The mission of CHAIM is to provide an interactive, traveling exhibit to California communities for the purpose of increasing awareness of the Holocaust as a lens to teach that treating others with acceptance, compassion and tolerance is the key to fighting hate and preventing genocide.
How we came to be.
Iris Bendahan had two vivid childhood memories of the Holocaust.
One was her grandmother’s repeated mention of the phrase “Yimah Shemo”, which means ‘may his name be erased’, every time she spoke about her family. Iris eventually understood that she was referring to Adolf Hitler and that her grandmother had lost her entire family (her parents, and 6 siblings and their children) at his hands. Around that time, Iris was living in Israel and her elementary school put together a small make-shift museum in honor of Yom HaShoah; this gave her another insight into the Holocaust.
30 years later, these memories inspired her to begin the creation of a small Holocaust museum to help teach about the Holocaust to the students of her synagogue religious school. Students and parents were so taken by the exhibit, that she enlarged it a bit every year. Eventually, she started inviting other groups to visit. However, many found it difficult to set up a field trip so only those schools walking distance from the synagogue were able to come.
This sparked the idea that a travelling exhibit might be the best way to bring a museum experience to the many communities who could not afford a field trip to a Holocaust museum.
Iris decided to put together a group of people who had interest in Holocaust education to help bring the idea to fruition. Many of us are children of survivors and, like Iris, would love a way to honor the memories of our families. The creation of a mobile, Holocaust education exhibit would be a wonderful, and important memorial. In addition, in 2017 Iris was awarded the Morris Weiss Award through the JFCS Holocaust Center in San Francisco. This gave her some seed money to purchase some simple display pieces that helped convert the temporary, stationary exhibit to a more mobile one. We are now working to get grants to professionalize the exhibit so it can travel to local Bay Area communities, and eventually beyond, and perform its important mission of using the Holocaust as a lens for teaching TACT: Treating others with Acceptance, Compassion, and Tolerance.
The museum has a 2-fold goal, namely:
- To be an instructional tool especially for those unfamiliar with the Holocaust and its ramifications, as they relate to historical awareness, genocide prevention and promotion of tolerance. See this video if you need convincing of this need: 94 Maidens - Mandate Video
- To serve as a memorial "To Remember and Never Forget". Many survivor stories are display, and we welcome you to add yours.
The Meaning of CHAIM
The popular Jewish toast “L’CHAIM," to life, is well known (perhaps due to Fiddler on the Roof?) Indeed, revering, loving and celebrating life is a key foundation of Judaism. Since the Holocaust, and especially to survivors and their families, every reaffirmation of life also serves as a joyous reminder of the Nazi failure to implement their attempt at the genocide of the Jewish people. An important goal of this exhibit is to use the lens of this genocide called ‘the Holocaust’ to highlight the importance of living the human virtues of acceptance, compassion and tolerance in order to promote a kinder, genocide-free world.
The root of the word CHAIM is CHAI, which means alive or living. The word is spelled with the Hebrew letters “Het” and “Yud”. All Hebrew letters are assigned a numerical value according to the Jewish tradition of “Gematria” or numerology. “Yud” is the 10th letter of the alphabet and is assigned the value of 10, and “Het” is 8 which together makes 18, an auspicious number for Jews. It is popular to wear or adorn jewelry/art pieces with the letters “Het – Yud”, called “a chai”, and its popular to use the number “chai” or 18 as a lucky number in the giving of life affirming gifts (e.g. checks written as a Bar Mitzvah or wedding gift might be in multiples of 18).
It was thus natural for us that a name for an exhibit whose goal is both this affirmation of life as well as the teaching of the virtues needed for a positive life should play with the word CHAIM and the number 18. Thus came about the full title California Holocaust Awareness and Action Interactive Museum, the triple A in the middle emphasized by the 3 lines in the logo. Furthermore, CHAIM uses 18 stations to take its visitors on their journey of awareness of the darkness of Nazism to the light shed on LIFE by actions - selfless acts of compassion exhibited during the Holocaust, and the 3 positive virtues of acceptance, compassion and tolerance we teach and that hopefully are learned. Hence CHAIM takes its visitors on 'Chai (18) steps from darkness to life'.