University of San Francisco at JFCS, San Francisco, CA – October 25, 2018

by George J Elbaum

Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) is a San Francisco Bay Area social services organization whose mission statement is “Serving individuals and families of all faiths and backgrounds, guided by the Jewish value of caring for those in our community most in need.” As such, JFCS carries a special responsibility within the Jewish community for reaching out to children, the aged, those with special needs, and for the resettlement and acculturation of refugees and immigrants.

Among its many services, the JFCS provides the facilities and arranges presentations on the Holocaust for visiting student groups.  My presentation today was to 17 students from the University of San Francisco taking a course entitled Jews, Judaism, and Jewish Identities, taught by Professor Aaron J. Hahn Tapper, who is the Director of the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice at University of San Francisco.

My talk was arranged by Nikki Bambauer, JFCS Holocaust Center’s Program Coordinator, who also ably handled my iPhone to photograph the event.  Thank you, Nikki 😊!

A couple of weeks after the talk I received a page of USF stationery from Professor Tapper with his “Thank you” note plus those from the dozen+ students attending my talk, each note one or two sentence long.  Reading these notes, I found in most of them a sentence or two that really appealed to me, so I excerpted these and added them to my post (below).

  • I really appreciated how you vulnerably expressed your feelings. I will never forget your story.
  • I cannot ever begin to imagine the trials you have had to go through to become the man you are today.
  • I really appreciate you feeling vulnerable enough to share.
  • Please never stop telling your story, and thank you so much for educating us.
  • You inspire me so much.
  • Your speech was incredibly powerful and I appreciate how open you wee with us.
  • Your emotion is so raw after so many years, and to show the emotion takes a lot of strength.

| Leave a comment

Central Catholic High School, Lawrence, MA – October 4, 2018 PM

by George J Elbaum

Founded by the Marist Brothers in 1935, Central Catholic High School enrolls approximately 1,280 students from diverse backgrounds “to form a caring community of faith, learning, and service.” The school prepares its students for college which almost all of them enter, and simultaneously “it teaches and promotes social justice and compassion to make the world a better place.”  To this purpose the school offers a one-semester elective course “Facing History & Ourselves: The Holocaust & Human Behavior” in its Religious Studies Department.  As taught by teachers Anne Martino and Tim Hart, the students explore the history, causes, and aftermath of the Holocaust and reflect on racism, social justice, the importance of global awareness and their own potential for making a difference.

Anne Martino’s and Tim Hart’s classes of 44 seniors (total) attended my presentation, which was arranged by Judi Bohn of Facing History and Ourselves.  Also in attendance were social studies teacher John Sears, Guidance Counselor Brother John Kachinsky, and Assistant Principal/Academic Dean Jeanne Burns. This was my 3rd time speaking at Central Catholic, and just as during the previous 2 times, the overall atmosphere was very welcoming and the students well prepared and very enthusiastic.  (In fact, one of Tim Hart’s students who attended a previous talk chose my talk for an art project, and the resulting photo-collage is hanging on my office wall.)  I truly look forward to return visits to Central Catholic.

Letters from Students and Teachers

Several weeks after my talk at Central Catholic High School I received a large envelope with letters from its students and teachers.  As has been our custom for some years, my wife Mimi and I read the letters together, with Mimi reading aloud while I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally, and we jointly chose statements from the letters that particularly resonated with us, and we excerpted these for this post.  The large number of excerpts and the sensitivity shown in their content reflect the students’ preparation and the class discussion that followed, and thus the quality of teaching.

