Interfaith Holocaust Commemoration

May 1, 2016

The Openhearted Campaign was honored to be invited to speak at the 2016 Interfaith Holocaust Commemoration Service that was planned by St. Mark's United Methodist Church, Beth Shalom, and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington. Founder Anna Maidi and Project Manager Aubrey Seader spoke at the event. See below for a transcript of their statements.

Statement by Anna Maidi:

"I grew up in Indianapolis. I did theater. I got good grades. My friends were all white. Not because I wasn't open to having friends of a different race or ethnicity from me, but because there were only white kids in my classes.

Then I came to college. I converted to Islam. And I put on a hijab for the first time. Suddenly, I wasn’t white anymore – or at least not as white as I used to be. Now I don’t always cover, but when I do, I’m more wary. People are now assuming I’m different rather than just like them. People may think I’m from another country, and maybe they don’t like that. I wonder if I surprise people when I speak perfect English. And, to give a more concrete example, when I’m driving, I don’t speed. When I go out uncovered, I don’t think twice about how fast I drive – I just follow the traffic, but when I wear my hijab, my eyes flit to the speedometer because I’ve heard stories about police officers and Muslims.

This is called white privilege. Every time I choose to cover, I’m making a choice of whether I want to be white or not today. Whether I want to be American or not today. Whether I want to be perceived as a threat or not today.

It is this kind of discrimination, the kind that underlies the way we all perceive “other” without even realizing it, that pushed me to found the Openhearted Campaign, a campaign for mutual understanding and trust between Muslim-Americans and all Americans. On our website,, we have what is called the “Openhearted Pledge,” and by taking this pledge you affirm that you believe in freedom of religion, that you reject fear-mongering and xenophobia, and that you encourage friendships with Muslim-Americans. I urge you, in light of everything being said here today, to take this pledge and say no to hate. Thank you."

Statement by Aubrey Seader:

"Learning about the Holocaust in middle school had a profound impact on my development as a person. Learning about the horrors of this atrocious act of genocide made me, as a child, aware of the presence of evil in the world. What followed after this recognition was the question "Why?" and even more pressing "Where does evil come from?"

In middle school I joined a filmmaking program that at the time of my joining was deep in the process of creating a two volume documentary and a collection of biographical essays - all written and edited by students - about World War II and the Holocaust. These two projects were filled with the stories of holocaust survivors and World War II veterans that were at the time living in Indiana and the surrounding states, and who had been interviewed by previous classes of students. One of my jobs, in my time spent contributing to the project, was to sit in front of a monitor and transcribe interviews. I listened to countless interviews, heard the experiences of people from many walks of life. I started to learn more about where evil comes from... and most importantly, now that I look back on it, I learned how we humans let evil manifest.

It was once said that "All that is needed for evil to exist is for good men to do nothing." Eli Wiesel once gave a heartwrenching speech about the horrors of indifference. When we do not treat the plights of others as our own, we invite fear, hatred, and eventually violence and segregation into our lives and communities.

Listening to those interviews I longed to be able to jump into a time machine, go back to the 1930s and make my own stand against hatred, prevent it all from happening. But since I could not, I clung to the advise of Eva Moses Kor, a survivor of Auschwitz, when she said, simply: "Never forget."

We must never forget the past or we risk making the same horrible mistakes again and again.

When I heard Donald Trump suggest that all Muslims should register themselves with the government, or that Muslim neighborhoods be patrolled by police, I felt the ground quake underneath me. As I had felt the plight of so many Jews lost in the Holocaust tear at my heart as a child, I felt the horrifying thought that such a thing might happen again creep into my consciousness.

I heard those words (or rather felt them): "Never Forget."

And so I work with Anna Maidi, doing work on behalf of the Openhearted Campaign, to make sure that we dispell any fears that our Muslim neighbors are anything but average, ordinary, loving and kind people. I believe that stories are a powerful way to teach empathy, respect, and compassion. Sharing our experiences is like sharing pieces of our hearts, and I see how doing so can break down barriers built by fear and distrust. It was the stories of those survivors that taught me the importance of protecting my neighbors, and I will never forget what happened to them. I hope you'll join us in taking the Openhearted pledge to promote tolerance and compassion, and to stand against prejudice and oppression."