Fletcher Middle School, Palo Alto, CA – February 20, 2020

by George J Elbaum

Fletcher Middle School has a diverse enrollment of 715 students in grades 6-8 and has earned high rankings by NICHE:  A+ Overall and in Academics, and 6th place among 2,575 Best Public Middle Schools in California, with student proficiency of 84% in reading and 79% in math.  The school is named after Ellen Fletcher, who was an inspirational civic leader in Palo Alto, but also a survivor of the Kindertransport, who at age 10 in 1939 was sent for her safety by her parents from Nazi Germany to a foster home in England.  This truly resonated with me, as I was sent at age 8 in 1947 for my safety by my mother from Poland to Palestine (though an accident in France sent me back to Poland).

My talk to 225 7th graders was organized by English teacher Nerissa Wong-VanHaren.  The students were well prepared, having read Diary of Anne Frank and studied propaganda, scapegoating, Nazi concentration camps, and current day antisemitism.  The students even prepared a stack of questions on 3×5 cards, but unfortunately my talk was delayed by 15+ minutes until the students settled in the auditorium, so even with shortening my talk there was enough time for only one question.  This was disappointing, as the Q&A is most important because it allows the students to express what they did or didn’t understand and what interests them.  However, several students managed to approach me afterwards with questions (including Rap asking about my most embarrassing baseball story), hand shakes and thank you’s, so I felt that my message was heard.

Arrangements for my talk were by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator of JFCS Holocaust Center.

 

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Thornton High School, Daly City, CA – February 11, 2020

by George J Elbaum

Thornton High School is a public, alternative school with current attendance of 124 students, primarily in grades 11-12, and its continuation program is designed to provide the opportunity for students to earn academic credits and meet the requirements for a high school diploma.  In a broader sense, Thornton’s mission is to build an educational community which would reintegrate at-promise students into educational, social and community activities and to develop feelings of self-worth, tolerance and community awareness, thus becoming productive and responsible citizens.  To foster community involvement, for example, students must complete at least 75 hours of community service and earn elective credits.  Students are referred to Thornton for a variety of reasons; each has his or her own story on what obstacle(s) got in the way of staying on credit track to graduate on time. With collaboration between the students themselves, families, staff, and community, the majority thrive at Thornton and earn enough credits to graduate on time. Several even end up graduating early, helped by smaller class sizes, increased teacher-student-family contact, individualized instruction, and the ability to earn credit in a variety of ways.

This was my second visit to Thornton, and it was arranged and organized by English teacher Fernanda Morales for 11th and 12thgrade students.  As last year, she preceded my talk by leading the students in reciting the Daily Affirmation, and afterwards presented me with the school’s Citizen of the Year award (see photos below).  Also present were Sandy McGurty, Special Education Paraprofessional, and math teacher Annika Kah.

most of the group

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NextRoll, San Francisco, CA – February 10, 2020

by George J Elbaum

A few days before my January 27 talk commemorating the International Holocaust Remembrance Day (see previous post), I received an unusual email.  The writer, Robert Goren, heard about the planned speaking engagement, checked my website and read some excerpts of my story and Q&A. He wanted to attend but could not due to business travel, so he emailed me introducing himself.  Being an executive at a San Francisco-based marketing technology company who had visited Auschwitz and was deeply moved by the experience, he wrote that my presentation would have a strong impact on his colleagues and himself, and he asked if I would consider presenting my story for his company.  His initiative truly impressed me, and while I’ve never presented in a corporate setting, his forthright approach caused me to respond immediately: yes, let’s do it.