  • From your and your mother’s courageous escape from the Nazis to your admittance into MIT, the obstacles you have overcome in your life have given me a hopeful reminder that no matter how difficult life may get, we can overcome anything if we put our minds to it.
  • You have inspired me to show more love and less hate, because nothing good can ever come from hate.
  • You have touched my life and I am sure that you have touched many others as well.
  • Your story really got to me and made me realize how grateful I am for my life and especially how grateful I am for my mother.
  • You have changed my outlook on life and helped me to realize that with hard work anything is possible. Thank you so much!!!
  • I hope, as you do, that my generation learns from the past and from stories such as yours to ensure that nothing like the Holocaust could ever happen again. I can assure you that I will try my best to always live by the Golden Rule and respect all people.
  • Your story about being given the sugar cube really impacted me. Although it’s a small piece of your life, it taught me a large lesson.  It taught me that some of the smallest gifts (or may be insignificant at the time) have some of the largest impacts.
  • Your legacy will always live on with me.
  • My favorite part was listening to you talk about your wife. Even though that was perhaps not the focus, it’s comforting to know how much love still exists out there.  Thank you again for speaking.
  • I am so glad there are people like you on this Earth. You taught me so much about the important things in life.
  • I appreciate your courage immensely. Your morals even after what you have been through are so inspiring.  Thank you so much, never change.
  • Your story inspired me greatly, and now I will always remember to keep pushing forward and fighting for what I want.
  • Seeing you stand up in front of fifty high school students inspired me on numerous levels. After your talk I sat in silence as I recollected the story you had just presented.  You changed my – and fifty other people’s – lives Thursday afternoon.
  • When you came to my school and shared your personal experience the Holocaust became more than just a textbook lesson from a dark time in history.
  • Your story helps to express the importance of moving forward and not looking back into the past. I left after your talk more focused than ever on my present time and what I can do now.  I also left as a more accepting person overall.  Please keep sharing your story!
  • Not only did your story captivate me and teach me, but it also motivated me. Your message of the Golden Rule resonated heavily with me and motivates me to remain a teacher to those who are ignorant, ignorant of respect and kindness.
  • One point you stated that you’ve had a good life made me realize that although life may have its hardships, you can get through them by being positive. You are such a positive and loving person despite what you have gone through.
  • Hearing you speak really guides me to another level deeper, to the history and life’s meaning. I felt lucky to be able to hear your story and thoughts.  Thank you for doing this and wish our world will be in peace.
  • At first I was kind of iffy about going to hear you speak – how could this guy know anything about the Holocaust if he was only 4 years old when it happened?! But I found your story fascinating and amazing.  It was truly an honor hearing you speak and is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
  • Your talk opened my eyes to a world that no one should ever have to go through.
  • I think you were destined to stay alive so you could inspire others and remind them just how precious each moment of life is. I am very thankful that you eventually decided to share your journey with people.
  • Before hearing your story the Holocaust was simply a devastating event in history that we all read about in our textbooks.
  • I hope that you never stop talking about your experiences because that might be the reason why something like the Holocaust never happens again.
  • Your willingness to be vulnerable and share such an integral part of your life caused many of us to consider the impact of our words on society. I am amazed by your strength, resilience, and humility.
  • I hope you continue to do these speeches and educate our generation so that we can pass these stories onto the next generation.
  • There is just something so unique, so real and authentic about you speaking in person.
  • I looked up your book Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows because I was extremely impressed by the way you are able to leave the past in the past and the future in the future.
  • Living in the moment has become somewhat uncommon in today’s world, as many focus on the mistakes of the past while being nervous of the future. I will certainly try to live more for “today” rather than live in what could have happened or what will happen.
  • The passion with which you speak can be felt by all who listen to any of your stories.
  • I experienced your story first hand and can now pass it on to others with much more importance than a history book will ever have.
  • You never let the horrific experience of your childhood hinder you or your dreams.
  • I am so glad that I had this life-changing experience. I cannot thank you enough!
  • Hearing you speak is always inspiring. You remind me how strong we can be.  You give a sense of hope to people.
  • You also remind me how important it is to teach about the Holocaust. I find it particularly relevant in the current political and cultural climate.
  • The responsibility to share your story must weigh heavily on you at times, but I’m grateful that you have the strength and courage to do so.
  • I am in awe of your mother’s sacrifices, just as I pray that no other mother will have to do the same for her children.

 

| 2 Comments

Snowden International School, Boston, MA – October 4, 2018 AM

by George J Elbaum

Snowden International School is a unique, open-enrollment public high school in Boston’s historic Copley Square.  With slightly under 500 students, it is a multicultural, multilingual college preparatory high school with a rigorous academic curriculum plus an international studies and world language focus.  As a part of the international-themed curriculum, students are required to take 4 years of a foreign language, and the school has the goal of having 25% of each student class participate in exchange-immersion programs to foreign countries, which in past years have included China, Japan, Spain, France, Canada, Jamaica, Ireland, England and Rwanda.  For the 2018-2019 school year students will be travelling to France, Germany, Poland and Cuba.   Snowden International thus offers its students an accelerated college preparatory curriculum, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma and Certificate program which is quite unique for an urban public high school.

On the local level, Snowden International conducts special projects such as visits to many of world class museums that Boston offers, collaboration with the Boston Public Library, an “I Dream” theater project with Emerson College, the August Wilson Monologue Competition in New York, and community service hours required of its students.

On a personal level, I was very impressed with the open friendliness of the many students who approached me and introduced themselves when I first entered the room, and the feeling remained throughout my visit.  The event was organized by Paula Bowles, Snowden’s History and Social Studies teacher, and Laurie DeMarco, Visual Arts & Theater teacher.  My talk was also attended by teachers Kiki McCarthy, Heidi Noce, Seth Peterson and Nancy Allen.   Snowden’s Headmaster, Eugene Roundtree (who presented me with a Snowden 2022 t-shirt) also attended.  The visit was arranged by Judi Bohn of Facing History and Ourselves.

