It was always about the kids

December 2020
Rebecca Little

The first time I met my future mother-in-law, Sharon Enkin, she held my hands, looked deeply into my eyes and said, “You are my daughter now.” She then told me a charming story about my future husband. Sharon had a way of embracing you and engaging you through her incredible storytelling. 

Sharon was a dedicated advocate in the Hamilton community. Her passion for education and love of children were evident in the programs she created to teach, inspire and nurture young minds. Painting in the Park, a summer program that taught children the love of painting in the outdoors, and The Golden Horseshoe Players were a couple of her initiatives to bring theatre and art to urban kids. She fundraised in Canada to help Israeli and Palestinian children have birthday parties. For her, it was always about the kids. 

After Sharon passed away in 2009, my father-in-law, Larry partnered with the Hamilton Jewish Federation to create the Sharon Enkin Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education. The award honours extraordinary teachers  from both the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board who have found a way to tell the difficult but necessary stories and create a bridge between the past and present for our younger generation. It is presented at Federation’s annual Student Symposium on the Holocaust at Mohawk College.  

Every year at this symposium, my husband James and I have been amazed to see more than 1,000 curious young faces, hear their thoughtful questions and witness their engagement. We wondered how we could channel that energy into action following the one-day event. In the aftermath of the  high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., we were awe inspired by how young kids stood in solidarity against gun violence that claimed the lives of their friends. Their innocence had vanished and transformed into advocacy. 

Then, it hit us. Young people are the key. Why not engage the students directly in Holocaust education by creating an award to honour them? The power of their peers honouring them would give a new voice to a generation of powerful young storytellers who would champion Holocaust education for generations to come.

With the incredible support of my father-in-law, James and I brainstormed with Hamilton Jewish Federation CEO Gustavo Rymberg and campaign director, Elaine Levine, on how to make our idea a reality.  The plan was to present the first Sharon Enkin Student Award at the 2020 Student Symposium on the Holocaust. While the COVID-19 pandemic delayed our plans, Elaine found a way to guide everyone toward choosing our winners.  There is still much to do to educate the world about the Holocaust. We just tried to shine a small light. 

After reviewing all of the finalists’ entries, I can say with confidence, that these kids get it. They will carry that light forward and pass it to the next generation.

Image: This moving drawing by Cathedral High School Grade 11 student Jacquelyne Villaspin was one of two first place winners of the inaugural Sharon Enkin Student Award.