Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA – February 7, 2019

by George J Elbaum

This is the third year of The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) program of student tours organized around a current exhibit and paired with talks by Holocaust survivors arranged by the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS).  These talks offer the students a unique opportunity to connect art, architecture, and history, to humanize historical events and cultivate empathy and to strengthen links between past and present, and it is the 4th time that I have spoken as part of this program.

The CJM current tour and talk, Resilience, Holocaust, and the Architecture of Life, asks the question: “How do we move forward from the past while vowing to never forget?”  The architecture of The CJM is a testament to history and resilience: it is a celebration of life and strength designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, a child of Holocaust survivors, with deeply embedded Jewish symbolism and meaning.  A first-hand testimony by a Holocaust survivor (me on this day) is at the heart of this 2 ½ hour Museum experience, which includes an exploration of the symbolism of The CJM’s architecture through the lens of resilience and artistic reflection.

Today’s participants were 8th grade students from the Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City, CA, led by teacher Chelsea Mandell.  After my talk, The CJM’s educators led the students on an exploration of the new exhibition Show Me as I Want to Be Seen. Today’s event was organized by Cara Buchalter, CJM School Programs Manager, supported by Luz Brown, CJM Technician, and my participation was arranged by JFCS’s Program Coordinator, Adrian Schrek and Nikki Bambauer.  Attending also were Lisa Rosenberg and Ron Glait, CJM Educators.

great smiles!

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Albany High School, Albany, CA – January 30, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Albany High School (AHS) has approximately 1200 students in grades 9 – 12, and a highly diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural population: 37% White, 30% Asian/Pacific Islander, 5% African-American, 17% Hispanic/Latino, and 11% multi-ethnic.  Of these, 9% are English Learners, 25% are fluent-English proficient, and 19% qualify for the Free/Reduced Price Lunch Program.   Because of its strong emphasis on academics, AHS is ranked a California Gold Ribbon School, also California Distinguish School, and its high school rankings for 2018 are an impressive #660 in National Rankings and #114 in California.  The school’s SAT College Readiness rate is 82% vs. California state average of 48%.  With a strong emphasis on STEM, AHS has many STEM teams competing in Science Bowl, National Ocean Science Bowl, and the Science Olympiad.  AHS is also known for its excellent music programs which include 2 concert bands, 2 jazz bands, and a string orchestra.

The reason for AHS diversity is due in part to the fact that UC Berkeley’s family housing complex is located within Albany Unified School District.  Thus 31% of Albany residents are foreign born, and 74% have completed a bachelor’s or graduate degree.  Many families are attracted to Albany because of its strong support for education.

My presentation to the entire AHS student body was part of the school’s effort to raise all students’ awareness of the importance of social justice, tolerance and equality vs. racial, religious, or ethnic intolerance and the resulting hatred and violence.  On entering the school’s main lobby I was impressed by a prominently-displayed poster: “IN THIS SCHOOL WE BELIEVE: BLACK LIVES MATTER – WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS – NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL – SCIENCE IS REAL – LOVE IS LOVE – KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING.”  I was also impressed by a display of dozens of self-portraits drawn by the students themselves (see photos.)

Because it took some time for the entire student body (1200) to fill the bleachers on both sides of the gym, my talk started late and there was no time for the Q&A, my favorite part for interacting with the students.  However, quite a few of them remained in the gym, as usually happens after my talks, to thank me personally and shake my hand, and two of the students made this talk very memorable for me.  One of the students thanked me for coming, paused, and quietly reached out and hugged me, while the other student added one phrase that I will always remember: “Thank you for living!” 

My presentation was organized by teacher Hannah Edber, who is also the advisor to the school’s student Leadership Council.  Arriving at AHS I was met by its Principal, Alexia Ritchie, from whom I learned about the school’s current focus and progress, and I sensed from her a very hands-on approach to problem solving, something that has been invaluable throughout my life.  Attending my talk were also faculty, support staff, mental health and college counselors, and administrators.

