World Affairs, San Francisco, CA – December 12, 2018(PM)

by George J Elbaum

World Affairs is a San Francisco civic organization based on the belief that solutions to the world’s most challenging problems are found when the private, philanthropic, and public sectors work together.  As reflected by its motto, Conversations That Matter, World Affairs “convenes thought leaders, change makers, and engaged citizens to share ideas, learn from each other, and effect change.  Connecting people in this way leads to informed thinking, conversation, and actions that transcend traditional boundaries and lead to lasting solutions to global problems.”  World Affairs operates primarily through the following programs:

  • Global Policy Forum explores political, economic, security and environmental policy and practice through more than 100 moderated conversations every year which are open to our members and the public.
  • Global Philanthropy Forum, a project of World Affairs, is a diverse global community of individual philanthropists, grant makers, social investors and executives of private and public foundations committed to international causes.
  • Education Program supports and inspires the global leaders of tomorrow with a variety of opportunities and resources for students and educators to broaden their knowledge of international affairs.

For over 40 years, inspiring and equipping young people to be global citizens has been critical to the World Affairs mission.  The Education Program therefore focuses on building global awareness, leadership and civic engagement in students and educators.  It offers opportunities to meet with international experts, work with local nonprofits, participate in global conversations, explore international careers and study abroad.

One part of the Education Program is the Student Ambassador Program: beginning in October, Student Ambassadors meet twice a month for seven months, working in small groups that select an issue of global importance they want to explore in greater detail.  Each group is matched with a Bay Area organization that is actively working to address that issue, giving students a deeper understanding of what it takes to successfully tackle complex international challenges. The program culminates with Global Issues Night, where each group has the opportunity to share their understanding and insights on their chosen issue with the World Affairs community.

I was asked to speak to a group of Student Ambassadors, parents and educators focused on the issue of genocide, and the date was selected because of its proximity to the UN International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide.  The event was organized by Nikki Brueggeman, World Affairs’ Education Program Officer, and arranged by Nikki Bambauer, Program Coordinator of the JFCS Holocaust Center.  I was introduced to the audience by Linda J Calhoun, Member of World Affairs’ Executive Committee and Board of Trustees.  Also in attendance was World Affairs staff member Angelina Donhoff.

starting the talk

the audience

 

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Castro Valley High School, Castro Valley, CA – December 12, 2018(AM)

by George J Elbaum

Castro Valley High School (CVHS) is a comprehensive 9-12 public high school with 2800+ students of high diversity.  In the 10th grade, students study the history of the Holocaust as part of the coverage of World War II, and English teacher Katie Stacy takes them on a parallel journey using literature including Maus by Art Spiegelman as well as a presentation by a Holocaust survivor. Many students in that grade level have also read The Diary of Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel’s Night.

This two-pronged, cross-disciplinary approach ensures that students not only have a factual background and an understanding of how the Holocaust evolved in the context of World War II, but also a sense of the psychological and individual toll connected with this history.   Maus is drawn from personal experiences of a child of survivors, a graphic novel depicting the relationship between a father and son deeply impacted by history.  The legacies of the Holocaust are not only global and geo-political, as the students learn from their study of history and literature, but also personal and rooted in the family lore of all who survived.

CVHS has a long-time connection with Facing History and Ourselves through several teachers on staff who have accessed support and materials over many years.  With recent shifts in faculty through retirements and other changes, Katie Stacy now represents a new generation of Facing History teachers at the school.  She is introducing the resources to others on the campus, including veteran and newer members of the staff.  One result of my talk is that some teachers may now choose to attend an upcoming seminar with Facing History so that they can broaden and deepen their exploration of the subject next year.

The Q & A session is always my favorite part of any presentation because it often focuses not only on facts but also on personal feelings, and today’s session was no exception.  What made it especially memorable for me were the personal questions which have never been asked of me in the 200 talks I’ve given (such as “What are you most proud about?”) which required me to pause and dig deeply into my feelings to answer.

My presentation was organized by Katie Stacy and arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves, who gave the introduction to my talk with emphasis on the importance of first-hand witness testimony.  Other teachers attending the presentation were teacher librarian Dana Adams and Education Specialist Pauline Facciano, and afterwards I enjoyed a brief conversation with Principal Blaine Torpey.

introduction by Jack Weinstein of Facing History

the presentation

 

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Jewish Family and Children’s Services “Next Chapter”, San Francisco, CA – December 9, 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 educational programs on the Holocaust for visiting teachers, adults, and student groups.  My presentation today was to two dozen students from different high schools and backgrounds, plus their parents, thus launching the Next Chapter program.  By participating in the Next Chapter, students learn about the Holocaust through survivor testimony and hearing from several different speakers over the course of the program. By learning to recognize the value in others’ stories and experiences, students learn to appreciate their own story and identity, as well as gain moral courage and a sense of social responsibility.

