North Star Academy is a magnet school with enrollment of 520 students in grades 3–8. While most of my talks in schools are initiated and organized by a member of the school’s faculty or staff, this talk had a different and more poignant source.
Earlier this year an 8th grader, Sofie, reached out to the JFCS Holocaust Center because she was working on a school project that focused on a social justice issue of choice. Sofie chose the issue of antisemitism because she’s Jewish and learned from her family about their experience of antisemitism in the former Soviet Union. Her great-grandparents and grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and Sofie’s goal through this project was to help spread awareness about antisemitism to prevent terrible tragedies like the Holocaust from happening again. She has gone to several classrooms in her school and shared what she’s learned about Jewish history and antisemitism. (Admirable purpose and initiative. Bravo!)
Together with the school’s principal Sara Shackel, Sophie organized the event which was attended by an audience of approximately 90+ mostly 7th and 8th graders plus some 6th graders as well. To prepare for the presentation, the students spent several hours learning about the Holocaust, ancient Israel, etc. (As noted by the principal, North Star is a school for advanced learners, so “they pick things up quickly.”) Also attending the talk were North Star teachers Gwen Minor, David Flint, and Loraine Martin.
My participation was arranged by Penny Savryn, Education & Marketing Manager, and Veronica Siegel, Administrative Program Coordinator, JFCS Holocaust Center.
This office prosecutes federal crimes committed in the Western District of Washington state. Every month the office organizes a special emphasis program which usually ties in with that month’s racial, cultural, gender, or other emphasis or event. This month the program focuses on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Jehiel Baer, Assistant United States Attorney, was part of a team organizing this month’s presentation. The presentation’s goal is for the attendees to hear a Holocaust survivor describe his/her personal experiences as related to the Holocaust, which is why I was invited to tell my story by Julia Thompson, Education Program Manager of the Holocaust Center of Humanity. A second goal was for the audience to get a current perspective on antisemitism and hate crimes in the District and the state, and this was presented by Mimi Cypers, Director for Pacific Northwest Region of Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
The attendees of this month’s presentation were approximately 40 members of the Office staff including Assistant United States Attorney Jonas Lerman and Victim Witness Coordinator Tracy Orcuff.
Brier Terrace Middle School is a public school with an enrollment of 636 students in grades 7 & 8. Per the school’s website, we “strive to create a positive learning environment which enhances and nurtures the social, emotional, physical and intellectual growth of young adolescents. The 5P’s: polite, prepared, prompt, productive, and proud, are emphasized at school and taught and demonstrated throughout our school by students and staff.” The school’s minority enrollment is 48% and its overall academic testing rank places it in the top 30% of WA state schools.
My presentation was organized by teacher Beth Poole, whose preparation of her 8th grade students included: studying the history of anti-Semitism, both past and present; pre-WWII life; Hitler’s coming to power; Nuremberg Laws; racial science and eugenics; ghettos; and work/death camps. Her students also participated in a virtual field trip to the Holocaust Center a week before my talk to help prepare them for it.
Natick High School is an urban/suburban public high school serving 1732 students in grades 9–12. It rates quite well in academic performance, with state standardized test scores vs. state averages of 79% vs.61% in English, 63% vs. 30% in Science, 65% vs. 36% in Physics, and 80% vs. 59% in Math. Per Great Schools Ratings, this suggests that “most students at this school are performing at or above grade level.”
The school also has a strong arts program: in drama it produces two full-length plays each year; it has an award-winning speech and debate team that won the Massachusetts Forensic League State Championship and has had multiple state and national champions; its music program provides students with a rich selection of vocal and instrumental ensembles including Concert Choir and Symphonic Band that have won gold medals in state competition.
My presentation was organized by Social Studies teacher Justin Voldman for 24 students from his class Holocaust and Genocide and a similar number from Global Studies class of teacher Shawn’Tay Burton, who attended the session with her students. Approximately half of the students take the Holocaust elective at some point in their time at Natick. Student preparation was evident by their thoughtful questions during the Q & A. My talk was arranged by Jeff Smith of Facing History and Ourselves.
