International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration was organized and presented by the JFCS Holocaust Center in partnership with the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, and the Consulates of Germany, Israel, and Luxembourg. My testimony was introduced by California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis (see below) and followed by ADL Regional Director Seth Brysk and California State Senator Scott Wiener. My participation in today’s event was arranged by Sadie Simon, Education Program Manager of JFCS Holocaust Center
Riverdale Country School is a co-educational, independent, college-preparatory day school in New York City serving Pre-K through 12th grade. It is located on two campuses covering more than 27.5 acres in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York. It currently serves 1,150 students, of which 575 are in the Upper School (grades 9-12) and whose student-to- teacher ratio of 6:1 is half the national average of 13:1. According to Niche’s 2023 Private School Rankings, Riverdale is ranked the 2nd best private high school in New York City and the 3rd best private K-12 school in the United States.
In addition to college-preparatory courses in math, science, and humanities, Riverdale offers “maker” programs that combine science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, as well as courses in robotics and coding, plus interdisciplinary courses to encourage students to draw connections across disciplines.
Alumni list includes John F Kennedy and Robert F Kennedy, as well as many other high-level diplomats, executives, well-known actors, artist and writers, such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Carly Simon.
My presentation was organized by Tom Taylor, Head of the Upper School, Julie Choi, Assistant Head of the Upper School, and Charlie Berger, a senior in the Upper School and a member of the Riverdale Assembly Committee, a group of students and faculty deputized to invite speakers for the school’s special assemblies, such as the Commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Charlie heard me speak several years ago in the NY middle school which he was attending and now took the initiative to contact me about speaking at Riverdale. The audience was the 575 students plus 75 faculty and staff of the Upper School.
Pacaso is a real estate company headquartered in San Francisco with most of its 180+ employees working remotely all across the US, Mexico and Europe. Established in late 2020, it has grown rapidly to become the category leader by buying luxury homes and selling fractional ownership and management of these properties (rather than the traditional timeshares which are the rights to use a fixed amount of time in a condo). Pacaso now operates properties in 40 locations. As a fast-growing startup its staff is a diverse group of people – individuals from all walks of life including salespeople, lawyers, engineers, maintenance personnel, designers etc. – “with a common goal of making second home ownership possible and enjoyable for a wide range of people.” My talk was organized by Jacquie Hines, Pacaso’s Talent Manager, with express purpose to educate and broaden Pacaso’s staff by facilitating their knowledge of and communication with a wide range of people who could become Pacaso’s customers. My talk via Zoom was arranged by Julia Thompson and Morgan Romero of Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity, with Jeff Grossman moderating and giving a thoughtful introduction.
Gateway High School is a small (519 students) charter school which focuses on small class size, high academic standards, and a close student-to-faculty relationship, as well as a strong partnership with its students’ families and community. The results are impressive:
More than 75% are students of color
More than 40% are the first in their family to attend college
More than 25% have a diagnosed learning disability
75% qualify for free or reduced-price lunch
Yet more than 96% have gone to college, double the California average!
This success is reflected in Gateway being one of seven schools featured on the U.S. Department of Education’s Doing What Works website, being named a Newsweek 2020 Best Public High Schools (only 6% of all public schools in the U.S. are so named), being designated as a California Distinguished School and a 21st Century School of Distinction and among the 10 most diverse public high schools in California.
What accounts for this amazing success? The major factor is undoubtedly Gateway’s special support programs for students aimed at its mission “to send 100% of our students to college.” Specifically:
-Each student is paired with a faculty advisor who guides him/her through the school experience and serves as a consistent contact for families.
-Gateway’s Learning Center provides support for all students, especially those with learning differences, in the forms of tutorial support, learning strategy instruction, intensive reading instruction, assistive technology, and more.
-90% of students utilize Gateway’s after-school tutoring program which offers tutoring in one-on-one and small-group settings to students.
-Students who are significantly below grade level in reading participate in Gateway’s intensive reading program. On average, students who complete this program increase their reading by up to four grade levels.
My audience of 125 students in 10th grade Humanities (in 2 classrooms) were well prepared for my talk, having spent the last six weeks studying the Holocaust, beginning with the end of WWI through the major events of the 1933-1945 period, the phases of the Holocaust, how the major Nazi ideologies connected with these events, and reading Elie Wiesel’s Night.
My talk was organized by humanities teacher Molly Orner and attended by teacher Paul Heasman and student teachers Aaron Marestaing and Mina Bluethenthal. It was arranged by Sadie Simon, Education Program Manager, JFCS Holocaust Center.
New London-Spicer High School (NLSHS) is part of the New London-Spicer School District which has enrollment of approximately 1600 K-12 students of which the high school’s 9-12 enrollment is approximately 600 students. The 2 towns are approximately t0 miles apart in an area of rolling hills and large lakes with an economy based on agriculture plus white collar employment (community college, hospital, several clinics) plus a surprisingly artsy community. The school district is considered to have high quality education (92% of high school students continue to college) and is also a powerhouse in athletics (2 recent NFL players, many state titles, and the winningest coach in girls’ basketball!)
