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The School of Dialogue

Posted on August 13th, 2020 by

A blog post by Director of Education Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click here.

This month, the JMM’s Public Programs calendar has our visitors travelling around the world to learn virtually about the Jewish museums in London, South Africa, and Australia. Our visitors are not the only ones travelling abroad this summer. Just last week over 50 teachers attending the virtual JMM/BJC Summer Teachers Institute had the opportunity to travel to Warsaw, Poland.

The theme for this year’s Institute was Teaching Students to be Upstanders and we wanted our teachers to learn about the exceptional work that is taking place at the Forum of Dialogue.

I had the opportunity to meet the staff at the Forum of Dialogue 18 months ago when I travelled to Poland.  I learned about an innovative education program called the School of Dialogue and was I was inspired by their work.  I wondered if the lessons learned from the School of Dialogue could be translated to the school systems in the United States.  How can we teach our students to care about their own history of their families, their communities, and the country?

The sign outside of their offices in Warsaw.

The Forum of Dialogue is the largest and oldest Polish non-governmental organization that is engaging in Polish/Jewish dialogue.  The Forum is dedicated to inspiring new connections between contemporary Poland and the Jewish people. Their work focuses on raising awareness of the history of Poland, and to connect the Polish people with their histories.  The Forum recognizes that the lack of knowledge about the shared history, as well as the prejudices that have built up over the years present significant obstacles in Polish/Jewish dialogue.

The goals for the Forum of Dialogue displayed in their offices.

Our teachers met Marta Usiekniewicz, the Forum’s Communications Manager who gave a wonderful presentation about the School of Dialogue. The School of Dialogue’s mission is to get students in high schools acquainted with the history of the Jewish people in Poland as well as their contributions to the social, cultural, economic development of the country.  The students learn new information about the roles that Jewish people played in their own communities and about local history.

Students participate in workshops to learn about the history of their region. Students learn about the Holocaust, its local impact, and the stories of individuals.  They conduct interviews with members of their own families and the community, sift through archives, and talk to local activists, to uncover forgotten facts and learn more about the local Jewish community that once lived in their region.

The information that these young people collect enable them to piece together and reconstruct the local Jewish history, and they eventually become the ambassadors/guides and present what they have learned. The students become the experts to their own teachers, parents, and town officials. They create films, websites and brochures dedicated to local history.  They create self-guided tours and routes that they publish on-line and in local tourist information centers and institutions.  These students are remembering and commemorating the town’s Jewish past.

Marta shared with our teachers that the School of Dialogue’s education initiative was launched in 2008 and today the program takes place throughout Poland and reaches almost 1000 students each year. Every year these students are celebrated at a gala held in Warsaw to honor the courage and hard work of the students. These students are bringing alive the Jewish community that was once an integral part of their region’s history.

In Person- Summer Teachers Institute 2019

As with all our Summer Teachers Institutes, we always have the teachers evaluate the program and give a reflection about the materials presented.  I wanted to share some of the comments about the presentation on the School of Dialogue.

“Marta’s presentation was so inspiring – creating a network of schools where students are active members of the community and building a more tolerant future in their towns is powerful.”

“Recognizing the students in a gala event shows appreciation on the national level.

Loved this presentation would love to get more students involved.”

“Wow!  Marta is a wonderful presenter! The School of Dialogue needs to be in schools in this country! What an amazing program! May they reach many more kids and towns.”

Outstanding — right in our lane as educators. Completely authentic material – even from a different geo-point for engagement

The School of Dialogue program really fit in with this year’s theme of the Summer Teachers Institute: Teaching Students to Be Upstanders.  It is wonderful to know that this unique education initiative exists that combines exploring local history at the same time confronting stereotypes and encouraging local activism. By participating in the School of Dialogue, the students express empathy and an understanding when they recognize the absence of the past.

Thanks to the actions of these courageous students, Jewish people are no longer seen as “others” and again become neighbors who despite having perished, are not forgotten. What a wonderful education initiative!  Our gratitude goes to Judy and Jerry Macks and the Joan and Joseph Klein Jr. Foundation for their generous support of the annual Summer Teachers Institute.

Thank you to the many partners who made this possible.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

The Righteous Among the Nations

Posted on July 27th, 2020 by

Blog post by Museum Educator Allene Gutin. To read more posts from Allene, click here.

“And so we must know these good people who helped Jews during the Holocaust. We must learn from them, and in gratitude and hope, we must remember them.” – Elie Wiesel

As part of the education team at the Museum, I am working on a PowerPoint about The Righteous Among the Nations, that is, gentiles (non-Jewish people) who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. Yad VaShem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel has a database of people who have been honored as the Righteous, including an online exhibit called I Am My Brother’s Keeper: A Tribute to the Righteous Among the Nations. I thought I would share a few stories from my research.