NextRoll is a marketing technology company, headquartered in San Francisco, which fosters a culture of diversity and inclusion through its employee resource groups, which bring together members and allies from different communities.  One of these groups is ChaiRoll, NextRoll’s Jewish employee resource group which hosts events to educate about Jewish history and traditions, celebrate Jewish holidays and give back to the community.  Robert organized my presentation in recognition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. While it was hosted in NextRoll’s San Francisco headquarters, it was also live-streamed to offices in New York City, Salt Lake City and Chicago, so more than 200 people from across the company listened to my message.  During the Q&A I was especially pleased by one very important question live-streamed from the New York office: “How can we best honor the victims of the Holocaust?” and also the very first question because it dealt directly with a memorable personal experience re an unrepentant Nazi: “Have you ever met any of the German rocket engineers who were brought to the United States after WWII?”

Thanks to the ChaiRoll Board of Directors for coordinating the event (Robert Goren, Jessica Grist, Jessica Brown, Sam Shapiro, Will Yeo, Erez Suissa), to Claudia Villanueva (Diversity & Inclusion Program Manager) and to the entire NextRoll leadership team for supporting it.  The superb photography is the handiwork of Laura Finnerty.

audience, center stage

audience panorama

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Manny’s in the Mission, San Francisco, CA – January 27, 2020

by George J Elbaum

Manny’s in the Mission is an unusual San Francisco institution which prides itself on being “a people powered and community focused meeting and learning place which combines a restaurant, political bookshop, and civic events space.”  Its stated goal is “to create a central and affordable place to become a better informed and more involved citizen.”  In addition to hosting its own civic and arts related programming, Manny’s offers its events space to nonprofits, activists, and civic organizations to do their work.

Today was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 75th anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp where the Nazis murdered 1.1 million people, of which 960,000 were Jews.  To commemorate it, the JFCS Holocaust Center organized my presentation at Manny’s.  The Holocaust Center advertised the event to the entire JFCS Holocaust Center community, including young professionals, descendants of Holocaust survivors, parents/families, and the Bay Area community in general.  As a result, approximately 100 people came to the event and filled Manny’s meeting space with standing room only for latecomers.  I was very gratified when, after my talk, many people, young and old alike, approached me to share their family’s history involving the Holocaust.

The event’s successful city-wide promotion was organized by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator, JFCS Holocaust Center, while all venue-related matters were managed by Jack Boger, a volunteer and friend of Manny’s.  Friends who came at my invitation were Vicki Buder, American Technion Society (ATS) Senior Director of Development for the San Francisco Bay Area, Yonatan Melamed, ATS Associate Director of Development for the SF Bay Area, Ziv Lautman, a Board Member of the local ATS chapter, and Beate Boultinghouse, a local friend for many years, and of course my wife, Mimi Jensen.

the audience

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American Indian Public Charter School, Oakland, CA – December 12, 2019

by George J Elbaum

American Indian Public Charter School (AIPCS), is a K-8 charter school with predominantly low-income, minority students and current enrollment of 794 that has had an unusual history since its founding in 1996.  Its current incarnation, however, is definitely an admirable success, earning a rating of 9 (out of 10) from Great Schools based on its test scores, equity overview, and year-to-year academic progress.  According to Great Schools, its demographics are 47% Asian, 34% Black, 11% Hispanic, 5% White and 3% all other, with 76% students from low-income families, yet its students score a proficiency rating in math of 73% vs. 40% state average and 65% in English vs. 51% state average, especially impressive since 33% of AIPCS are English learners.  Furthermore, its advanced STEM courses participation in Algebra I is an impressive 60% vs. 25% state average and pass rate is 80% vs. 79% state average.  Also unusual are the statistics of its teaching staff: with 19 students/teacher (vs. 22 state average), its teachers with 3 years of more experience are only 46% of total vs. 91% state average, and full-time certified teachers are 76% of total vs. 98% state average.  This means that AIPCS has a much higher percentage of young teachers, and in my 250 talks to date I’ve noticed repeatedly how responsive are students to young teachers.   (An example of this are students enthusiastically greeting these teachers in the halls, and when I ask the teachers if these are their current students I learn that they were in the teacher’s class a year or two ago!)

