Yad Vashem launches academy to train future leaders in Holocaust awareness

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A hundred valiant souls braved the freezing rain of Jerusalem and the influx of new COVID-19 cases on January 5 to witness the deployment of what is designed to be the next big step in boosting awareness of the Holocaust for future generations.

It is no coincidence that the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Educational Leadership Academy is opening its doors now, the first yahrzeit of the late philanthropist and just weeks before the arrival of International Holocaust Awareness Day (January 27).

The academy grew out of concern over reports that fewer people in the world know much about the Holocaust 80 years after it destroyed a third of the world’s Jewish community. It is also a time when anti-Semitism and Holocaust distortion is gaining ground, especially online, and surviving witnesses are dying. It was specifically designed to “create a community of leaders able to network to educate people around the world to be forces to deal with the growing threats of anti-Semitism and Holocaust distortion,” the president said. by Yad Vashem, Dani Dayan, at JNS. “It is only when people have precise knowledge that they can fight the false ‘facts’ disseminated through social media and in person,” he adds. “This is why Holocaust education with its historical authenticity is so important. “

The academy is the latest initiative of the Yad Vashem International School of Holocaust Studies, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center that has trained hundreds of thousands of educators from more than 50 countries over the years. Past 30 years and provided teaching materials to countless more. The number of students reached, they report, exceeds 12 million.

And the academy has an ambitious job description: to lead and coordinate efforts to develop powerful Holocaust education programs in all regions of the world, including cyberspace.

Dr Miriam Adelson is given a key by Yad Vashem President Dani Dayan. Credit: Yad Vashem.

The plan is to train a new cadre of leaders to help ensure the next generation knows what happened during the Holocaust before it was swept into the rubbish bins of ancient history or corrupted by those who claim that this never happened.

One of the goals is to train Holocaust education “ambassadors” around the world, who in turn will develop networks in their countries among opinion makers: educators, diplomats, members of the clergy and civic leaders, as well as in the military and law enforcement. .

“We must teach about it”

At the dedication ceremony, Adelson praised the International School for Holocaust Studies, which the couple have long supported. “This school teaches the Holocaust to foreign educators, so that they can teach it in turn when they return home,” she said. “At a time when anti-Semitism is skyrocketing around the world, these teachers, whose home countries include Turkey and Jordan, are equipped to spot and speak out against this unique evil before it spreads. “

Nor is it a coincidence that the academy is being established now at a time when Holocaust survivors – many of whom have regularly shared their stories with schoolchildren and other groups – are disappearing from the world stage, not leaving behind only memories as well as videos, audio tapes and written testimonies.

Survivors like Lydia Lebovic, who was among the last of these witnesses, and who was determined to tell the next generation of the horrors they had managed to survive.

Over the years, Lebovic has shared her story with thousands of schoolchildren in Las Vegas, from the day in 1944 when the Nazis invaded her Hungarian town when she was 16, imposing curfews, yellow stars and her best friend spitting at her in the street, in the ghetto, then the three days crammed with 60 other people in a cattle car in Auschwitz to a labor camp and finally in Bergen-Belsen where she was released on April 15, 1945.

“We need to learn more; we have to teach about it. Because our time is running out, ”she tell the children at Ernest May Elementary School in Las Vegas in 2007. “Not many of us survive my age.”

Holocaust survivor Lydia Lebovic with her husband, William, meets students Tiara Simpson and Dante Carroll. Credit: Courtesy.

Not so long ago, thousands of Holocaust survivors like Lebovic regularly visited schools to share their experiences. But now that most of the survivors are gone – Lebovic, for example, died in 2018 at the age of 90 – and are no longer able to put a human face, often with a tattooed arm, on the world’s worst crime. the history of mankind, education is left to care. take up the torch.

Much of that responsibility will fall on teachers like Mitchell Kalin of Nevada, who has brought Lebovic to his classes several times over the years, first in elementary and then in college. “I miss her and the children miss her,” says Kalin. “She engaged them completely, which had such a powerful impact. But through the video, even though she is no longer there, she continues to teach.

