Milpitas High School, Milpitas, CA – February 3, 2017

by George J Elbaum

Milpitas High School (MHS) has a large and highly diverse student body – 3300 students, 37% Asian, 21% Filipino, 19% Hispanic, 19% White, and 4% African-American – and was the very first school in northern California to develop a Facing History course.  Jack Weinstein, Facing History’s Senior Program Advisor (formerly Director), taught at MHS from 1978 to 1997 and integrated Facing History’s resources early on within many of the school’s English courses. Then, in 1990, he developed a full-semester Facing History course focused on the Holocaust and Human Behavior. That course was an inter-disciplinary English and Social Studies course for 3 years, and then it evolved into a Social Studies elective focused not only on the Holocaust but on multiple case studies of genocide, human rights, and issues of race in American history.  When Weinstein left MHS in 1997 to establish the Bay Area office of Facing History, it was continued by other teachers so the course is among the longest-running electives in the school’s history.  In addition, nearly all freshman English courses now include a multi-week unit on the Holocaust with the study of Elie Wiesel’s Night as its centerpiece.

This was my third visit to MHS, and the 300-some students attending this talk were again well-prepared.   What made this visit especially memorable for me was the Q & A during which the students asked several questions that I’ve never been asked before, such as “Considering what you’ve been through, what do you fear the most?” and “Because of today’s situation, do you think a genocide of Muslims in America is a possibility?”  The students were from the multiple freshman English courses taught by Lindsay Gutierrez (formerly Lindsay Mohundro), who organized this year’s event, and Annie Marple, Caitlin Bellotti and Jennifer Loomis, all teachers who clearly pass their own enthusiasm to their students.  Also attending the talk was Phil Morales, MHS Principal.  Arrangements for my talk and the introduction were again made by Jack Weinstein of Facing History.

the audience

the audience

starting, with Caitlin Bellotti and Jack Weinstein looking on

starting my talk with Caitlin Bellotti and Jack Weinstein looking on

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Kent Mountain View Academy, SeaTac, WA – January 30, 2017

by George J Elbaum

Kent Mountain View Academy (KMVA) is a grade 3-12 public school in SeaTac, WA, about 30 mi. south of Seattle.  Designated as one of Washington’s Innovative Schools in each of the past several years, KMVA is small – it has the smallest campus by far of the 40 schools in Kent School District, which dictates that its peak enrollment will never be more than 400 students.  Yet KMVA is the only site in its District able to facilitate the needs of elementary through senior high students, and it does so by its efforts to be a community partnership including students, families, and the District to provide educational options and flexibility in a stimulating environment to produce academic achievement.  Because of its small size KMVA is better able to keep students from falling through the cracks, and it allows the teachers to work with them over a course of multiple years.

KMVA is unusual in several aspects: students attend it by choice rather than by geographical location, many have been home schooled prior to KMVA, and the school maintains a strong focus on family and community.  For example, it groups 3rd-6th graders together and 7th-12th graders together so that students can maintain contact with their siblings, and 3rd-6th graders are grouped in multi-age home rooms where the first and last parts of each day are spent so that siblings start and end each school day together.  There is also special education on a limited scale and these students can be integrated into regular classes as ability allows.  A feeling of community/small family among the staff is clearly evident and surely benefits the educational environment for both regular and special students.  This is especially attractive to families who have previously home schooled and are interested in accessing public education, families who want all of their children on one campus, students who are looking for a small environment where they remain with a core group of teachers over a period of years, and students interested in a highly academic environment.

This was my third visit to KMVA, the previous being in 2012 and 2015, and on each of those visits I   received a truly heart-warming welcome, so now my expectations were high.  This time, however, the welcome was beyond my expectations, starting with a Reserved sign and my name on a parking place, several students at school’s entrance holding a large WELCOME sign and flowers, plus Annelise, a student who baked and greeted me with lemon bars on previous visits holding a large container-full (I ate one immediately!), a student escort to a conference room for a quick pre-talk tea, and most heart-warming: meeting students such as Annelise, Jason and Dylan, now a head or two taller than they were at our first meeting 5 years ago.

My visit was superbly organized by Pat Gallagher, KMVA’s Instructional Facilitator, and I especially appreciated his personal greeting.  The audience of approximately 120 included students from grades 7 thru 12, and teachers Josh Murphy, Amanda Greear, Nora Douglass, Patricia Billet, Kristy Banks, Phil Jerde and Matt Johnson, and Pat Gallagher.  My participation was arranged by Julia Thompson of the Holocaust Center for Humanity.