My talk was arranged by Nikki Bambauer, JFCS Holocaust Center’s Program Coordinator, while our Sunday afternoon event was managed by Yedida Kanfer, Manager of Library, Archives and Education Services, with support from Harley Kalter, Pell University Fellow, who ably handled my iPhone to photograph the event for this website.

with students

with whole audience

 

 

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UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, Berkeley, CA – November 15, 2018

by George J Elbaum

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business offers an undergraduate level course entitled Leadership, whose purpose is for the students to develop not only their understanding the theory but also the practice of leadership in various organizational settings.  My talk to students enrolled in this Leadership course was organized by one of the students, Marika Vigo, who contacted the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) of San Francisco with the following explanation and request for a speaker:

“The class emphasizes not just learning leadership but also practicing leadership (in order to improve the group).  My small group in the course thought it would be impactful to have a Holocaust survivor come speak so we can better understand the importance of empathy and leadership in polarizing times.  In light of the Pittsburgh massacre, we want to hear a Holocaust survivor’s testimony to ensure we can be leaders who do not let history repeat itself.”

After the talk and an extensive Q & A, a smaller group of students approached me with additional and varied questions, ranging from my experience as a rocket engineer to addressing public intolerance in the current political climate.  I was also interviewed for the UC Berkeley student newspaper, The Daily Californian, and the resulting article entitled “Empowering and emotional”: Holocaust survivor speaks about anti-Semitism, need for tolerance (http://www.dailycal.org/2018/11/18/empowering-and-emotional-holocaust-survivor-speaks-about-anti-semitism-need-for-tolerance/) is perhaps the best-written summary of my talk because it touches on each of its important points.

When I was contacted by Nikki Bambauer, Program Coordinator of JFCS’s Holocaust Center, I eagerly agreed to do it and looked forward to many serious, in depth questions from this audience.  I was not disappointed.  Aiding Marika Vigo in organizing this event were Kendall Swenson, Huy Cuong Huynh, Tatum Holdaway, Raffi Terteryan, and Prince Obah. Thank you all.

Letter from Student

Several days after my talk at UC Berkeley I received an email from a student who attended it.  The 1st and 3rd paragraphs (quoted below) made me feel both gratified and humble that I was making a difference, but the 2nd paragraph made me sad that my mother, who died 15 years ago, could not read or hear these words which would have pleased her very much.

  • I don’t have the words to adequately express how honored and grateful I am to have had the chance to hear your story, but what I can tell you is that your words have given me hope for a better, kinder world. I have begun to share your message with my friends and family members, and I will continue to do so as long as I am able.
  • As I am sure many students have told you, your mother’s ingenuity and bravery are unparalleled to anyone else’s in my life. While it very well may have been luck, as you say, that ultimately guided your path, it is evident that your mother was always watching over you. She is a true symbol of courage.
  • Thank you for your willingness to speak to youth across the country. The future is ours, and we will do our best to make it a place that your generation would be proud to live in.

(More photos are coming…. I hope!)

starting1.jpg

starting the talk

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Monte Vista High School, Danville, CA – October 30, 2018

by George J Elbaum

Monte Vista High School (MVHigh) is a 9-12 public school with a student body of almost 2500 students which is 61% Caucasian, 21% Asian, 9% Hispanic, and 9% for all others.  The school has a strong focus on academic excellence, which resulted in significantly increasing SAT scores for the last 3 years consecutively, and it’s therefore a 4-time California Distinguished School and a National Blue Ribbon School.   MVHigh even has College Connect, which allows students to enroll in a shortened high school schedule to attend college courses in their 11th and 12th grades and complete up to 30 units aligned with UC and CSU requirements.  Thus 96% of graduating students attend either a 4-year college or a 2-year college.  Athletics are not short-changed by academics, with MVHigh teams winning league and even state championships in 2016-2017 in half-dozen sports.