My presentation was held in the school’s large, state-of-the-art auditorium (see photo below) to an audience of approximately 120 students (mostly Juniors) plus a few adults, and was organized by teacher Abigail Duly (English College Literature & Composition) who was introduced to me by my wife’s high school classmate. As is often the case, starting students to ask questions in the Q&A is not easy when the audience is large and the NLSHS students were no different, but we did get the questions flowing eventually and had productive Q&A session.
A couple weeks after my visit to New London-Spicer HS I received by mail a large flat envelope containing several dozen Thank You notes from the students, a lovely note from teacher Abigail Duly and the school’s Wildcat T-shirt. As has been our habit on receiving student notes & letters after my talks, my wife Mimi read each note aloud while I listened and absorbed it, and we excerpted those phrases/sentences that resonated with us and added them to the webpost – below.
I like how you said that it’s up to our generation to make sure something like the Holocaust doesn’t happen again. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you gave us.
I will do my part and stand up against any type of discrimination.
You have done more for us by telling us your story than you could imagine. You taught us more about the Holocaust than any school could.
I’m very happy that you survived – a person is immortal if their story continues on.
I really appreciate your essay at the end to not dwell on the past and not to focus on the future.
Hearing you talk about how you don’t look forward to things stuck with me because I know it can be tiring to find something to look forward to all the time. That is why recently I’ve only been taking things one at a time.
I found what you said about life to be most impactful, such as you won’t get anywhere in life by going against change all the time – you must go with it.
I think it’s safe to say that I speak for everyone by saying that you gave us all a whole different perspective on life, and to never take anything for granted.
I was always told to follow the golden rule as I was growing up, but I never fully understood the true impact it could have.
I hope that you get all the happiness and relaxation in the world after the world’s awful start to your life.
Your dedication to follow your dream has inspired me a great deal to follow my own.
I won’t forget what you told us about the golden rule. I wish everyone could treat others with respect.
You were able to tell us things no one else could.
Your story showed us that we can overcome even the hardest of conditions. The fact that you not only survived but that you thrived afterwards was inspiring.
I thought that I had been through a lot for my age but hearing everything you went through helped shed some light to my perspective on life.
Your story really moved me to appreciate how lucky and fortunate I am to have the life I do have. I couldn’t imagine how much different I would be if I went through the unfortunate circumstances you went through.
I find it absolutely astonishing that despite the harsh treatment you faced, you still choose to show kindness to everyone.
What really interested me was that most people didn’t want to write their story.
Sharing your story with the world is such a vulnerable thing to do, but I believe you are shaping the next generation(s) to never allow this to happen again.
I truly believe you escaped death so many times in your life so you could go on to make an impact on so many people.
Your story made we want to stand up to prejudice and stand up for others.
I really noticed how you did not hate. You don’t, but you easily could. You showed that you should never hate. That is truly an amazing lesson to get to know.
You have made a huge impact on so many people and we all thank you for sharing your story.
You have made the situation so much more clear and sincere to each and every one of us.
Thank you for showing us what true bravery looks like. It means the world.
I can only imagine how hard it must be to share such a traumatic experience.
Thank you for helping me become more aware of the world around me.
I thought it was very interesting how you’ve had a lifelong passion for flying, but the aircraft you saw as a child was a Nazi plane. I’m glad that the evil of the Nazis didn’t ruin your passion.
I wanted to thank you for wishing our football team luck at the upcoming game, because I truly believe you’re the reason we made it to the U.S. Bank Stadium this Saturday. 😊
Woodinville High School has an enrollment of 1,708 students in grades 9-12 and an enviable academic performance of 96% graduation rate (in top 5% in WA), overall student testing rank in top 10% with reading proficiency of 90% (top 5% in WA) and math proficiency of 71% (top 20% in WA). Minority enrollment is 28% of the total.
My presentation by Zoom was organized by (English and multilingual learner) teacher Rebekah Sandusky to a small group of students all of whose families are and/or themselves are originally from different countries or are first generation Americans. Thus their first language of each one was other than English, the majority being Spanish but also Thai, Portuguese, Chinese, and others. As this might be the first time that some of these students were learning about the Holocaust, the teacher arranged for them a showing of video “The Path to Nazi Genocide” and reading of Elie Wiesel’s Night culminating in an in-depth discussion of genocide. The overarching question during this unit has been: “How can genocide be prevented?”
Ending the presentation was a thoughtful and rewarding Q&A. As there was not enough time to answer all posted questions when the class ended, the teacher continued the Q&A by asking me the questions one-by-one and recording my answers for subsequent review by the students.
Jeff Grossman of the Holocaust Center for Humanity introduced me to the students and managed my PowerPoint on Zoom, and Jeff Smith of Facing History and Ourselves joined us as a guest listener.
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.