by George J Elbaum
Forum for Dialogue is the largest and oldest Polish non-governmental organization engaging in Polish/Jewish dialogue. Since the future truly belongs to the young, in its School of Dialogue program the Forum educates Polish teenagers about local Polish/Jewish heritage and inspires them to act. Aimed at students of secondary schools, it acquaints them with the history of Jews in Poland and especially in their own towns, with focus on their contribution to the social, cultural and economic development. Since almost all Polish Jews were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust, the role that Jews played in their town’s local history is often completely unknown to today’s students. Thanks to this program, Jews cease to be ”others” and again become neighbors who, despite having perished, are not forgotten. The School of Dialogue program is held throughout the country and reaches around one thousand students annually, and it is as part of this program that I’ve been speaking at these schools in recent years.
Closely associated with educating the students in the School of Dialogue is supporting their teachers and enhancing their knowledge through seminars, workshops, and other educational activities. While the School of Dialogue workshops are led by Forum’s especially trained educators, the success of young people’s commemorative efforts often hinges on their teachers at school, who encourage and advise them. The teachers are also there to help students continue the work of bringing back memory of the local Jewish community once the program itself is over. My presentation today was aimed at these teachers, who were the majority of the audience.
Forum’s educators who conduct the School of Dialogue workshops are especially trained not only in Jewish history and culture in the local region but also how to react to difficult situations such as responding to anti-Semitic comments during workshops, overcoming resistance in the local community, etc. They, too, were invited to join the session.
Also attending the presentation were participants in the Forum’s other programs. Leaders of Dialogue is a program aimed for local activists, typically outside large municipal centers, who are involved in Polish/Jewish dialogue, combating anti-Semitism, teaching about Jewish history and culture and preserving local Jewish heritage. For them, Forum for Dialogue has created a platform for exchanging experiences and best practices, broadening their knowledge and honing their skills. Attending also were participants of the Shared Heritage program: Christian leaders and activists committed to fostering understanding between Christians and Jews in the context of Polish/Jewish history.
My presentation via Zoom was organized and moderated by Forum’s coordinators Julia Machnowska and Maria Sokolowska and translated by Maria Piekarska.