“The question is,” says Adrian Schrek, director of a new Holocaust education initiative in the Bay Area, “what are we going to do when the survivors are gone?”
Indeed, as the number of Holocaust survivors diminishes, the task of teaching about the Holocaust in a compelling way becomes increasingly difficult.
The Tauber Holocaust Education Fellowship is addressing that issue. It has given grants to three Bay Area educators and sent them to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust center in Jerusalem, for an intensive three-week training session with researchers and scholars. In turn, each of the three is designing and implementing a new school and/or community initiative on the Holocaust.
Ariana Estoque, the director of adolescent education at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El, is in the first class of Tauber fellows. Her project, in a rush against time, is finding Holocaust survivors who live in the Bay Area and getting them to speak to teens and their parents.
“If you don’t have that personal connection with a survivor, it’s just like reading textbook history,” she says. “There is an essence that’s lost, especially if you don’t have a known Holocaust story in your family.”
Estoque says the aim of her project is to spark a dialogue between parents and teens. “When they bring the conversation to the dinner table, history may come out. A parent may reveal your great uncle was lost and the child may say ‘I never knew that.’”
The Tauber Holocaust Education Fellowship — one of several Holocaust education initiatives in the Bay Area — is overseen by The Curriculum Initiative, a program of the S.F.-based Jewish LearningWorks, formerly known as the Bureau of Jewish Education. As the director of the Curriculum Initiative, Schrek is directing the fellowship.
The two other fellows are Ben Owens, chair of the Department of Theology at Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley, and Mark Davis, a program associate for the Bay Area branch of Facing History and Ourselves, a worldwide program that seeks to end racism, anti-Semitism and genocide through education.
For his project, Owens is convening an interfaith panel for parents, educators and religious leaders to explore the effectiveness of Holocaust education in promoting the moral development of youth. Davis is designing a workshop for teachers to study how to use poetry, memoir and fiction to teach the Holocaust. Each person received a project grant of up to $2,500.
All three have been doing Holocaust education work for at least seven years, as the fellowship requires, but now are taking things a step or two further.
Estoque is planning a half-day program for 50 families at Emanu-El that will include workshops on Jewish resistance and speeches by survivors. A major focus will be exploring diverse methods of resistance — from the small scale, such as a death camp inhabitant lighting a menorah, to the large, such as the Rosenstrasse protests of 1943, when non-Jewish women married to Jewish men took to the streets of Berlin.
“Resistance is a concept that all age groups can relate to,” Estoque says. “We all resist something in our lives, whether it be our parents’ rules or religious or societal norms. Focusing on resistance will leave participants feeling more hopeful and empowered.”
The fellows also express hope that their projects will go beyond teaching the Holocaust and, for example, motivate teens to work on behalf of social justice issues.
Schrek says that learning about the Holocaust will sensitize teens in an even more general sense. “My goal is to have students be kinder to each other,” she says. “Holocaust education helps to humanize and ultimately promote empathy and acceptance.”