MVHigh is also responsive to student initiatives, as I witnessed regarding my talk.  One of its students, Alexander (Sasha) Shvakel, attended a talk I gave last year at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, and afterwards he contacted me and asked if I would be willing to do it at his school in Danville.  I agreed, and he took it upon himself to bring me to MVHigh.  Relying on his energy and diplomacy, he obviously succeeded… TWICE: first in March and now with his history teacher Nick Jones.

Nick is also the school’s basketball coach, and a photo in his classroom shows his 2014 team which won the California Division 1 State Championship.  Pointing to the photo, Nick told me that the tall player in the back row is Spencer Rust, MVP of the East Bay Athletic League that year, and who just graduated from MIT, my alma mater!  Nick’s students were well prepared for my talk, which resulted in a very active Q & A session with historical questions about the Holocaust as well as about societal situations and bigotry in the current political climate.  Some of their questions were asked for the very 1st or 2nd time in the 200 talks I’ve given in the past 8 years.

My genuine thanks to both Nick Jones and Alexander Shvakel, and also to Tracy Johnson, MVHigh staff, for her timely “guidance” of a traffic-worn traveler.  Attending my talk was also teacher Alison Perusso, who organized my talk at MVHigh last March.

Letters from Students

A week+ after my talk at Monte Vista I received a large envelope containing Thank You letters from the students.  Last evening after dinner, as has been our custom, my wife Mimi and I read these letters together, with Mimi reading each letter aloud while I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally, and we would jointly choose the statements that particularly resonate with us and excerpt these – see below.

  • I imagine it is difficult to talk about it even now, over 70 years later, but it means a lot to me that you did. Your story helped put into context not only the Holocaust, but also other people who, like you, are going through or have gone through tough times in their lives.  From war veterans to sexual assault survivors, your story helped me understand how difficult going through something like that can be.
  • It is important for people to understand not only the cost of war, but also the cost of hatred and senseless violence, as well as the sheer horrors of the Nazi regime, especially for those who are anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi, or favor any group that preaches hatred towards others.
  • I hope that you will continue giving your presentation and spreading your story, so that more and more people are able to better understand what it was like to live through the war, and better appreciate what everyone went through.
  • Your generation is the last that witnessed what happened, and without your knowledge we lose a huge part of history.
  • After hearing your story and learning how lucky you were, I spent the rest of the day thinking about how fortunate I am to have heard it. I hope your story will have the same effect on other students as it had on me.
  • Your stories were deep and impactful, and they inspired me. I aspire to have a fraction of the strength your mother showed in my day to day life.
  • I believe it is necessary and good to hear how the Holocaust affected people so that it is not forgotten. What you learned from it is how hate leads to evil and that we should practice kindness – it is very important.
  • Reading textbooks gives one a general idea of the Holocaust, but your presentation brings it down to a personal scale better than any textbook or article can.
  • It is extremely important that every generation remembers these atrocities in order to never again to commit them, especially in this time when hate crimes are sadly still rampart.
  • I could never imagine the fear that you and your family must have felt on a day to day basis. You did such a fantastic job telling your story.  I will never forget this experience.
  • It is a truly once in a lifetime experience to learn about something that seemed so long ago, from someone who lived through it. I feel as if I learned more from your story than I have from my years at this school.
  • I appreciate you taking the time to educate new generations, like mine, on what it was like to live in Poland during the second World War.

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Katherine Delmar Burke School, San Francisco, CA – October 26, 2018

by George J Elbaum

In 1908 Katherine Delmar Burke founded her school to fill an obvious need: young women who wanted to be educated enough to attend college faced often-insurmountable barriers. More than 100 years later, her school (Burke’s) still has the same mission: “to educate, encourage and empower girls. The school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.”  Burke’s now has approximately 400 students (K-8) and a unique 3.5-acre campus in a residential district of San Francisco with mostly open space: a large grass athletic field, a sports court and two multipurpose courtyards with play structures. Its facilities include a large library, innovation labs, science labs, several art, music and drama studios, and a gymnasium/ auditorium. The faculty-to-students ratio is 1:7, and the average tenure of faculty at Burke’s is 10 years.

Burke’s prides itself in having its students graduate with a strong academic foundation and also a love of learning — not just for the sake of grades. This reflects Burke’s long-standing commitment to preserving the spirit of exploration while students master traditional skills and concepts. Upper School students have a comprehensive program that includes core academic subjects plus art, music, drama, and physical education, while 7th and 8th graders also have classes in public speaking and service learning plus many electives. The teaching of computer skills is integrated into the curriculum.

