Tag Archives: Education

Yizkor Education

By Adina Rosenthal

British historian Sir Ian Kershaw famously wrote: “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference,” a sentiment that provides much rationale for solid Holocaust education today.

However, despite its clear importance, Holocaust education is not always the norm in schools. In 2007, a controversy erupted over Britain dropping required subjects such as the Holocaust and the Crusades from History curriculums due to fear of Muslim discontent. But the study citing Muslim opposition was debunked—only a small number of teachers at two schools involved in the study reported incidents—and the British have rebounded since the incident.

In a recent article, the Jerusalem Post reported that British teachers have been brought to Israel as part of a three-week course on making the Holocaust more accessible to students. Funded by the Holocaust Education Trust, a UK-based organization that aims “to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and the important lessons to be learned for today,” twenty teachers from across the UK participated in this ten-day course at Yad Vashem that include seminars and workshops on anti-Semitism in Europe, Jewish life between the World Wars, and the Final Solution. Speaking on the importance of Holocaust education, one participant stated, “Historical truth has to be the foundation of what we do and facing up to the truth is the best defense against those who would deny it or passively accept that it happened without learning anything from it.”

Not all countries require Holocaust education as part of the curriculum. In the United States, the states, not the federal government, determine what is taught in public schools. According to a 2004 Holocaust Task Force report, while most states have created social studies standards for the classroom and about half the states have explicitly mentioned the Holocaust in these standards, only ten percent of states have a legislative mandate to teach the Holocaust in the classroom.  Though there have been some improvements, including Virginia calling for teacher manuals on the Holocaust and Maryland establishing “a Task Force to Implement Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights, and Tolerance Education in the state,” few states have updated their legislation since the report was issued. Even if imperfect, in the West, education on the Holocaust, genocide in places like Rwanda and Darfur, and other worrisome situations evolving around the world, has been largely admirable.  Not so in the Middle East.

According to Hannah Rosenthal, the United States’ Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, “One of my primary goals this year is to address the issue of intolerance in textbooks and in the media in the Middle East,” which included meeting with Saudi religious and education scholars about the importance of teaching the Holocaust. Most Middle Eastern countries do not teach the Holocaust, and, according to one article, “Some even include verses from the Quran that they use to justify intolerance and violence against non-Muslims, primarily Jews and Christians.”

In Gaza, the tension concerning Holocaust education has also been mounting. According to an Associated Press article, the United Nations is launching a plan to teach Holocaust education in Gazan schools this September, despite promises by Hamas to block such an initiative and the West Bank and PLO’s disapproval. According to the article, many Palestinians are loath to recognize the Jewish tragedy because they fear it will minimize their own suffering. “Views range from outright denial to challenging the scope of the Holocaust.” Schoolteachers also expressed hostility toward teaching about the Holocaust, with one teacher warning, “The [United Nations] will open the gates of hell with this step. This will not work.”

But proponents of such an initiative see the lessons from the Holocaust as an especially important educational experience for the Arab world. “Instead of pre-emptive accusations, it is important for Palestinians…to fully understand the tragedies and suffering that happened to all people through generations, without divvying up facts and taking things out of context.” Moreover, in a recent New York Times piece, the authors write, “If Arabs knew more about the Holocaust in particular and genocide in general, perhaps Arab voices would be more forceful in trying to stop similar atrocities.”

As Holocaust survivor Estelle Laughlin best stated, “Memory is what shapes us. Memory is what teaches us. We must understand that’s where our redemption is.”

Hannah Senesh, Golda Meir, and now Kate Bornstein

By Bonnie Rosenbaum

My introduction to Jewish heroes can be traced back to one amazing Barbie doll.

It was 1986, I was in 7th grade, and my Sunday school class at Temple Sinai had started a unit on “Great Jews.” Carrie Horrowitz marched to the front of the classroom, launched the blond statuette into the air, and began her oral report: “Hannah Senesh was a brave woman who parachuted into Yugoslavia to save the Jews during the Holocaust.”

Barbie quickly crashed to the floor and my classmates and I tried to stifle our laughs. Thus began our lesson on Jewish heroes.

As a 12-year-old girl who spent her lunch hour playing football with the boys, Hannah defined awesomeness through her parachute alone. Only years later did I learn the full story of her life, her poetry, her defiance.

When it came time for my presentation, my friend and I staged an interview between a journalist and Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel and the world’s third female to hold this title. Another kick-ass woman who flaunted gender roles and came out ahead. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion even called her “the best man in his cabinet.” Golda soared to the top of my personal list of Jewish heroes. (I wish I could say that I played Golda, but I was too shy. Plus my friend’s father was a real Israeli, so I reasoned that she had a more legitimate claim to the star role.)

The other Great Jew who made a mark on my consciousness was Sandy Koufax, the award-winning pitcher for the Dodgers who refused to play the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. Even then, I understood the public nature of his private decision and joined his legion of admirers.