Letters from Students

Several weeks after my talk at Snowden International School I received a large envelope with Thank You notes from the students attending my talk.  As has been our custom for some years, my wife Mimi and I read each of the notes, with Mimi reading aloud while I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally.  We jointly chose statements from the notes that particularly resonated with us, and we excerpted these statements and added them to this web post.  Also included was a hand-made “THANK You” note with very cute “Sending hug    loading…” drawing on the reverse side.  It gave both Mimi and me a great big 🙂 and I’ve added it to the photos below.

  • The memories you could recall from your childhood are marked by innocence but still charged with meaning.
  • Thank you for sharing with us that each of the six million lives brutally ended in the Holocaust was also filled with stories.
  • After listening to your words, I decided to become a person like you. Even if I have past memories that I don’t want to share out, I’m going to boldly share them to make it never happen again.
  • I know that the world changes because of a person like you.
  • Every time you shared your words, there was a deep impression inside my heart. Thank you.
  • Keep speaking & sharing your experience with the world.
  • I enjoyed hearing about your experience & getting to hug/see you. Thank you.
  • After your speech I will always remember to speak up about things when something is going on and to not be afraid to say something.
  • You’ve taught me a lot, to be strong and reach as far as I can to my dream goal.
  • Thank you for being so brave, sharing your past, and for being an amazing and optimistic person. Considering what you went through, you’ve really inspired me.
  • I really appreciated your wise words the other day. This experience will forever stick with me.
  • I, too, am a story teller, and your dedication to sharing your message with others is really important to me. I’ve often wanted to share my own ideas and experiences with others, and your talk reminded me of how important that is.
  • Please don’t stop giving these talks.

| Leave a comment

Charles Wright Academy, Tacoma, WA – September 24, 2018

by George J Elbaum

Charles Wright Academy (CWA) was one of the 2 schools where I spoke for the first time in October 2010.  Now it was the 9th consecutive year that I spoke at CWA’s annual Global Summit, which this year consisted of the 55 students of the CWA freshman class plus 36 high school students and 8 teachers from Colombia, England, Germany and Poland.

The Global Summit is a 10-day program designed to promote peace and social justice by exposing the visiting students to and developing their understanding of the concepts of universal human rights, justice, fair trade and sustainable life styles, and by demonstrating how the choices that each of us makes every day can impact the world. The core of the Summit is a series of speakers whose personal experiences reflect directly on these subjects, and their presentations are followed by group discussions on these very concepts.

This year’s Global Summit was again organized and managed by Ann Vogel, CWA’s Director of International Programs.  She also was one of six Global Ambassadors for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), and her son and daughter both graduated from CWA.  Ann was assisted by teachers Ana Carolina Gonzalez and Alfonso Soriano from Colombia; Krissie Shaw and Michelle Mudge from England; Lennart Marx and Diemo Schneider from Germany, Ana Szewczyk-Hereta and Kasia Krolik from Poland; and CWA teachers Lynn Ellis, Rafe Wadleigh, Christina Bertucchi, and David Bishop.  CWA teachers and students hosted the visiting delegations.

| Leave a comment

Holocaust Center for Humanity, Seattle, WA – August 20, 2018

by George J Elbaum

The Holocaust Center for Humanity (HCH) arranged my very first two talks to students in October 2010, and has continued to arrange many more for my subsequent visits to Seattle.  The Holocaust Center teaches the lessons of the Holocaust, inspiring students of all ages to confront bigotry and indifference, promote human dignity, and take action. The Center reaches 40,000 students a year in schools and communities around the Pacific Northwest with educational resources and programs, and it provides immersive learning experiences to thousands of additional students at their education center and museum in which it holds exhibitions and educational seminars.  One powerful example of exhibits is last year’s exhibit Anne Frank – A History for Today, which drew audiences of up to 500 per day, while educational seminars are exemplified by presentations such as those I’ve given at HCH in past years and again today.

The Holocaust Center has also organized the Student Leadership Board (SLB) which consists of approximately two dozen middle and high school students from various high schools in the greater Seattle area.  Through project-based learning, the SLB seeks to develop in its members the skills for leadership and teamwork, for creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving, while gaining a deeper understanding of the Holocaust and thus making a positive difference in their schools and in their communities.  As members of the SLB the students:

  • Participate in twice-monthly meetings at the Holocaust Center in downtown Seattle.
  • Work in teams to plan and carry out a meaningful project that supports the Holocaust Center’s mission and provides real-world leadership experience.
  • Provide feedback on the Holocaust Center’s programs and serve as ambassadors.
  • Have the opportunity to hear from community leaders visiting the Holocaust Center.
  • Learn more about leadership, the Holocaust, human rights, genocide, and related local issues.
  • Work with the Holocaust Center’s museum and local Holocaust survivors.
  • Gain valuable leadership tools and experience, and earn recognition from the Holocaust Center at the completion of a year as part of a prestigious cohort of Student Leaders.

