Students at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton look at art from the center in March 2020.
Students at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton look at art from the center in March 2020.

In East Bay, traveling Holocaust ‘center’ uses art to tell story of the Shoah

Rabbi Raleigh Resnick of Chabad of the Tri-Valley in Pleasanton is used to getting calls from local public schools. 

Since there’s no local center for Holocaust education, he’s become a resource for teachers in the region he serves, which includes Danville, San Ramon, Dublin and Livermore.

“In this area, it’s a void that needs to be filled,” he said.

So Resnick and Larry Lagin, a former nuclear fusion scientist turned recreational painter, decided to collaborate on a new project aimed at enhancing Holocaust education for young people via the East Bay Holocaust Education Center.

“It’s so important,” Lagin said. “I really feel that it has to be done, especially now more than ever.”

Although it has no building for now, the center is based around a traveling exhibition of paintings by Lagin. He took up art as a hobby after retiring from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2014. It became a passion, and in 2019, he showed a series of 14 paintings on the Holocaust at the Bothwell Arts Center in Livermore, where he was a resident artist. The paintings were based on photographs of children from the collection of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and were displayed alongside audio and video eyewitness testimonies from the museum and the USC Shoah Foundation. 

Feeling that it might be helpful as a teaching tool, Lagin put the word out to schools in the area. Eventually, he said, around 2,000 people saw the exhibit either at the Bothwell in 2019 or at seven local high schools it toured. Another four schools were scheduled.

“Then the pandemic struck, and we had to shut down the exhibit,” he said.

But during that enforced pause, an idea sprouted. “Maybe there’s a possibility to make this official, and make it a center in the East Bay,” Lagin said.

Now, working with Resnick, who regularly hosts survivor talks at Chabad, Lagin has set up the new center with the art exhibit as its core.

“He’s really taken this and made it into its own institution that has a life of its own,” Resnick said.

Besides the exhibit, a version of which is available online at ebhec.org, the center currently is sponsoring a contest for students to create art, writing or video works that engages the question, “Why is it important to remember the Holocaust?” A total of $3,000 in prize money is available. 

In partnership with the East Bay International Jewish Film Festival and the help of EBHEC board member Riva Gambert, director of the festival, EBHEC will sponsor two Holocaust-related films that are appropriate for high school students. There are webinars for teachers to learn about the exhibit and the center is working with the Livermore Shakespeare Festival to run staged readings of plays.

“We’re trying to partner with different organizations to create different types of programs to educate people about the Holocaust,” Lagin explained.

For Resnick, this expansion of Holocaust education in his region serves two purposes. It’s important for non-Jews to remember the horrors of Hitler’s actions, he said. But it’s also important for Jews to be reminded of the importance of Judaism as “the ultimate answer to Hitler.”

“We almost lost it all, and I hope this will inspire a Jew to live a more Jewish life,” he said.

As for Lagin, he said he feels honored to be involved in expanding Holocaust education. Painting the photos was a very moving experience for him, and telling the stories of the murdered victims has become a mission. As for his passion for art, it’s still there, but it’s been put aside for a while as he concentrates on getting the new center going.

“I haven’t done much painting in the last few months!” he said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.