Alumni Spotlight: Dafna Michaelson Jenet (’90, Staff ’98-’00), Colorado, USA

Dafna Michaelson Jenet (’90, Staff ’98-’00), Colorado House of Representatives

This week, on the occasion of Chanukah, a holiday that brings light onto the world, we are honored to feature Colorado State Representative and March of the Living Alumna Dafna Michaelson Jenet. In the ultimate expression of bringing light onto the world, she is responsible for creating, and recently successfully passing a bill that has made Holocaust and Genocide Education mandatory in the state of Colorado.

I attended the March of the Living in 1990, on the second March. After hearing about the trip on a BBYO Shabbaton, I knew it was something I was destined to do. They were offering a scholarship and I fought with everything that I had to receive it. I have been consumed by Holocaust history ever since I was a young kid; my family lost over 56 members on my maternal father’s side and countless more on my paternal side. I knew I had to do this and experience for myself what I could of my family history.
I felt deeply rooted while standing in the Warsaw Jewish cemetery. It’s hard to explain but I felt more at “home” in that spot in Poland than anywhere else in the world, yet, I felt disassociated from the experience – I could not cry.
Flying from Poland to Israel and seeing the entire shape of the country lit up from the airplane window was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. I finally started to cry and was able to release all of that emotion – understanding that I had walked on the hallowed ground of Auschwitz and Birkenau, where my family was almost decimated, and was now entering Israel where I felt safe to cry and experience what I just witnessed. This moment renewed my love for the land of Israel and gratitude for her existence.
Upon returning home, I started to talk about my experience in the public-school system. During one such talk, a 4th grader told me “but I thought all Jews were dead.” This shocking moment taught me that it was critical to talk not only about the genocide of my people, but also about the vibrancy of the Jewish community.
I went on to study in Stern College (where I met up with several March of the Living alumni) and then became the Director of the Holocaust Awareness Institute at the University of Denver. I attended the first March of the Living reunion in Israel and spoke at the Kotel at that event – a real personal triumph for me. There I was recruited to run March of the Living for the Board of Jewish Education in New York and subsequently attended the program three more times.

After working for over 20 years in the Jewish nonprofit arena, I decided to run for public office in Colorado, in a quest to become a problem solver, instead of always searching for answers. I have just been reelected to my 3rd term in the Colorado House of Representatives. One of my proudest achievements was starting a bill in the house, which subsequently became law in the state of Colorado, that in order to receive your HS diploma you must complete Holocaust and genocide education. All members signed on and became co-sponsors. In a time of great political divide, that’s a miracle.

Click here to read the bill »