UC Davis Holocaust History Project @ JFCS, San Francisco, CA – January 11, 2017

by George J Elbaum

Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) is a San Francisco Bay Area social services organization whose mission statement is “Serving individuals and families of all faiths and backgrounds, guided by the Jewish value of caring for those in our community most in need.” As such, JFCS carries a special responsibility within the Jewish community for reaching out to children, the aged, those with special needs, and for the resettlement and acculturation of refugees and immigrants.

JFCS’s Holocaust Center also conducts teacher training seminars focused on teaching tolerance and social responsibility, and today I spoke to 18 high school teachers from the South and East Bay and beyond participating in a professional development program now in its sixth year being run through the UC Davis History Project.  The workshop, The History and Memory of the Holocaust, for high school English and History teachers, meets for a total of six days over a six-month period.  Teachers are exposed to the most recent scholarship on the Holocaust through lectures by academics.  Prior to my talk, the teachers spent the day at the Tauber Holocaust Library where they did research on the topic about which they’ll create a new lesson plan for their students.

The workshop is organized by Diane Wolf, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Jewish Studies Program at UC Davis and co-directed by Stacey Greer from the History Project and Serenity Krieger, a teacher-leader, both of whom accompanied the participating teachers. It is funded by both the Claims Conference and private donors, and it’s the third year I have spoken at the workshop.  My talk was arranged by Nikki Bombauer, Program Coordinator of JFCS’s Holocaust Center, and attended by Morgan Blum, its Director of Education.

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with Prof. Diane Wolf

with Prof. Diane Wolf

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Mission San Jose High School, Fremont, CA – December 6, 2016

by George J Elbaum

This was my second visit to Mission San Jose High School (MSJ), whose high academic goals and commensurate achievements are best represented by the school’s ranking by US News and World Report as 6th best in California and 76th nationwide, and by Newsweek as 10th best in the U.S. for math and science, and No. 1 among public high schools.  (MSJ students’ test scores in English, math, and science were 2-to-3 times the California average!)

My presentation on this visit to MSJ was attended by approximately 400 9th and 10th grade students in the combined College Prep and Honors English classes of teachers Katherine Geers, who organized this event, John Boegman, Pat Weed-Wolnick, Ryan Marple, and Morgan Goldstein.   My presentation was a part of a collaborative six-week course on Elie Wiesel’s Night and The Holocaust and Human Behavior, a book published by Facing History and Ourselves.  The course provides historical context and explores the choices individuals, groups, and governments made during the Holocaust.  Katherine described their goals in this course as follows: “We want to build and improve our students’ communication and writing skills while simultaneously working to touch their hearts and minds.  We strive to enrich their understanding, develop a stronger level of empathy, expand their definition of membership and widen their universe of obligation.  This should enable them to make better choices and become productive members and active Upstanders within our society.”

The presentation was arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History, who introduced me to the students with his usual eloquence .…including his polished reminder of the “ever-diminishing opportunity” to hear directly from a Holocaust survivor ☺.  Also, before I started my talk, Katherine Geers announced that her class plus those of teachers John Boegman, Pat Weed-Wolnick, Ryan Marple, and Morgan Goldstein took up a collection in their classes and donated the funds to Facing History in my honor – a wonderful gesture that I truly appreciate.   Thank you, all!  Attending the presentation also were Kim Wallace (Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum), James Maxwell (Director of Secondary Education), Zack Larsen (Principal of Mission San Jose High School), Carli Kim (Assistant Principal of Mission San Jose High School), and Dawn Nogueiro (Secondary Education English Language Arts Coach).

After my presentation and a short Q&A, most of the students left to attend other scheduled classes while about 70 students of Katherine Geers’ and Morgan Goldstein’s classes were able to to remain for a continued Q&A.  In this smaller and more intimate setting the students’ questions began to flow, and my answers were often augmented and expanded by Jack Weinstein (who arranged my presentation) as well as by Katherine Geers.  The session evolved into a truly active, stimulating and enriching discussion about the Holocaust era as well as the current world situation.  For me, this whole event was very enjoyable and gratifying.

