It is a Tuesday night, and a group of teens are gathered in a conference room at the JCC, laughing, talking with one another, and eating pizza. Suddenly the room grows quiet as Holocaust survivor Rachel Bodner begins talking about her experiences as a hidden child during the Holocaust. Students listen intently as she shares her story, and then ask her questions.
As Mrs. Bodner concludes her talk, a second speaker, George Mushayuma speaks about his experiences during a more recent instance of tragedy as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
While learning about the Holocaust and contemporary genocide is being taught in classrooms throughout the Maryland, what is unique about this particular evening is that the audience includes teens from several different schools. These teens have elected to participate in Lessons of the Shoah, an interfaith initiative bringing together Catholic and Jewish high school students for a year-long series of programs that fosters dialogue and understanding among high school students of diverse backgrounds. Currently in its third year, and jointly sponsored by the JMM and Baltimore Jewish Council, students spend evenings learning with one another about basic tenets central to Judaism and Catholicism.
While several sessions feature speakers, the emphasis is on having students share with one another their own personal reflections of the importance of faith in their lives. Field trips to the Jewish Museum of Maryland and Baltimore Basilica (http://www.baltimorebasilica.org/) provide additional opportunities for exploring ritual objects and sacred space. The goal of these programs is to encourage teens to learn from one another as they have opportunities to meet, socialize, and study together.
Students learn about the Holocaust, by reading diaries of teens who perished, listening to and meeting Holocaust survivors, and by visiting the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (www.ushmm.org). Discussions and lessons about the Holocaust serve as a tool for inspiring participants to take action against contemporary injustices, and students work together on a group project that seeks to raise attention about a contemporary issue. Last year’s group decided to focus their attention on contemporary genocide in Darfur and took up a collection for shoes to send to victims. This year, the group decided to band together to combat bullying – a topic that has been in the news lately due to several prominent news stories about the tragic consequences of teens harassing their peers. At each session, students get together to brainstorm ways for raising awareness of this problem and to gather resources to advocate against bullying in schools.
The program culminates with student participation in the community Yom Hashoah program. Participants shared their group project with guests and walked in the ceremony’s processional. It was touching to see how much the program meant to the teens after spending the year learning about the Holocaust and the importance of tolerance.
On Tuesday, May 17, students, parents, and teachers gathered at Emmanuel Monastery for our final program celebrating their successful completion of the program. Students shared their reflections of what they have gained by participating in the Lessons of the Shoah as well as their future plans.
Congratulations to the Lessons of the Shoah class of 2011. We enjoyed spending the year getting to know you and are proud of your accomplishments!
To learn more about Lessons of the Shoah, contact Deborah Cardin at (410) 732-6400 x236 / email@example.com.
A blog post by Education Director Deborah Cardin.