I focused today’s talk to the Student Leadership Board members who attended it, most of them with members of their families.  The talk was organized by Julia Thompson, the Holocaust Center’s Education Resource Coordinator, and I was introduced to the audience by Ilana Cone Kennedy, the Holocaust Center’s Director of  Education.  Photography was a team effort of Amanda Davis, the Center’s Development Associate, and Mimi Jensen, my wife😊.  Attending also was Dee Simon, Baral Family Executive Director of the  Holocaust Center who, together with Ilana, surprised me after the Q&A with a big birthday cake, as  today was my 80th birthday.

with SLB members Zoe, Annabelle, Brooke, Sonja, Sara, Ben, Sarah, Hannah, and Michael

 

| Leave a comment

KIPP King Collegiate High School, San Lorenzo, CA – May 16, 2018

by George J Elbaum

KIPP King Collegiate High School is a public charter high school opened in 2007, named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and dedicated to getting students from low-income communities to and through college.  Its stated mission is therefore “… to prepare students to live inspired and ethical lives by developing within them extraordinary academic skills, a life-long passion for learning, and the resolve to change their own lives and the world around them through acts of excellence, justice, humanity, and courage.”  Its current enrollment of 620 students shows its diverse demographics:  49% Latino, 27% Asian/Pacific Islander, 15% African American, and 9% Other.  Of these, 62% qualify for federal free or reduced-price meals.

Overcoming its challenges, KIPP King Collegiate produces an outstanding academic record for its students: English test scores 59% above state average, Math test scores 42% above state average, 4-year graduation of 92% vs 82% state average, and 87% of its students meet UC/CSU entrance requirements vs. 43% state average.  That is very impressive!

As part of the World History course Holocaust and Human Behavior, teacher Nora Gannon organized my visit and presentation to her 10th graders and prepared them for it with an impressive hand-out: a 5-page “Holocaust Survivor Visit Preparation” which included a full page of specific and excellent guidance for the students; a short bio on me with an explanation of “Hidden Children”; a map of Jewish ghettos which the Nazis established in Europe; a map of Nazi extermination camps; a map of the Warsaw ghetto; photos from the Warsaw ghetto; and a whole page of possible questions the students might want to ask me.  That is truly an excellent preparation!  Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves arranged my visit to KIPP King Collegiate and gave an excellent introduction to my presentation.

the audience

 

| 2 Comments

Taylor Middle School, Millbrae, CA – May 10, 2018

by George J Elbaum

Taylor Middle School first opened in 1939 and is a true historical landmark with its Spanish Mission architecture, prominent dome and red clay tile roof.  Over these 79 years the school has grown with the times and with the needs of an ever expanding and diverse population of families who live in the City of Millbrae.  This is reflected in its mission statement, which calls for “….educating all students regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or gender.  Our purpose is to provide information and skills necessary for students to become responsible, healthy, young adults.  Our expectation is that every student will succeed, and it is our responsibility to provide a safe learning environment with high academic standards.”

Today the school serves approximately 800 students and has very strong academics, with student test scores 39% higher than state average in English and 58% higher in Math.  The student body is highly diverse: 41% Asian, 21% Hispanic, 21% White, 9% Filipino, 5% two or more races, 3% Pacific Islander, and 25% are from low income families.

To end the school year, all 8th grade students participate in an 8-week Holocaust unit developed by the Language Arts department. This unit begins by exploring the historical context of World War II and includes the study of several allegories such as The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss and Terrible Things by Eve Bunting. The students then examine several supplementary films and stories such as “Life is Beautiful” and Teaching Tolerance’s “One Survivor Remembers.” By this time, students have received ample background and context in order to fully-comprehend, grasp, and empathize with the unit’s core text, Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl.

My presentation to 300 8th grade students and several parents was organized by 8th grade Language Arts teacher Stephanie Heaton and arranged by Nikki Bambauer, Jewish Family and Children’s Services Program Coordinator.  Attending also were the school’s 8th grade teachers of all core and elective classes. What made this presentation so very different from all of my previous (180+) ones was the surprise entrance that Stephanie Heaton and her students arranged for me: two students with a big red “Welcome, Mr. Elbaum” sign met me outside the auditorium and escorted me, arm-in-arm, inside and down an aisle to the applause of a standing  audience of 300 (see photo below).  Absolutely unbelievable!  Thank you, Stephanie, and I can hardly wait till the next time 😊!

| Leave a comment