Letters from Students

A week after my visit to Mission San Jose HS I received an envelope with letters from teacher John Boegman and his 10th grade class.  Delayed by the Christmas holiday, the next day after dinner my wife Mimi read each letter aloud while I listened and absorbed it, mentally and emotionally.  We were touched by the students’ heartfelt openness and sensitivity reflected in these letters, and we felt very gratified by their responses to my story.  Statements from these letters that particularly resonated with us are excerpted below.

  • If success in school is determined by what we learn each day, then today was a very fruitful day for me indeed. Through your words, I learned much about the Holocaust from a unique perspective and discovered new ways to see the world.
  • Your words that we should dedicate our lives for something, not against, resonated with me the most. I reflected on my own life with your words in mind.  Instead of trying not to fail a test, maybe I should try my best to ace it.  Instead of trying not to be excluded, maybe I should actively try to make friends.  Instead of fighting against ignorance and apathy, maybe we should fight for awareness and action.
  • Thank you for everything that you have taught me within just one class period. Thank you for opening my eyes and helping me realize that there are people who are willing to risk their lives, to save those of others.
  • Thank you for proposing an amazing question that allowed me to think of topics that I would have never thought of otherwise.
  • Regarding your question of whether I would give a persecuted victim refuge under my roof at my own risk, I honestly don’t know. I do know that it is the right and moral thing to do, and that it would be my wish if I were the victim, but the consequences are great.  I must ponder more over this dilemma, but I do hope that I would be open to giving my protection to others whose lives depended on it.
  • It is difficult to think that others would dehumanize me because of my culture or opinion.
  • Another aspect of the presentation that fascinated me was the critical question regarding one’s morals: “If you lived during the Holocaust, would you house and try to save a four-year-old child who had done nothing wrong, knowing that your own life would be at stake?” It forced me to deeply ponder the dilemma and consider my own beliefs.
  • Living in such a peaceful era now, I still wonder how people during World War 2 had the courage to live until the next day.
  • Your recollections of harsh conditions and your survival through pure luck reminded me of how fortunate I am for living in a time of relative peace.
  • I feel even more motivated to live and am thankful for the human rights that I might be taking for granted.
  • The main point that I took away from your presentation is that we can choose our own paths, and that the Holocaust could have been avoided if people had chosen the path of kindness instead of anger and hatred.
  • Having you speak in front of us was an absolute blessing – simply having a real, breathing person who saw, heard, and felt the thing we only read about in text books was an unprecedented experience.
  • Your talking to us helped to humanize an event that is normally taught without emotion in school.
  • This was my first time meeting and hearing a Holocaust survivor talk about his experience. It was enlightening and made a previously distant event into something more human.
  • There are people who don’t have much knowledge about what happened (like me) and I love how you are educating young people.
  • I have realized that hate is easy in any circumstance, but to love during adversity is a gift that should be cherished as long as it is there.
  • (From a teacher: I appreciate that your visit has inspired my students to think more carefully about the human costs and human benefits to the responses we have when we are put in difficult positions that require us to make such decisions.

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starting…..

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Katherine Delmar Burke School, San Francisco, CA – November 30, 2016

by George J Elbaum

In 1908 Katherine Delmar Burke founded her school to fill an obvious need: young women who wanted to be educated enough to attend college faced often-insurmountable barriers.   More than 100 years later, her school (Burke’s) still has the same mission: “to educate, encourage and empower girls.  The school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.”  Burke’s now has approximately 400 students (K-8) and a unique 3.5-acre campus in a residential district of San Francisco with 65% open space, with a large grass athletic field, a sports court and two multipurpose courtyards with play structures. Its facilities include a 5,500 sq.ft. library, two innovation labs, three science labs, five art, music and drama studios, and a gymnasium/auditorium.  The ratio of faculty to students is 1:7, and its average tenure at Burke’s is 10 years.

