew schools, plus two community organizations and a number of public school Jewish clubs, came to the Coral Springs Sportsplex Track with Temple Beth Torah Sha'aray Tzedek. More walked at other schools and synagogues who hosted their own events at the same time.

“Once people get involved,” says Ronit, “they get hooked.”

Also joining the people at the Coral Springs track this year were 500 high-school students in Nesher, Israel. At 9:00 a.m. in Florida, it was 4:00 p.m. in Israel and the two communities connected via Skype. Students in two countries sang Hatikvah together and walked at the same time.

Plans for a bigger and better event in 2019.

Six Million Steps to Holocaust Awareness achieved two milestones in 2018. First, between all the people and laps in Florida and Israel over the four years, the program exceeded its 6,000,000-step goal.

Second, Six Million Steps to Holocaust Awareness became an officially sanctioned event by the Jewish Federation of Broward County. This means next year’s walk will have funding to move the walk to a centralized location, where it can attract more people.

Meanwhile, in Nesher, Israel, educators are planning to have middle school students march with the high schoolers next year. It just keeps getting bigger.

“The greatness of this program is that it brings the Jewish community together,” says Ronit. “We really can be one Jewish nation, regardless of our affiliation, and can come together under one umbrella with a program that benefits us all.”

“And we can keep the Holocaust relevant for future generations.”


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