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, which are 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 6th 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 Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo, CA, led by teacher Jorja Santillan. This talk was actually a fortuitous and very welcome event for me: in each of the previous 7 years I had spoken to her students at Arroyo but later in the school year, and when she asked me to return for the 8th time, I could not as I had already made arrangements to be speaking in Poland that week. Thus, when Penny Savryn of the JFCS Holocaust Center asked me if I could speak to Arroyo students at the CJM, I jumped at the chance and immediately asked if the teacher guiding this group would be Jorja Santillan. The reply was “Yes” and rest was today’s unexpected and wonderful reunion at the CJM.
This year the audience was 65 10th grade students studying the Holocaust-based unit taught by teacher Jorja Santillan, who accompanied the students to the CJM together with teacher Rangel Hernandez and security guard Laura Noddin. Based on my previous visits, I knew that the student audience would be enthusiastic and well-prepared, and once again I observed how Jorja’s enthusiasm and energy transfer to her students, whom she prepares and guides through the history and ramifications of the Holocaust. In her own words: “It’s so important that they understand how complex the Holocaust is through different stories, and how crucial it is that this history be kept alive. I tell my students that now it’s their responsibility to carry it on along with their own histories.”
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 and took all the photos (below). Also attending the talk were the CJM staff personnel Emily Breault, Ron Glait, and Isobel Aveston.