Burke’s prides itself in having its students graduate not only with a strong academic foundation but also with a love of learning — not just for the sake of grades. This reflects Burke’s long-standing commitment to preserving the spirit of exploration while students master traditional skills and concepts.  Upper School students are challenged by a comprehensive program that includes core academic subjects, plus art, music, drama, and physical education while 7th and 8th graders also have classes in public speaking and service learning plus many electives. The teaching of computer skills is integrated into the curriculum and use of technology supports learning at all grade levels.

A unique program at Burke’s is the Makery, in which Burke’s decided to take a hard look at its outdated technology labs and replace these with space that would emphasize “make” and “creativity” and allow for truly innovative teaching and encourage “tinkering.”  The result is the Makery, a space that “encourages and empowers the girls to take risks and to use a variety of skills related to STEM to design, prototype, and even fail at their projects.”  The facility provides materials, tools (including a 3D printer), and talented faculty which allow students to model their work for each other in a collaborative, open environment.   The ultimate goal of the Makery is to create a joyful learning environment for the girls that promotes creativity, problem-solving and critical thinking.

My visit to Burke’s was organized by teacher Lisa Turner (7th & 8th grade English, 8th grade Lead Advisor) and arranged by Nikki Bambauer of the Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

Letters from students

A week after my visit to Burke’s the mail brought an envelope with notes and letters from Burke’s students and teacher Lisa Turner.  As is now our habit, after dinner my wife Mimi read each letter aloud while I listened and absorbed it, mentally and emotionally.  We were touched by the students’ heartfelt openness and sensitivity reflected in these letters, and we felt very gratified by their responses to my story.  Statements from these letters that particularly resonated with us are excerpted below.

  • I was really touched by the theme of hope in your story. Amid all the destruction and evil, there are still those who risk their lives to help others.
  • It is hard for me to wrap my head around how so many people could have let a mass genocide of innocent human beings go on for so long.
  • Your story has motivated me to make a change and stand up for what is right, and to have a positive impact on my community if not the world. Thank you so much.
  • I have come to appreciate the safe bubble of San Francisco that we live in even more after hearing you speak.
  • I wish we had more time to ask you questions, because hearing your perspective and your history can be very beneficial to us as young empowered women at such an impressionable age. I can’t express how grateful and lucky I feel to hear firsthand your experiences.
  • I felt very sad listening to you speak about moving from one family to another, but I feel very inspired how you overcame all the difficulties during the war and became a successful person.
  • I really liked the sugar cube part of your story. It made me so happy that you found this little piece of joy through the war.
  • You have truly moved me. YOU ARE TRULY AN INSPIRATION.  (I am the girl who gave you a hug.) J
  • I will remember this forever and take the lessons you taught us to heart.
  • My grandfather hid in the Philippines during the Holocaust in a cave. Listening to your story has opened me up to the other side of the war.  I think your story should be heard by everyone.
  • Your message is for sure worth spreading. Some people don’t fully understand the harsh reality of the Holocaust.  It is a subject some people are not educated about, but should be.  I intend to educate people about it, bringing awareness to them.
  • Your story inspired me to be kind to everyone, despite their differences. The harsh reality is that people are mean to each other, but I truly believe that with passion and determination we can teach love and kindness.  Your story has helped me realize that the world still needs lots and lots of fixing.  (I walked you down from the office.)
  • You have so much courage to face such a truly terrible experience and change others’ lives through talking about it. For this I sincerely thank you.
  • Hearing from you helped me feel more connected to my great-grandmother who was also a Holocaust survivor.
  • I think it was very brave of you to share your story and go back in time to a place full of sad memories.
  • I hope you enjoy the rest of your life and know that your words inspired me and so many others.
  • Your story was so empowering, and it showed me how hard life can be, and how you can still come out of it and rebuild your life.
  • Throughout your presentation I thought so much more about how everything happens for a reason, and I am so thankful that you were here today to tell our class about your experiences during the harshness and cruelty of the Holocaust.
  • I learned many valuable life lessons about empathy and morals.
  • I sometimes catch myself complaining about the most insubstantial things. Your presentation was very humbling, and I want to thank you for that.  What you are doing is amazing!
  • Meeting you and listening to you speak really made this awful occurrence real to me.
  • You have inspired me and many others by showing us that our decisions and actions impact the world around us and possibly change the direction of the future.
  • Your story has shown me how important it is to be for something rather than against something. This way, we are likely to make decisions with love and acceptance and not with hate.  Your story has truly made me a better person.

