Teaching the Holocaust within the Jewish school system comes with a unique set of challenges.
The Azrieli Foundation’s Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program, in partnership with Facing History & Ourselves Canada, recently launched a pioneering initiative — one that responds to the evolving landscape of Holocaust education. The Jewish Day School Fellowship in Holocaust Education and Commemoration (JDS Fellowship) is a year-long professional development opportunity addressing the unique experience of teaching about the Holocaust in Jewish schools.
“This goes beyond providing tools and takeaways for the classroom,” says Memoirs Program Educator Michelle Sadowski. “It gives educators from across the Jewish day school system a chance to build community around a goal they can all share: to teach students about the Holocaust in an accurate and engaging way.”
Michelle (pictured above) drew from her own experience as a former Jewish day school teacher to develop the program. Through interactive workshops, 12 Fellows will collaborate with one another, and with experts in the field, to develop meaningful approaches to Holocaust education and commemoration tailored to the Jewish school context. Sessions will cover topics such as trauma-informed teaching, preparing for a future without survivors and best practices for commemorative events.
The Fellowship emerged from a need identified by the Memoirs Program over the course of several years.
“There is an assumption that if anyone is doing Holocaust education right, it’s the Jewish day schools,” says director Jody Spiegel. “But as we looked into it further, we came to understand that the unique setting creates unique challenges.”
Jody says it used to be common for Jewish day school students to have parents, grandparents or even teachers who were Holocaust survivors. With fewer survivors alive to share their experiences, a change in approach was required.
“We also need to acknowledge that having a personal connection to the Holocaust does not necessarily mean someone has been properly taught the history and context,” notes Michelle. “There is a tendency to jump straight into the emotional side of things without addressing potential gaps in knowledge, which can be hard on the students. We want to prepare Jewish day school educators to teach and commemorate the Holocaust with students in a manner that is resonant, but also digestible and age appropriate.”
The JDS Fellowship is currently working with more than a dozen Toronto middle school teachers from Associated Hebrew Schools, Robbins Hebrew Academy, Leo Baeck Day School, Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School, Netivot HaTorah Day School, Eitz Chaim Schools and Montessori Jewish Day School. The Azrieli Foundation plans to extend the opportunity to Jewish schools nationwide in the years to come.