Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA – March 12, 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 5th 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 as well as a gallery experience and an art workshop.

Today’s participants were 10th grade students from the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA, led by teacher Ekta Shah.  Before my talk, The CJM’s educators led the students on an exploration of the new exhibition Show Me as I Want to Be Seen focusing on the photos of Holocaust resistance fighters Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. Today’s event was organized by Cara Buchalter, CJM School Programs Manager, who, prior to introducing me, engaged the students in an excellent dialogue on the meaning of social resistance and encouraged them to speak up and resist when faced with prejudice and injustice in our society.  Luz Brown, CJM Technician, managed the audio-visuals of my presentation including 2 recalcitrant projection screens 😊 and took all the photos (below).  My participation was arranged last December by JFCS’s Program Coordinator, Adrian Schrek and Penny Savryn.  Attending also were Lisa Rosenberg, Ron Glait, Tamara Suarez-Porras, and Suzanne Reich—CJM Educators, plus Quarry Lane teachers Lance Miller, Ron Bialkowski and Marcelo Aranda.

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Thornton High School, Daly City, CA – March 1, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Thornton High School is a public, alternative school with current attendance of 121 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.

My presentation was organized by English teacher Fernanda Morales for 11th and 12th grade students, and she preceded my talk by leading the students in reciting the Daily Affirmation (see photos below).  Attending my talk were also Karla Talkoff, Guidance Counselor, Ki Gaines, Social Worker, and Thornton’s Principal, Dennie Marenco.  Arrangements for the event were made by Adrian Schrek, Director of Educator Development at the Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

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Antioch High School, Antioch, CA – February 25, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Antioch High School has enrollment of 1947 students of high diversity: 48% Hispanic, 22% White, 20% Black, 3% Filipino, 4% all others, and 73% of the total are from low-income families.  Its teaching staff is 83 full-time teachers of which 91% have 3 or more years of experience.  The school’s academic program is divided into 4 Academies: Engineering and Designing a Greener Environment (EDGE), Environmental Studies, Leadership and Public Service (LEAD), and Media-Technology.

My talk at Antioch HS this year was to the 10th grade students organized by English teachers Lynn Romano and Selena Laine as part of their study of Eli Wiesel’s Night, in conjunction with the documentary film Paperclips.  Both Environmental Studies and EDGE academies collaborated to create a meaningful and lasting learning experience for each student. Mrs. Romano and Mrs. Laine both felt that students would be able to better understand the Holocaust through the lens of multiple survivors.

Attending my talk were also Vice Principal Mike Flosi, who gave a heartfelt add-on to my talk, emphasizing the importance of fairness and tolerance in our behavior (the Golden Rule), plus Dr. David House and Vice Principal Karen Clark.

Arrangements for my participation were made by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves.

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Pacifica-Daly City Democrats Club, Pacifica, CA – February 16, 2019

George J Elbaum

Pacifica-Daly City Democrats Club – It started with a Letter to the Editor which I sent to the San Francisco Chronicle.  It was published January 6, 2019 (photo below) and read subsequently by Connie Menefee, the Club’s President.  A week later she emailed me and invited me on behalf of the Club’s Executive Board to speak at their next monthly meeting.  I informed her that I speak primarily to high school audiences because the students are “old enough to understand, yet young enough to have an open mind,” and learning that, she took the initiative to arrange the 10th grade enriched English class of Pacifica’s Terra Nova High School to attend my talk, even though the Club’s meeting would be on a Saturday morning.  The meeting’s venue at the Sharp Park Golf Course Restaurant and a student-discounted breakfast might have clinched the deal with Alyssa Jenkins, Head of Terra Nova’s English Department.  While Ms. Jenkins could not attend, 40 of her students arrived as scheduled, accompanied by Janet Pon, mother of two of the students.

After ending my talk, two situations occurred that surprised me.  During the Q&A, several of the club members, some my age and some older, stood up and offered their own Holocaust-related memories. One spoke of his father, a tough US Army sergeant in WWII who was fluent in German, served as a translator for Gen. George Patton during Patton’s visit to a just-liberated concentration camp, and the horrors they saw during that visit haunted him for the rest of his life.  Another member, in his 90s, described receiving a post card from a relative in Lithuania shortly before the Nazis overran it, and sadly, no communication thereafter.

A pleasant surprise afterwards was that Connie Menefee and I are both aviation buffs, which led to a very enjoyable discussion.  It started because Connie’s email address includes the names of 2 great airliners, and led to her father who owned and flew several unique and/or antique airplanes, and whose obituary was titled “The Man Who Loved to Fly.” When she identified these airplanes I asked for photos, and 2 of them are shown below.

In organizing this event, Connie (who also took the event’s photos) was ably supported by her husband, Mike Haase, Club “publicist” James Crow, and Pacifica Rotarian, Tom Turek, who provided audio-visual support for the program.  Also attending it were Club Officers, Pacifica City Council members, San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley and Pacifica Tribune Editor & Publisher, Sherman Frederick.

Emails from the Audience 

Shortly after my talk I received several emails from the audience, which I much appreciated.  Below are two excerpts from these emails.

  • Your mother was an amazing woman.  Her cleverness in buying goods that could always be sold in an emergency, being able to shuttle you around to different families to survive, managing to move to America.  Brings a tear to my eye.
  • You have devoted your life to display the evil of hatred & to educate us on how to stop it. You inspire us to do the right thing & not tolerate hatred or prejudice. It’s imperative that “Never Again” resonates with all of humanity.

students from Terra Nova High School

after talk, students from Terra Nova High School

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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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