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Dougherty Valley High School, San Ramon, CA – November 17, 2016

by George J Elbaum

Dougherty Valley High School (DVHigh) was established in 2007, which explains its very apropos slogan “The Tradition Starts Now!”  In these 9 years its enrollment has grown rapidly from 570 students to approximately 3000 now.  Despite this rapid growth, it scored the highest Academic Performance Index in the San Ramon school district and the 27th highest in California, and was awarded a gold medal and ranked in the top 500 schools in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report – an impressive growth in both enrollment and ratings.

Two years ago I spoke at DVHigh to a class in the elective course Facing History: Holocaust and Human Behavior, and I was very impressed with the enthusiasm and knowledge of the students and their teacher, Dana Pattison.  This time, just walking into the classroom with Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves, we were greeted with an enthusiastic applause by the students and Dana Pattison.   The classroom was decorated with students’ posters and drawings reflecting the course subject, plus a heart that read “Dana Pattison rocks!”, and some students plus Dana Pattison wore T-shirts emblazoned with “Dougherty Valley High School – Facing History and Ourselves”.  As before, the students were very well prepared, and even after the class ended I was approached and asked additional questions that were timed-out during the Q&A.  It was a very gratifying experience for me, arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves, who gave an excellent introduction.

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Licton Springs K-8 School, Seattle, WA – October 7, 2016

by George J Elbaum

Six years ago, almost to the day, I told my story for the first time to young students.  It was at Seattle’s Alternative School #1, the 7th & 8th grade classes of teacher Jo Cripps, and that talk is the very first post in this weblog.  Since then, Alternative School #1 had morphed into Pinehurst K-8 which in turn morphed into Licton Springs K-8 School in Seattle’s Broadview neighborhood.  I spoke there today, once again to 7th & 8th grade classes of teacher Jo Cripps!  In the intervening 6 years I have spoken at more than 100 venues, yet today’s event felt a bit like homecoming.

The stated mission of Licton Springs K-8 is to provide its students with “a creative, holistic, experiential learning environment which nurtures respect, self-discovery and integrity, preparing the whole child to engage our global community.”  To accomplish its mission, it uses “an alternative method of teaching that emphasizes hands-on learning, culturally responsive curriculum, and community engagement.”

Conscious of its Northwest location, the school emphasizes the area’s Native experience, culture, and history while serving a diverse, multicultural student community, and connecting learning in the classroom to real-world context.  Its curriculum is therefore “Native focused, honoring Northwest tribes and the diversity of Native people throughout the Americas, and includes social justice education, an individualized approach for different types of learners, frequent field trips and community speakers, and shared decision making.”

The same enthusiasm that teacher Jo Cripps transferred to her students 6 years ago was again visible today.  I was especially touched when signing autographs after my talk – the students wanted not only their notebooks signed but also hats, cell phones, arms, and even a forehead…a request which I negotiated downward to the boy’s forearm!  Assisting Jo Cripps was instructional assistant Muniba Mushtag.

Today’s talk was arranged by Julia Thompson of the Holocaust Center for Humanity.

Letters from students

We were away for several weeks, and a few weeks after we returned I received via Julia Thompson an envelope with notes and letters from Licton Springs students and a teacher.  As has become our habit by now, after dinner my wife Mimi read each letter aloud while I listened and absorbed it, mentally and emotionally.  We were touched by the students’ heartfelt openness and sensitivity reflected in these letters, and we felt very gratified by their responses to my story.  Statements from these letters that particularly resonated with us are excerpted below.