Methuen High School (MHS) is a public secondary school serving grades 9-12. It has an enrollment of 1950, of which 46% is minority and 47% from low-income families. The Holocaust is taught at MHS as part of English Department studies by teacher Jackie Rubino, who organized my presentation at MHS and uses educational materials from Facing History and Ourselves and other sources. This was my 3rd visit to MHS, and many 9th-12th grade students were gathered in 3 classrooms today for my talk via Zoom. As last year, the students have already studied much of the Holocaust and Human Behavior book from Facing History, “Schindler’s List,” selections from the The World Must Know, Night by Elie Wiesel, plus supplemental materials
As in past years, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the students’ questions, and some of their most thoughtful ones about my feelings, hopes, and concerns during the Holocaust have seldom been asked of me in the 330+ talks I have given to date. I’ve long felt that the Q&A is often the most important part of my talks because it represents our 2-way communication, and I was again pleased with today’s session.
The MHS teachers attending this presentation included history teacher Brendan Cripps, science teacher Jason smith, special education teacher Dan Favreau, and English teacher Lauren Smith
Phillips Academy is a co-educational university-preparatory school for boarding and day students in grades 9–12, along with a post-graduate year. It has a very diverse and international student population of approximately 1100 with a student-to-teacher ratio an admirable 5:1, and an expansive worldview and a legacy of academic excellence.
Founded in 1778, Phillips is one of the oldest incorporated secondary schools in the United States. Per its website, it has educated a long list of notable alumni through its history, including American presidents, foreign heads of state, numerous members of Congress, 5 Nobel laureates and 6 Medal of Honor recipients, and has been referred to by many contemporary sources as the most elite boarding school in America.
My talk to 40+ students was organized by Rabbi Michael Swarttz, the school’s Jewish Chaplain, and it was arranged by Jeff Smith, Resource Speaker Coordinator, Facing History and Ourselves.
The Hastings Museum is housed in a building funded by the Works Progress Administration and dedicated on June 15, 1939. The museum exhibits include Kool-Aid, natural history dioramas, local history, weapons, life of pioneers on the plains, rocks, minerals, and dozens of animal species set in their natural habitats, allowing viewers to get an up-close look at many amazing creatures. The museum features a theater with a 65-foot wide screen and a large domed planetarium.
The museum also organizes special exhibitions and events, and for April 28, the anniversary of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, its Curator of Education Russanne Hoff organized a showing of the documentary film about that uprising, Who Will Write Our History, followed by a presentation by a Holocaust survivor (invitation below). She contacted Omaha’s Institute of Education Kael Sagheer, who in turn recommended me, and I was very pleased to give my talk to an audience of approximately 200 (photo below) who listened attentively and afterwards asked many insightful questions.
Although my talk was by Zoom, as have been all my talks since Covid started in March 2020, when viewing the whole audience in the auditorium arrayed across my computer screen, I felt almost as if I was actually there. I suddenly realized how much I missed giving talks to live audiences and interacting with them, especially with students who often approach me after my talk and share with me how parts of my story relate to situations in their life. I look forward to giving my talks in person once again.
Rodeph Sholom School (RSS) is a coeducational Nursery-through-8th Grade Reform Jewish Independent School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I spoke to approximately 120 students in grades 6 through 8th of the Middle School, whose curriculum recognizes that those years are a transformative time of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development. At its core, the Middle School is designed to provide students with the tools necessary to learn how to evaluate themselves and the world around them.
RSS was the first reform movement Jewish Day School in the United States: sponsored by Congregation Rodeph Sholom, the school started as a pilot project with Kindergarten and 1st Grade in 1970. Today the school is completing its 52nd year, has a student-to-faculty ratio at an admirable 4:6, and strives to raise purpose-driven leaders who are confident, socially responsible, informed, intentional, and passionate.
My talk was organized by Ira Glasser, the school’s Director of Jewish Life and Learning, and arranged by Jeff Smith, Resource Speaker Coordinator of Facing History and Ourselves.