The JMM and BJC held our 8th annual Summer Teachers Institute last week. With more than 60 teachers in attendance – representing public, parochial, and independent schools from across the state and even as far away as Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia – this year’s program marked our largest gathering to date. One of the challenges we face each year as we plan our agenda is developing a program that satisfies the interests and expectations of both new participants as well as the cohort of teachers who attend each year. For the past several years, we have begun exploring specific Holocaust-related topics in depth over the course of three days. The theme for this year’s program was rescue and resistance.
Our program commenced on Monday am with a welcome from Dr. Nancy Grasmick, former State Superintendent of Schools. Dr. Grasmick has been a wonderful friend and supporter of the JMM and we were delighted to have her on hand as we launched our workshop.
Our focus on Monday was exploring the motivations and experiences of non-Jewish individuals who risked their lives to assist Jews. Stanlee Stahl, Executive Vice President of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, talked about the work that her organization undertakes to recognize these individuals. (For more information about the JFR and to learn about individual rescuers, check out their website www.jfr.org) It was fascinating to learn about the diversity of individuals who provided assistance. In the words of Stanlee “Biography is not destiny” meaning that there is no typical profile of rescuers. They came from many different backgrounds and had a variety of reasons for lending a hand. One grim fact shared that fewer than 1% of the non-Jewish population of Nazi occupied Europe provided assistance (using statistics gathered by Yad VaShem), reinforced the message that rescue activity was incredibly rare thus making the stories of those who did do something to combat Nazi terror all the more amazing. Stanlee concluded her presentation with a screening of a DVD documenting a reunion that the JFR recently sponsored between a Holocaust survivor and her rescuer. When the lights went on at the conclusion of the screening, there was hardly a dry eye left in the room. Each teacher received posters from the JFR highlighting character traits exemplified by rescuers along with a curriculum for using the posters in their classroom.
Each year, we spend our second day at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC where participants have the opportunity to view the permanent and special exhibitions. In the afternoon, the USHMM lent us their classroom space for presentations by two members of their education department. Christina Chavarria, Program Coordinator for National Outreach for Teacher Initiatives, provided teachers with useful guidelines for teaching about resistance. She also presented participants with many wonderful museum resources including the beautiful catalog to their current special exhibition, State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.
Our second presenter at the USHMM spoke about a new exhibit that is scheduled to open this spring. Tim Kaiser, Director of Education Initiatives, has been a member of the planning team that is developing Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity During the Holocaust. This groundbreaking exhibit interprets the motivations and experiences of those who assisted the Nazis in their efforts to exterminate Europe’s Jews. Too often people ascribe to the notion that the sole responsibility for the Holocaust lay with Hitler and the Nazis. This exhibit seeks to dispel this myth by examining the many different levels of individual culpability and asks an important question, “If you witness something, do you become part of the story?” This presentation left us all eagerly anticipating returning to view this important exhibit.
Our last day of the Institute focused on Jewish resistance. Dr. Joyce Witt, an educator with Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation, presented teachers with resource materials and demonstrated how to use their “Teaching with Defiance” curriculum. Interspersing clips from the film with important facts about Jewish partisans and suggestions for teaching the topic with students, Dr. Witt’s presentation was well received from teachers. [To learn more about JPEF, check out their website http://www.jewishpartisans.org/]
We were then privileged to have the opportunity to hear Holocaust survivors Howard and Esther Kaidanow share their own experiences as partisans during the Holocaust. What a powerful way for our group to make the connection with the content provided by Dr. Witt. Teachers sat mesmerized as both Mr. and Mrs. Kaidanow shared their memories.
We were overwhelmed by the response we received from teachers at the conclusion of the program. Sample comments include:
“Thank you, Gracias, Merci, thanks to you, your staff for three beautiful days…Thanks for giving me more insight of the Holocaust that I might in turn enlighten teachers and share with others.”
“Thank you again for providing wonder-filled and inspirational information, stories, materials, educational ideas, etc., etc. We so appreciate being included in all your terrific programs.”
“Thank you so much for all of the wonderful materials and ideas from other teachers and first-hand accounts from people who lived it. It was an awesome 3 days.”
The success of our Summer Teachers Institute was possible thanks to the generosity of so many individuals and organizations. Many thanks to JMM and BJC staff for all of their assistance with planning the program; to JMM intern extraordinaire Ariella Esterson for handling the many logistical details; to our partners at MSDE and Towson University for promoting the program and helping us determine workshop content; for our hosts at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation for providing us with such a beautiful space on Wednesday; to all of our speakers and to the USHMM, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, and the Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation for providing such a wealth of resources and information for teachers. And most of all, we offer our sincere gratitude to our donors with special thanks to Judy and Jerry Macks.