My visit was arranged by Nikki Bambauer, Program Coordinator of the Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center. 

starting the presentation

 

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St. Peter’s Catholic School, San Francisco, CA – January 15, 2019

by George J Elbaum

St. Peter’s Catholic School, founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1878, is an elementary and middle school with approximately 300 students in Kindergarten through 8th Grade.  The school is one of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Catholic Schools and a vital part of the parish, a predominantly Latino community in San Francisco’s Mission District.  Since its foundation, St. Peter’s has served all economic levels of the community by providing a well-rounded academic and Catholic education in a partnership with parents, who are recognized as the primary educators of their children.  The school recognizes its important role in the growth and development of students and their families, and it thus promotes Gospel values and fosters peace, justice, integrity, honesty and love for learning.

As part of that effort, St. Peter’s has a month-long study of the Holocaust for its 8th grade students taught by Nina Martinez Fuaau, Language Arts Teacher, who organized today’s event and took photos during it.  This was my 4th visit to her class at St. Peter’s, and she prepared her students for it by reading Elie Weisel’s Night and viewing Schindler’s List.   As in past years, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and especially the Q&A, always my favorite part of any talk because it reflects the students’ interests and natural curiosity.  Upon my arrival (in heavy rain) I was greeted at the school’s parking lot by teacher Fuaau and two helpful and enthusiastic students, Bianca and Kaitlin, and Bianca escorted me back to my car afterwards.

My presentation was arranged by Nikki Bambauer, Program Coordinator of the Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center.

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World Affairs, San Francisco, CA – December 12, 2018(PM)

by George J Elbaum

World Affairs is a San Francisco civic organization based on the belief that solutions to the world’s most challenging problems are found when the private, philanthropic, and public sectors work together.  As reflected by its motto, Conversations That Matter, World Affairs “convenes thought leaders, change makers, and engaged citizens to share ideas, learn from each other, and effect change.  Connecting people in this way leads to informed thinking, conversation, and actions that transcend traditional boundaries and lead to lasting solutions to global problems.”  World Affairs operates primarily through the following programs:

  • Global Policy Forum explores political, economic, security and environmental policy and practice through more than 100 moderated conversations every year which are open to our members and the public.
  • Global Philanthropy Forum, a project of World Affairs, is a diverse global community of individual philanthropists, grant makers, social investors and executives of private and public foundations committed to international causes.
  • Education Program supports and inspires the global leaders of tomorrow with a variety of opportunities and resources for students and educators to broaden their knowledge of international affairs.

For over 40 years, inspiring and equipping young people to be global citizens has been critical to the World Affairs mission.  The Education Program therefore focuses on building global awareness, leadership and civic engagement in students and educators.  It offers opportunities to meet with international experts, work with local nonprofits, participate in global conversations, explore international careers and study abroad.

One part of the Education Program is the Student Ambassador Program: beginning in October, Student Ambassadors meet twice a month for seven months, working in small groups that select an issue of global importance they want to explore in greater detail.  Each group is matched with a Bay Area organization that is actively working to address that issue, giving students a deeper understanding of what it takes to successfully tackle complex international challenges. The program culminates with Global Issues Night, where each group has the opportunity to share their understanding and insights on their chosen issue with the World Affairs community.

I was asked to speak to a group of Student Ambassadors, parents and educators focused on the issue of genocide, and the date was selected because of its proximity to the UN International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide.  The event was organized by Nikki Brueggeman, World Affairs’ Education Program Officer, and arranged by Nikki Bambauer, Program Coordinator of the JFCS Holocaust Center.  I was introduced to the audience by Linda J Calhoun, Member of World Affairs’ Executive Committee and Board of Trustees.  Also in attendance was World Affairs staff member Angelina Donhoff.

starting the talk

the audience

 

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Castro Valley High School, Castro Valley, CA – December 12, 2018(AM)

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.