Pat Gallagher's introduction

Pat Gallagher’s introduction

starting the talk

starting the talk

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Seattle University, Seattle, WA – January 26, 2017

by George J Elbaum

Seattle University (SU), a Jesuit Catholic university located in Seattle, is the largest independent university in the Northwest U.S., with over 7,500 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs within 8 schools. In 2015 U.S. News & World Report ranked it the 5th best Regional University in the West, and Bloomberg Businessweek ranked it #1 in the U.S. for macroeconomics. One of its 8 schools, the School of Theology and Ministry, Campus Ministry, and SU’s Jewish Student Union hosted the annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day event at which I was invited to speak.

The event was organized by Victoria Carr, Campus Minister, Sarah Turner, Graduate Assistant in Ecumenical & Interreligious Dialogue, and Erin Beary-Andersen, Assistant Director of Campus Ministry, and was attended by the school’s Dean Mark Markuly, Bishop Kirby Unti of the Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, other religious personnel, and students.  Introducing my talk were Dr. Michael Trice, Assistant Dean for Ecumenical & Interreligious Dialogue and Julia Thompson, Education Associate of the Holocaust Center for Humanity, who arranged my participation in the event.  After my talk and Q&A Sarah Turner played a haunting song “Harbor” for the audience’s contemplation, followed by separate groups reflecting on my talk and on personal responsibility.  Then Rabbi Kate Speizer of Temple de Hirsch Sinai conducted the Lighting of the Candles and Memorial for the event.

Event opening by Assistant Dean Michael Trice

Event opening by Assistant Dean Michael Trice

Introduction by Julia Thompson

Introduction by Julia Thompson

 

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The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA – January 24, 2017

by George J Elbaum

The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) staged an exhibit, From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art, which presents work of 24 contemporary artists who grapple with memories that are not their own.  “This diverse group of local and international artists consider many forms of inherited and often traumatic memories, from the personal and familiar to the collective.  Through their works in a variety of media including sculpture, film, photography, mixed media and many more, the artists search, question, and reflect on the representation of truths related to ancestral and public narratives of historical moments such as the Holocaust, the struggle for civil rights in America, the Vietnam War and others, ultimately attempting to understand their own past.”

To expand the impact of this exhibit, The CJM is launching a program of student tours of From Generation to Generation and pairing these with talks by Holocaust survivors through partnering with the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS).  These talks offer the students a unique opportunity to connect art and history, to humanize historical events and cultivate empathy, and to strengthen links between past and present.  To launch this program, The CJM arranged for 100+ students from Quarry Lane High School in Dublin, CA, to visit the exhibit and attend my presentation which was arranged by JFCS’s Program Coordinator, Nikki Bambauer.  The CJM’s Janine Okmin, Associate Director of Education, and Cara Buchalter, Tour & Education Associate, organized this event, the first of its type for The CMJ, and Quarry Lane teachers Lance Miller, Ekta Shah and others accompanied their students.

my-talk

audience

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Hopkins Junior High School, Fremont, CA January 24, 2017

by George J Elbaum

Hopkins Junior High School is a secondary school with an enrollment of approximately 1200 students in 7th and 8th grades.  What makes Hopkins so special is its outstanding academic record: in recent years it had the highest or second highest API scores for public junior high schools in California several times, five California Blue Ribbon School awards, and in the Science Bowl Nationals it took first place twice and second-thru-fourth place 5 times.  It’s English proficiency score is 91% vs. 44% for California average, and in Math it’s 93% vs. 33% California average.  While maintaining such an outstanding record cannot happen without achievement pressure on both the students and the teachers, the enthusiasm and natural playfulness of the students (which I especially noticed in their interactions with me after my talk) were no different than in other, more typical schools that I’ve visited.  Responding to this accomplishment I can only say: BRAVO!

My talk to approximately 400 8th graders was arranged by Hopkins’ Vice Principal Jennifer Moore, with support from English teachers Ranjana Das (who also took most of the photos – thank you, Ranjana), Jo Ana Hu, Angie Parke, and Theresa Boteilho.  Also in attendance were teachers Chris Fox, Tammy Woolbright, Paul Cornett, Megan Martin, Christy Ha and Eric Smith, plus Superintendent Dr. Jim Morris and Administrative Assistant Sharon Coco.

the-talk

audience

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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.

dscn9301

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.

starting.....

starting…..

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