A lesson about the word “hate” turned into a special Holocaust remembrance project for an Illinois schoolteacher and her students.
Mary Beth Goff, a sixth-grade teacher at Cairo Junior-Senior High School in Cairo, Ill., recently shared the premise of her students’ “Pennies as Promise” project with young people at several metro area schools.
Goff, 48, of Carbondale, Ill., spoke to students at Edmond’s Cheyenne Middle School, Del City High School, Santa Fe South High School, Yukon Middle School and Westmoore High School.
Friday, at Casady School, 9500 N Pennsylvania, she told a group of students that she initially set out to teach her students that they were using the world “hate” too much.
“I felt they didn’t understand how thin the line is between saying ‘I hate you’ and acting upon it,” she said.
She said she decided to teach them a lesson about the Holocaust and they were amazed to discover that an estimated 1.5 million Jewish children died, killed by Nazis fueled by hate.
Goff said she and her students decided to collect 15,000 pennies that would represent children killed in the Holocaust but eventually decided to gather 1.5 million pennies as a way to memorialize each child who lost their life.
Goff said the students began sending letters about the project to Jewish houses of worship throughout the country, including Temple B’nai Israel and Emanuel Synagogue in Oklahoma City.
Joan Korenblit, founder of the Respect Diversity Foundation, said her husband, Michael Korenblit, a member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City’s Holocaust remembrance committee, found out about the project and was impressed with it.
“We knew immediately that it was a wonderful project,” Joan Korenblit said Friday.
She said her husband, whose parents (now deceased) were Holocaust survivors, shared information about the pennies project with members of the federation’s Holocaust remembrance committee and the decision was made to partner with the Respect Diversity Foundation to sponsor Goff’s metro visit.
Goff said her students have received pennies from Jewish families living in places like New Jersey, Florida, California, Kansas and Oklahoma and they are still sending out their handwritten letters. Many of the coins have arrived with stories and pictures of those children of yesteryear whose lives were cut short by the Nazis.
Children like Etta Michelson, who was born in Lithuania and killed at age 3 in 1944, and Eva Beem, an 11-year-old who was killed in 1944 at the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp.
Goff said her students are attaching each penny they receive to a card with information about a child who died in the Holocaust.
“I thought it would be a good way of showing them how we look at a penny as not much but each penny has potential. If you take that penny and match it to 999 other pennies, you have $10, so you are going to pay attention,” Goff said.
“I wanted them to see that the children who were lost had immeasurable potential. I wanted us to look at the promise of each child. I wanted them to see that each child had a mother and father, they were someone’s son or someone’s daughter.”
Goff said she encourages her students and the students she met in Oklahoma to do their part to combat genocide and other hate-fueled attacks and murders around the world.
“Adults have not done a very good job stopping it from happening,” she said.
She said she will participate in the Jewish Federation’s 2014 Yom HaShoah Remembrance Program set for Sunday at Southmoore High School in Moore.
If you go
Yom HaShoah Remembrance 2014
When: 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Southmoore High School, 2901 S Santa Fe Ave., Moore.