Now, in June 2011 LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) Pride Month, I’m marveling at a new roster of Jewish heroes recognized by many and selected by our staff at Keshet to inspire a new generation of 7th graders. We took three LGBT Jewish changemakers who transformed our world—Harvey Milk, Kate Bornstein, and Lesléa Newman—and put their beautiful faces on bold, modern, 18×24 posters for the LGBT Jewish Heroes Poster series. We celebrate their amazing accomplishments and their dual identity as Jews and queer people. And being 2011, we also created a small website to showcase them.

I’m working up the courage to call the rabbi at my old synagogue to ask him to buy these posters for the Hebrew and Sunday school classrooms. Hang them up for the cool athlete who never mentions his uncle has a boyfriend, for the quiet girl who doesn’t feel right in her own body, and for their classmate who is worried what it will be like when both her moms are called to the bima for her bat mitzvah. Hang them up for the teacher who shows up to services with a handsome friend he calls his roommate. And hang them up because we know all too well the feeling of being outsiders, strangers, and a people who need visible role models.

Our deepest hope is that these LGBT Jews find their rightful place alongside Hannah Senesh, Golda Meir, and Sandy Koufax in classrooms, synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, camps, Federations, Hillels, and Jewish organizations everywhere—as educational tools to spark conversation, dialogue, learning, and reflection.

And pride.

Bonnie Rosenbaum is the Deputy Director of Communications and Planning for Keshet

Learning the Right Lessons?

By Symi Rom-Rymer

In a recent poll, 30% of Israeli Arabs, out of 700 questioned, don’t believe the Holocaust happened.  As the Associated Press reported earlier this week, Yad Vashem is trying to change that.  The poll’s creator, Sammy Smooha, insists that the high rate of denial has more to do with a repudiation of Israel’s policies than with true Holocaust negation.  But as the article points out, for many Israeli Arabs, accepting the Holocaust is equivalent to acknowledging Jewish claims to Israel.  In an effort to place the issue of the Holocaust within its proper historical framework, rather than within the flashpoint of Middle East politics, the museum is launching a new initiative aimed at Israeli Arabs educators.

This is not the first time that the museum has tried to engage the Israeli Arab community over the Holocaust, but previous efforts suffered from bad timing.  Just as Yad Vashem opened an exhibit on the Muslim rescue of Jews in Bosnia, Israel began its three-week offensive in Gaza.  Anger over the conflict led most potential visitors to boycott the museum and its exhibit.  They are hoping this attempt will be more successful.

There are several aspects about this initiative, however, that are troubling.  First of all, by emphasizing the Holocaust, Yad Vashem’s project plays into the erroneous belief held by many Arabs that Israel exists only because of the Holocaust; that the ties Jews feel to the land of Israel does not go back thousands of years, but rather only 60 years: to the destruction of European Jewry.  Instead, the museum should seek to create a more comprehensive curriculum that places the Holocaust in a larger context that addresses not only the role it played in the establishment of Israel but that also discusses the deeper historical bonds between Jews and Israel.   Moreover, it is not enough to teach the history of the Holocaust and with it, hope that through those lessons Arabs will see their fellow citizens in a different light.   It is unclear how stories of Jewish discrimination and persecution in Europe will engender feelings of sympathy towards Israeli Jews when many Arabs feel discriminated against by the very people with whom they are meant to sympathize.

There is certainly an argument to be made for why Arab students should know about the Holocaust.  To teach them about that era is not only important to understand a crucial era that continues to deeply influence Jews in Israel and around the world but also to allow Arabs to get insight into the Jewish Israeli mindset; to help contextualize their outlook.   It is not enough, however, to insist that Arabs learn about the Holocaust.  In order to foster better relations between Jewish and Arab Israelis, it is similarly critical that Jews learn about the history of their Arab neighbors and gain better insight into their mindset.  One way to do this would be to teach the Nakba, the so-called disaster Arabs associate with the foundation of Israel, which the majority of Jewish schools do not cover.  This should not be presented as an equivalent to the Holocaust, but rather as an acknowledgment of the traumatic Arab experience from the Jewish population and a genuine desire to understand that history and its impact on the current situation.

A few efforts already exist to try and bridge the gap through education but they are small and isolated.  At Kibbutz Lohamei HaGhetaot, a settlement founded by Holocaust survivors and home to the Ghetto Fighter’s Museum, for instance, they’ve launched a course for Jewish and Arab students, a rarity in a country where most education is segregated at an early age (see Moment‘s in-depth feature on Arab Israeli education).  The course involves a year-long study of the Holocaust as well as an additional second year that focuses on the Israeli-Arab experience.  A tandem curriculum such as this would allow students to explore and better understand the other point of view, within the safety of the classroom environment.

Despite the problems outlined above, Yad Vashem’s effort to reach out to Israeli Arabs is a step in the right direction.  The issues it seeks to address are pressing, especially in the wake of reports this week of a swell of support by Israeli Municipal Rabbis for the proposal to ban Jews from renting apartments to gentiles (seen by many as directed specifically at Arabs).   The ban and its supporters only further highlight the obstacles the museum faces as it seeks to overcome the distrust that often seems insurmountable.   While Yad Vashem’s latest undertaking is not perfect, at least it is seeking to build a bridge between two communities that live side-by-side, yet in vastly different worlds. Perhaps with the right approach and care, this project can begin to make those vastly different worlds feel ever so slightly closer together.