My presentation was to the AIMS College Prep Middle School (6-8), specifically to 6 classes totaling 180 7th grade students in English and History, and was organized by teacher Jennifer Ko, who impressed me with her handling of this large, youthful group with an amazingly friendly yet authoritative manner.  The students were reading The Diary of Anne Frank and learning the basics of the Holocaust and the role of propaganda and policy.  They’ve watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and read excerpts of child experiences from the Holocaust and many have families who fled from the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

In addition to Ms. Ko, also attending the presentation were the teachers of the other 7th grade classes; Ms. Yuan, Ms. Solis, Ms. Vasquez, Mr. Worley, and Ms. Rodriguez, along with the Dean of Students, Mrs. Glass, and the Head of School, Mr. Williams.

Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator of JFCS Holocaust Center, arranged the presentation and attended it.  Also attending were Larry and Lisa of JFCS Next Generation Speakers Bureau.

starting the talk

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Castro Valley High School, Castro Valley, CA – December 10, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Castro Valley High School (CVHS) is a comprehensive 9-12 public high school with 2800+ students of high diversity.  In the 10th grade, students study the history of the Holocaust as part of the coverage of World War II, and English teacher Katie Stacy takes them on a parallel journey using literature including Maus by Art Spiegelman as well as a presentation by a Holocaust survivor. Many students in that grade level have also read The Diary of Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel’s Night.

This two-pronged, cross-disciplinary approach ensures that students not only have a factual background and an understanding of how the Holocaust evolved in the context of World War II, but also a sense of the psychological and individual toll connected with this history.   Maus is drawn from personal experiences of a child of survivors, a graphic novel depicting the relationship between a father and son deeply impacted by history.  The legacies of the Holocaust are not only global and geo-political, as the students learn from their study of history and literature, but also personal and rooted in the family lore of all who survived.

The Q & A session is always my favorite part of any presentation because it often focuses not only on facts but also on personal feelings, and today’s session was no exception.  What makes Q & A especially memorable for me are questions which have never been asked of me in the 250 talks I’ve given to date (such as today’s “How do you want our generation to pass on your story and your words?”), which required me to pause and dig deeply into my feelings to answer.

This was my 4th visit to CVHS and my presentation was once again organized by teacher Katie Stacy, who unintentionally gave me a most touching memory as I was about to leave CVHS.  She said that she had bought 3 copies of my book, Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows, and asked me to autograph the books for her 2 sons and her niece, adding that she would give these to them when they’re old enough to benefit from my story.  A bit surprised by her comment, I asked how old are they, and her reply amazed me and made me feel truly honored: “Dylan is 3 years old, Athena is 17 months, and Carson is 7 months old.“  Thank you for your trust, Katie!

In addition to Katie Stacy, I met again and remembered from my previous visits librarian Dana Adams and school guard Eric, with whom we chatted about our years motorcycle riding.  Also attending my talk was Jared Kushida of Facing History and Ourselves.

starting…

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Jewish Family and Children’s Services “The Next Chapter”, San Francisco, CA – December 8, 2019

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.

Among its many services, the JFCS provides the facilities and educational programs on the Holocaust for visiting teachers, adults, and student groups.  My presentation today was to several dozen students from different high schools and their parents, participating in this year’s Next Chapter program, as I also did last year.  The Next Chapter is an introduction to the history of the Holocaust for 9th through 12th graders.  In The Next Chapter, teens develop profound connections with Holocaust survivors.  By participating in the Next Chapter, students learn about the Holocaust through survivor testimony and hearing from several different speakers over the course of the program. By learning to recognize the value in others’ stories and experiences, students learn to appreciate their own story and identity, as well as gain moral courage and a sense of social responsibility.

My talk was arranged by Penny Savryn, JFCS Holocaust Center’s Program Coordinator, who also introduced me to the audience.  The Sunday afternoon event was managed by Yedida Kanfer, Manager of Library, Archives.

introduction by Penny Savryn

the audience

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