Sarah Weiss, CEO of the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center at Union Terminal, honors the past while seeking empathy for others’ lived experiences.
How are you helping make Cincinnati more empathetic?
Our center was started by Holocaust survivors who made their lives in the Greater Cincinnati community. When they came here, they came often with no family, no education, no home, no background. They had to rebuild their lives from nothing. It took a long time for them to even want to speak about what they had experienced. Amazingly, 30 or 40 years after they arrived in Cincinnati, they began speaking and were met with empathy. Individuals wanted to hear their stories and embraced learning from the past. These survivors, they wanted people to care about one another, to stand up for one another, to speak out when they see injustice. They hoped they could build empathy in this city, and I just get the privilege of carrying on that legacy.
On a personal level, my own grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and I think every day about the fact that I’m just lucky to be alive. They survived in part because of luck, and I’m here, and I have to make the most with the life that I’ve been given, and part of that is continuing to leverage the stories and the lessons of the past to inspire action today.
A lot of our work is about story, and we carry that into the work we do in our museum and the humanity gallery, where we also share stories of modern-day upstanders who are making a difference in our world today. Instead of saying, Let’s learn about that dark past, let’s ask ourselves, How can we be better? How can we learn from this? Empathy is found in that core question that I’m asking every day: How can we be the best of humanity? How can we use our individual strengths as people to be upstanders?
What is an upstander?
Someone who uses their strengths to stand up against injustice or make a difference in some way.
What are the strengths you use to stand up to injustice?
First of all, honesty is a big strength of mine. Love of learning is a big strength of mine. Curiosity. I’m fortunate that I have some leadership ability and platform to be able to help others become upstanders, as well.
Many of those strengths—honestly, love of learning, curiosity—are helpful to have to foster empathy.
I think empathy is something we can continue to work on, as well. I think curiosity, engaging and thinking about others is something that ties directly to empathy.