Prejudice knows no ethnic boundaries or color barriers. And, although times have changed, it’s still very much a presence in our society. Since opening four years ago, Beachwood’s Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage has taken on the challenge of bringing thought-provoking issues to the forefront by chronicling poignant realities ranging from slavery and the Holocaust to genocide in Darfur.
“Although we focus on Jewish heritage, we also want to reach out to other groups, cultures, races and religions,” says Judi Feniger, the museum’s executive director. “We tell the story of the Jewish experience as a lens that others can look through to see and understand that all of our struggles are essentially the same.”
Recently, the museum took that concept a step further by sponsoring an essay contest for students in grades 6 to 12. Entitled “Stop the Hate! Youth Speak Out,” it challenged them to actively combat the hatred, discrimination and intolerance they encounter. Participants were asked to describe an act of discrimination, reflect upon their response and create a plan of action to affect change in themselves, their school and community. The grand prize: a $100,000 tuition scholarship to an Ohio college or university.
“We want to help everybody understand that these acts can happen to you,” Feniger explains. “That it’s not just about somebody else in another time long ago.”
Although museum staffers expected interest in the project, they were more than gratified by the overwhelming response: 1,200 entries were submitted, spanning seven Ohio counties.
“Our goal was to mobilize students,” Feniger says. “We weren’t just asking someone what they would do about a problem, we were asking what they have done about it.”
Writers — from home-schooled students in Geauga County to parochial kids in Cuyahoga County to public school pupils in Portage County — poured their hearts out. One author described how an encounter with a homeless person led her to organize an outreach program. Another discussed what it’s like to be a gay teen among unaccepting peers.
The winning entry, written by Matt Soble, explained how he and members of his B’nai B’rith Youth Organization helped a socially awkward classmate feel included. Soble, a senior at Solon High School, will attend Ohio University this fall, where he plans on majoring in business.
“The biggest goal for me,” he says, “is to bring light to the subject of neuro-diversity.”
For details about the contest, and to read the winning essays, visit www.maltzjewishmuseum.org