Milpitas High School, Milpitas, CA – December 8, 2017

by George J Elbaum

Milpitas High School (MHS) has a large and highly diverse student body – 3300 students, 37% Asian, 21% Filipino, 19% Hispanic, 19% White, and 4% African-American – and was the very first school in northern California to develop a Facing History course.  Jack Weinstein, Facing History and Ourselves’s Senior Program Advisor (formerly Director), taught at MHS from 1978 to 1997 and integrated Facing History’s resources early on within many of the school’s English courses. Then, in 1990, he developed a full-semester Facing History course focused on the Holocaust and Human Behavior. That course was an inter-disciplinary English and Social Studies course for 3 years, and then it evolved into a Social Studies elective focused not only on the Holocaust but on multiple case studies of genocide, human rights, and issues of race in American history.  When Weinstein left MHS in 1996 to establish the Bay Area office of Facing History, it was continued by other teachers so the course is among the longest-running electives in the school’s history.  In addition, nearly all freshman English courses now include a multi-week unit on the Holocaust with the study of Elie Wiesel’s Night as its centerpiece.

This was my 4th visit to MHS, and the students attending this talk were again well-prepared and we had a good, engaging Q&A session.  The students were from the multiple Social Studies courses taught by Jennifer Loomis and Caitlin Bellotti, who organized this event and who pass their own enthusiasm to their students.  Also attending the talk were Francis Rojas, MHS Principal, and Ruben Mata, MHS’s at-risk intervention specialist.   Arrangements for my talk and the introduction were again made by Jack Weinstein of Facing History.

Letters from students

A couple of weeks after visiting MHS I received a large envelope with a dozen letters from the students.  As has become our habit by now, after dinner my wife Mimi read each one aloud as I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally. We were touched by the students’ sensitivity, insight and heartfelt honesty, and we felt very gratified by the thoughtful responses and the empathy with which they related to my story.  The statements in these letters that resonated with us are excerpted below.

  • You inspired me to work hard and to be successful in whatever I do.
  • When I got home the first thing I did was tell my mom how I met you and how much you and your mother inspire me. You made me work harder in school, football and everything I do now.
  • I am so sorry that something as intense and grotesque as the Holocaust happened and affected you and millions of other people too.
  • I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to live your life in constant fear and anxiety every day.
  • I wish I could write more than this letter but my English has a limit.
  • Dear George, we appreciate the time and effort you gave.                                                          In exchange we will take your story and change how we behave.                                                  (The entire letter was written in rhyming couplets, as above.)
  • You inspire me to help other people who are in need of getting back into society due to their bad habits.
  • Your story helps me to fit into society because I came to America as an immigrant and I didn’t know what to do as a kid.
  • I wish people like you would live on forever and tell your stories so that we can learn what you guys went through as a kid.
  • Just thinking about sacrificing my pet in order to save my own life makes me feel beyond sad.
  • Reading in a book or a video just doesn’t fully explain how hard it was to be a Jewish little kid doing no wrong.
  • Joining this Facing History class I thought it was just going to be a regular history class, but I was wrong. This is now one of my favorite classes.
  • Hearing your story was a good learning opportunity to never take life for granted. Also to pay it forward at any opportunity to the less fortunate or people in need.

About gelbaum

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