The Medal of the Righteous

Currently there are 27,362 people who have been identified as “the righteous.” Their stories are amazing. The Righteous Among the Nations took great risks to save Jews during the Holocaust. “Rescue took many forms and the Righteous came from different nations, religions and walks of life. What they had in common was that they protected their Jewish neighbors at a time when hostility and indifference prevailed.” (

Survivor Michael Stolowicki with his rescuer Gertruda Babilinska. Courtesy of Yad Vashem.

One particularly inspiring story is that of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds.

Master Sergeant Edmonds served in the US Army during World War II. He participated in the landing of the American forces in Europe and was taken prisoner by the Germans. He was taken with other POWs, including Jews, he was taken to Stalag IXA, a camp near Ziegenhain, Germany. In the East, the Germans would single out the Jewish POWs and many were sent to extermination camps or killed. In the West, the Jewish prisoners were also separated from the others.

Jewish Soviet POW captured by the German Army, August 1941. At least 50,000 Jewish soldiers were executed after selection. Image courtesy of the German Federal Archives via.

Sometime in January 1945 the Germans announced that all Jewish POWs in Stalag IXA were to report the following morning. Edmonds, who was in charge of the prisoners, ordered all POWs, Jews and non-Jews to stand together. When the German officer in charge saw that all the camp’s inmates were standing in front of their barracks, he said to Edmonds, “They cannot all be Jews.” To this Edmonds replied, “We are all Jews.” Even under the threat of death, Edmonds stood his ground. Eventually, the German gave up his demand. Edmonds is credited with saving the lives of 200 soldiers from possible death. (For more on this story, go to Roddie Edmonds.)

On October 4th, 1984, Yad VaShem recognized Chino-Sempo Sugihara as a Righteous Among the Nations.

Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat who served as vice-consul for the Japanese Empire in Kaunas, Lithuania. The Jewish refugees in Lithuania were desperate to leave, but it was practically impossible to obtain immigration visas to anywhere in the world. Sugihara provided between 2,100 and 3,500 transit visas before the Consulate was closed down.

During this time, Sugihara was receiving dispatches from Tokyo warning him against issuing visas without due process.

Upon his return to his country in 1946 Sugihara was dismissed from the Japanese Foreign Service. His understanding was that this was a consequence of his insubordination as consul in Kaunas. From then on he had to make a living doing odd jobs. For more on this story go to Chiune Sempo Sugihara.

Rescuer Genowefa Majcher from Poland with rescued Michael Rozenshein, summer 1947. Courtesy of Yad Vashem.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Planning a Virtual Jews in Space Education Experience

Posted on July 23rd, 2020 by

Blog post from Museum Educator Alex Malischostak.

Ever since I was a kid, I loved learning about space. Image:  STS-95 Discovery Launch, courtesy of NASA.

I would dream of being an astronaut and blasting off to the moon or Mars or to other galaxies far beyond our sun. So, I was really excited when I found out that the next exhibit at JMM will be Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit. Beyond referencing my favorite film director with the title, I was looking forward to researching more about Jewish contributions to space travel for the education team and to share my knowledge of astronomy with visiting school groups when they came to visit.

Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic, I do not know how many in-person school groups we will have this Fall. However, the education team continues to persevere and adapt. We are working on creating some exciting virtual programs that we can bring to classrooms starting this Fall, whether classes are meeting in person, online, or a hybrid of the two. For the last few weeks, I have been working on digital presentations based on the Jews in Space exhibit.

Students will learn about Judaism’s connections to astronomy, Jewish scientists, mathematicians, and astronauts, Jewish contributors to science-fiction and local connections in Maryland to the space exploration industry and the people who work there.

One person I learned about while preparing for this exhibit is Hugo Gernsback. I cannot believe I had never heard this name before! Hugo Gernsback, a Jewish immigrant to the U.S. from Luxembourg, was an inventor and publisher and coined the term “science-fiction.” He published Amazing Stories, the first magazine devoted entirely to science-fiction short stories.

Some big names were published in this magazine including H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Isaac Asimov. Gernsback was able to create a science-fiction following among loyal readers that launched an entire genre. Stories about space exploration, human colonies on spaceships and other planets, visitors to Earth from other planets all appeared in Amazing Stories and the other science-fiction periodicals that sprouted up afterwards. These stories not only influenced future writers, movie directors, and actors but also future generations of scientists and engineers who dreamed to make the science-fiction they read about a reality. After all, what starts as a spark of childhood imagination about piloting spaceships across the stars can lead to a career as an astrophysicist, electrical engineer, or even an astronaut!

I cannot wait to share this presentation with school groups when Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit opens.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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