  • I’m going to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do. I’m going to put your presentation in a deep place in my heart.  Thank you.
  • These are the actions I will take to make the world a better place. I will stand up for people who are bullied.  I will make sure everyone is treated fairly.  I will tell people your story and about the Holocaust so we can prevent another one.  I will pay attention to the world so I can learn more about the world we live in.
  • I’d read in books, memoirs, and biographies about the Holocaust, but you telling us personally about your experience somehow made it more real.
  • Hearing your story made me appreciate everything more, and made me realize that at any point it could be taken away.
  • I learned that sometimes people don’t believe things because they are scared to.  Next, I learned that we are all people with flaws, but our religion is not one of them.  You have given me some courage to tell my wild story.  Thank you.
  • Even with the bad luck you had, you also had incredible good luck that made you able to survive the Holocaust.  Your mom had wits, smarts, and skill, but you had luck, which still is very good.  You changed the way I look at the Holocaust and history, and you changed the way I will act!
  • From you I learned something big, and now I know what to do with my life. I will listen to my parents.  They are the true guides to surviving everything.
  • Your mom was a caring person. I never met her, but by your story I know what kind of person she was.  (I wish my mom was alive to read these words about her.)
  • Your story was exciting and sad and scary. I will never forget your story.  (Thank you for the fanciful drawing on the back of your note.)
  • Thank you for the 4 drawings on your note (including my book cover, and my mom & me in Paris)
  • It’s horrifying what you’ve gone through, being born into war, having to go into hiding your whole childhood.
  • When I grow up and have children, I will tell them your story. I will never forget it.
  • (From a teacher) It is upon our shoulders to avoid repeating the travesties of the past. It is upon us all to act, speak and live our lives with humanity, deep respect, and loving kindness towards one another and our Earth.
starting the talk, with teacher Jo Cripps on the right

starting the talk, with teacher Jo Cripps on the right

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starting Q & A

 

 

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University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA – Sept. 29, 2016

by George Elbaum

This was my 3rd consecutive year speaking at the University of San Francisco (USF), a Jesuit Catholic university.  Founded in 1855, USF was the city’s first university, and it is the third oldest institution for higher learning in California.  Its student body numbers approximately 10,000, with 63% undergraduates and 37% postgraduates, and its faculty numbers approximately 1,000, of which 41% are full-time and 59% are part-time, or adjunct.  Religious and spiritual organizations on campus include the Muslim Student Union, the USF chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the USF Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

My talk at USF this year was for students in an undergraduate course entitled Modern Jewish Thought: The Jewish American Experience Through Graphic Novels, which is one of the selective subjects in USF’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies.   It was organized by its teacher Oren Kroll-Zeldin, Adjunct Professor in the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice and Director of Beyond Bridges: Israel-Palestine.  It was arranged by Nikki Bambauer of the Jewish Family and Childrens’ Services.

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Charles Wright Academy, Tacoma, WA – September 26, 2016

by George J Elbaum

This was the seventh consecutive year that I spoke at Charles Wright Academy (CWA) Global Summit, which this year consisted of the 75 students of the CWA freshman class plus 34 high school students and 8 teachers from China, Colombia, England and Poland, the visitors staying with CWA host families during their visit, as usual.  The annual Global Summit is a 10-day program designed to promote peace and social justice by exposing the visiting students to and developing their understanding of the concepts of universal human rights and justice, fair trade and sustainable life styles, and by demonstrating how the choices that each of us makes every day can impact the world. The core of the Summit is a series of speakers whose personal experiences reflect directly on these subjects, and their presentations are followed by group discussions on these very concepts. My presentation was the first time that most of these students heard directly from a Holocaust survivor, and their subsequent questions were very interesting and thought-provoking, some asked of me for the first time in the 100+ talks I have given.

This year’s Global Summit was organized and managed by Ann Vogel, CWA’s International Student Coordinator, whose son had graduated from CWA and her daughter is currently a CWA student.  Ann was assisted by teachers Laryssa Schmidt, Christine Telal and Tom Cramer and students Piper, Sarah, Emma, and Alexys.

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 audience

 

 

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