This was my third talk at Burke’s in 3 years, and it was attended by Burke’s 8th grade students. It was organized by teacher Debbie Yoon, who has enhanced her teaching unit on the Holocaust and Japanese Internment camps by creating a reader which, in addition to Anne Frank’s diary, includes different perspectives from the voices of other youth during times of oppression. Her students thus read not just the critical parts of Anne Frank’s diary, but also about various young upstanders during the Holocaust, some poetry, and other teenagers’ diaries from that time period. The students’ final project will be to write a personal essay about a moment in time when they stood up for what they believed in. This is a way for them to process the essential question for the year: “What does it mean to be human during times of injustice and hardship, and what can I do about it?” The students were very enthusiastic, as in previous years, and during the post-talk Q & A they asked many thoughtful questions, some that I’d not been asked until now, requiring me to stop and think deeply before answering. This was exactly the kind of Q & A that makes it my favorite part of the talks.

My talk was arranged by Brian Fong of Facing History and Ourselves (who also took all photos) and was also attended by Susan Deemer, Upper School Makery Facilitator, and Erica Obando, Communications and Advancement Associate.

Letters from Students

A week after visiting Burke’s I received a large envelope with 40+ letters from the 8th grade students and one from their teacher.  As has become our habit by now, after dinner my wife Mimi read each letter 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 their responses to my story.  Those statements in the letters that resonated the most with us are excerpted below.  In addition, several of the letters also included a decoration or a drawing, and I’ve added two of these to the photo gallery.

  • After you left, my friends and I talked about how lucky we are to never have experienced genocide or bias based on violence. San Francisco is a safe, liberal city, but America as a whole is becoming more and more polarized.
  • Just this past weekend there was a terrible shooting at a Synagogue. The hate and ignorance from which the Holocaust was born is not yet dead.
  • You are helping America by teaching young people tolerance and love rather than fear and hate.
  • Since you’ve come to Burke’s I’ve noticed that I value life more and I try to do things that I hadn’t thought of doing before. So thank you, thank you for making an impact on my life.
  • I was horrified to hear about the Synagogue shooting this past weekend.  It shocked me to see anti-Semitism happening to that extent in this world today.
  • It pains me to think that some people are now scared to practice their own religion.
  • I hope you never feel silenced. You voice and your story are powerful.  Use them for good during this time of hate.
  • Your story inspires me to be the good in our world, standing up for what I believe in. I will always remember to “be for things, not against them.”
  • You made me acknowledge the sadness of the past, but you also made me laugh and smile, from your embarrassment stories and your bright, kind smile.
  • I hope you enjoyed speaking to us just as much as I enjoyed listening to you!
  • I love the advice you gave us: You have the choice in your life to stand up for what you believe in or stand back and watch hate spread. You have the choice of to choose love over hate.
  • Thank you again and again, and I loved my hug at the end. I hope that everyone was smiling in the photo!
  • I found it truly inspirational how you always try hard to look for the good in things and simply forget the bad. You have inspired me to try that method during my own life.
  • I hope you continue to inspire others with your story, for it has already made a huge impact on my life.
  • After everything that you lost and went through, you kept walking forward.
  • You are working to inspire students to be the change they wish to see in the world, which I greatly thank you for.
  • P.S. – I have a ginormous sweet tooth as well! 😊
  • I think my class and I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the Holocaust, but now it is a little bit easier to grasp.
  • I love your mother’s strong and brave character. (My mother would be very happy to read this, were she still alive.  Thank you.)
  • Though I’ve read about the stories of Holocaust survivors in the past, I didn’t realize how impactful hearing someone speak in person would be until you began speaking of your experience. Your speech helped make this nebulous cloud of statistics and words on a page into a real, grounded event.
  • It is easy to look past numbers, but the way you connected Holocaust statistics to San Francisco’s population helped me understand how big the impact actually was.
  • As you spoke about the people and families who risked their lives to hide you and save you, I realized that it is true: we all have a choice to help others (being an Upstander), or to just watch (being a Bystander).
  • I will always remember what you said about remembering only the positive things that happened in your life, and I have started sing this method in my own life.
  • I want you to know that your story has touched me so deeply and I will carry it with me as I write my essay about speaking up for what you believe in.
  • Your story has inspired me greatly and I have learned how lucky I am because of it, and how it is always important to defend your rights. You have deeply moved me.
  • Thank you sincerely for the work you’ve done and will continue to do.  Thank you for inspiring thousands of kids across the nation and beyond.
  • From the teacher: The students are our futures. Thank you again for helping shape them.

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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.

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