Kalin also says that the 10 days he spent learning cutting-edge Holocaust teaching methods at Yad Vashem’s Echoes and Reflections program in 2019 made him better able to convey this often difficult subject. “I used to find my own resources, basically stealing them,” he says. “But now I’m a lot more confident about what I have to offer using their resources. So much so that he trains other teachers in the district and also helps connect countless Nevada educators to Yad Vashem’s programs.

This type of networking is exactly what the academy intends to foster. Already in preparation: in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a teacher trained at the International School (in French, one of the 13 languages ​​in which they teach) brought together a group of his fellow teachers to acquire teaching skills on the Holocaust; and in India, where a school principal brought her teachers together to work on a Holocaust program reaching 150 students. Often starting with graduates of seminars from international schools, these networks extend to countries as far away as China, Australia and Peru (in which the Ambassador and Minister of Education are involved). education representatives.

“In addition to the United States and Canada, we are expanding our influence in countries in Asia and Africa, Europe, South America, Australia and New Zealand,” says Richelle Budd- Caplan, who heads the school’s international relations. “When it comes to strengthening Holocaust education, each country needs its own tailored approach. But wherever it is, we make sure we impact the people who will have the most impact and are there to follow up with the age-appropriate resources and training they will need. . “

A photograph taken by a Nazi guard of the women entering the camp after having their heads shaved. Lydia Lebovic is in the middle of the photo. Credit: Courtesy.

At a turning point because the threat is real ‘

Such awareness comes at a crucial time, say those who work with students today. Not only is Holocaust “revisionism” increasingly present online, many schoolchildren today are likely to be heading to campuses in a few years, where anti-Semitic and anti-Israel forces often include negationism in their arsenal.

“Since many students lack critical historical knowledge of the Holocaust, this leaves room for deniers to fill the void with outrageous lies,” said Aviva Rosenschein, director of CAMERA’s international campus. On North American campuses, anti-Israel professors and students compare Israel to Nazi Germany and the former Israeli prime minister to Adolf Hitler. “By describing Israel as the new Nazi Germany, they are using the Holocaust vs the Jews, the very ones against whom all this evil was perpetrated barely a generation ago. This is why Holocaust education must become a higher priority in elementary, middle and high school to set the record straight. before they arrive on campus.

Yad Vashem President Dayan agrees and explains why. “You see anti-Semitism on the rise, even in the United States – in Poway, Pittsburgh, Monsey, Jersey City and other cities where Jews are attacked just for being Jews,” he says. “We are at a crossroads because the threat is real and, while I don’t mean to say that we are in the same situation as German Jews in the 1930s, we have something that they did not have: we We have proof that anti-Semitism can grow to monstrous proportions (the Holocaust) and that it must be stopped before it gets out of hand.

Learning from the past, he adds, especially Holocaust education, is “a key to dealing with it.”

Natan Sharansky reiterated this point during the inauguration ceremony. “Sheldon and Miri understood how important the past, memory of the Holocaust and knowledge of the Holocaust are in securing the future of the Jewish people,” the elder added. refusnik and former chairman of the Israel Jewish Agency. “It all starts with the memory of the Holocaust, and that is why this academy is so important.”

Which brings us back to educators like Kalin, who are committed to sharing this painful but important chapter of history not only with their students, but with other educators who can spread it exponentially, protecting the new generation. hate in the process.

“For years my passion has been teaching about the Holocaust,” he says. “And the good thing is that the fact that it can even happen teaches children empathy, hopefully making them much less likely to be anti-Semitic or racist.”

There is another powerful lesson here, too, Kalin adds: “If anyone ever tells them that the Holocaust never happened, they can come back from a position of knowledge. And because they have learned that if you keep silent in the face of hate, it allows hate to win.

Indeed, training teachers today to raise awareness for generations to come, Adelson told the crowd who gathered at Yad Vashem to dedicate the new curriculum, “helps to make the Jewish catastrophe a solid fact in consciousness. international, a fact beyond denial – in the I hope the world that turned a blind eye during WWII will no longer do so and ensure that such events do not happen again. This (the academy) is a building for the remembrance of the martyrs and heroes of the Holocaust, and, at the same time, proof that the Jewish people triumphed and chose life.


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