CVHS has a long-time connection with Facing History and Ourselves through several teachers on staff who have accessed support and materials over many years.  With recent shifts in faculty through retirements and other changes, Katie Stacy now represents a new generation of Facing History teachers at the school.  She is introducing the resources to others on the campus, including veteran and newer members of the staff.  One result of my talk is that some teachers may now choose to attend an upcoming seminar with Facing History so that they can broaden and deepen their exploration of the subject next year.

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 made it especially memorable for me were the personal questions which have never been asked of me in the 200 talks I’ve given (such as “What are you most proud about?”) which required me to pause and dig deeply into my feelings to answer.

My presentation was organized by Katie Stacy and arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves, who gave the introduction to my talk with emphasis on the importance of first-hand witness testimony.  Other teachers attending the presentation were teacher librarian Dana Adams and Education Specialist Pauline Facciano, and afterwards I enjoyed a brief conversation with Principal Blaine Torpey.

introduction by Jack Weinstein of Facing History

the presentation

 

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Jewish Family and Children’s Services “Next Chapter”, San Francisco, CA – December 9, 2018

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 two dozen students from different high schools and backgrounds, plus their parents, thus launching the Next Chapter program.  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 Nikki Bambauer, JFCS Holocaust Center’s Program Coordinator, while our Sunday afternoon event was managed by Yedida Kanfer, Manager of Library, Archives and Education Services, with support from Harley Kalter, Pell University Fellow, who ably handled my iPhone to photograph the event for this website.

with students

with whole audience

 

 

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UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, Berkeley, CA – November 15, 2018

by George J Elbaum

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business offers an undergraduate level course entitled Leadership, whose purpose is for the students to develop not only their understanding the theory but also the practice of leadership in various organizational settings.  My talk to students enrolled in this Leadership course was organized by one of the students, Marika Vigo, who contacted the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) of San Francisco with the following explanation and request for a speaker:

“The class emphasizes not just learning leadership but also practicing leadership (in order to improve the group).  My small group in the course thought it would be impactful to have a Holocaust survivor come speak so we can better understand the importance of empathy and leadership in polarizing times.  In light of the Pittsburgh massacre, we want to hear a Holocaust survivor’s testimony to ensure we can be leaders who do not let history repeat itself.”

After the talk and an extensive Q & A, a smaller group of students approached me with additional and varied questions, ranging from my experience as a rocket engineer to addressing public intolerance in the current political climate.  I was also interviewed for the UC Berkeley student newspaper, The Daily Californian, and the resulting article entitled “Empowering and emotional”: Holocaust survivor speaks about anti-Semitism, need for tolerance (http://www.dailycal.org/2018/11/18/empowering-and-emotional-holocaust-survivor-speaks-about-anti-semitism-need-for-tolerance/) is perhaps the best-written summary of my talk because it touches on each of its important points.

When I was contacted by Nikki Bambauer, Program Coordinator of JFCS’s Holocaust Center, I eagerly agreed to do it and looked forward to many serious, in depth questions from this audience.  I was not disappointed.  Aiding Marika Vigo in organizing this event were Kendall Swenson, Huy Cuong Huynh, Tatum Holdaway, Raffi Terteryan, and Prince Obah. Thank you all.

Letter from Student

Several days after my talk at UC Berkeley I received an email from a student who attended it.  The 1st and 3rd paragraphs (quoted below) made me feel both gratified and humble that I was making a difference, but the 2nd paragraph made me sad that my mother, who died 15 years ago, could not read or hear these words which would have pleased her very much.

  • I don’t have the words to adequately express how honored and grateful I am to have had the chance to hear your story, but what I can tell you is that your words have given me hope for a better, kinder world. I have begun to share your message with my friends and family members, and I will continue to do so as long as I am able.
  • As I am sure many students have told you, your mother’s ingenuity and bravery are unparalleled to anyone else’s in my life. While it very well may have been luck, as you say, that ultimately guided your path, it is evident that your mother was always watching over you. She is a true symbol of courage.
  • Thank you for your willingness to speak to youth across the country. The future is ours, and we will do our best to make it a place that your generation would be proud to live in.

(More photos are coming…. I hope!)

starting1.jpg

starting the talk

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