Holocaust Education Week 2020: Hindsight 2020

Oct. 27, 2020

By CARSON PHILLIPS

In a year characterized by increased antisemitism frequently linked to COVID conspiracy theories and social unrest caused by the lingering effects of systemic racism, it seemed only natural that Holocaust Education Week 2020 would tackle some of the the underlying conditions that contribute to such activities. In a quickly changing world, it is more relevant than ever that we understand the role Holocaust education can and does play in fostering an inclusive society that respects all Canadians.

Holocaust Education Week (HEW) runs Nov. 2-9 with programs continuing throughout the month. This year’s theme, Hindsight 2020, developed by UJA’s Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, the organizer of the event, aims to do just that. By reflecting on the role that Holocaust education has played in our community, and promoting best practices in education that encourages deep learning, a solid foundation is laid for dealing present day challenges.

Now more than ever, nurturing Canadian civil society through the lessons of the Holocaust is a vital goal of HEW.

In response to the pandemic, the Neuberger has transformed Holocaust Education Week into a digital experience continuing throughout the year. By partnering with the Virtual J, programs will be presented live, free of charge and available for viewing on-demand long after the conclusion of each presentation.

Dara Solomon, the Neuberger’s executive director, commented on the new format: “Partnering with the Virtual J extends the reach of our programming to diverse audiences everywhere. Now, anyone with internet access can learn about the Holocaust wherever they live, at any time of day assured that the programming is built on the best and highest pedagogical standards,” she said.

HEW’s opening night unpacks the theme with American journalist Yair Rosenberg addressing the role Holocaust education and memory play in combatting the threats of contemporary antisemitism, prejudice, and fascism. He and Canadian journalist Sarah Fulford, editor-in-chief of Toronto Life magazine, will respond to some of today’s most pressing questions, including how and where does Holocaust education fit in to our current situation, and what have we learned from the Holocaust as a society that can better inform our future and point us towards a more just, equitable, and peaceful world?

A carefully curated film series that delves deeply into this year’s theme runs from November until next April. Each screening features special guest speakers, such as actor George Takei of Star Trek fame. As a child, Takei, along with other North Americans of Japanese heritage, was subject to forced relocation to internment camps during the Second World War. He has written a graphic memoir about his childhood experiences, titled They Called Us Enemy, which is an important entry point into learning about how our countries responded domestically while fighting fascism in Europe.

Takei’s personal insights provide yet another aspect of how the Second World War affected Canadians and Americans.

“For Canadians grappling with what our nation’s wartime conduct means, it helps provide a more complete picture and encourages dialogue on the significance of human rights in today’s civil society,” said Solomon.

Another not-to-be-missed program features philosopher and cultural commentator Susan Neiman, who will share her insights into grappling with the past and its significance with respect to contemporary memorial culture. A three-part Neuberger book talk series is devoted to her recent publication Learning from the Germans. Guest presenters are featured weekly and the series culminates with a discussion with Neiman.

HEW’s closing program will feature Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter’s personal reflections on the impact of Holocaust education and remembrance. Gutter, has spoken internationally about his Holocaust experiences, published his memoirs Memories in Focus with the Azrieli Foundation, and was one of the first to be interviewed for the USC Shoah Foundation’s Dimensions in Testimony program.

In conversation with the Neuberger’s Education Coordinator, Michelle Fishman, herself the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Gutter will expand on the role and power of education in combatting inequality, racism, fascism, and antisemitism.

A special tribute marking the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, when a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms rampaged across Nazi Germany on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, is also part of this program.

Visit the Neuberger’s website www.holocausteducationweek.com for a complete listing of all programs. 


Carson Phillips, PhD, is Managing Director of the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto

Pandemic Delays Plans for New Montreal Holocaust Museum

Sept. 22, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—The COVID pandemic has forced the Montreal Holocaust Museum (MHM) to abandon plans for a new multimillion-dollar premises, but says the project is still going forward.

In her annual report, outgoing president Dorothy Zalcman Howard said the MHM had found “an ideal location” to build a much larger museum and “achieved unprecedented success in obtaining funding commitments…The dream was about to be transformed into reality when COVID struck, and our board faced the difficult decision of stepping back from the brink and reshaping the vision.”



Holocaust survivor Mila Messner is captured in a photographic triptych for the Montreal Holocaust Museum’s new virtual exhibit, Witnesses to History, Keepers of Memory. (Photo courtesy MHM/Stéphanie Cousineau)

But she stressed that a new museum remains a top priority. “I invite you to stay tuned for good news in the future,” Zalcman Howard stated.

In 2018, the MHM announced plans to relocate and expand, leaving the Federation CJA building that was its home since it was founded in 1979.

The Azrieli Foundation pledged to underwrite a third of the cost, up to $15 million.

Zalcman Howard did not specify where that ideal location was, but the museum had said it wanted to move downtown in order to reach a wider audience.

The only one of its kind in Canada, the museum was receiving an ever-increasing number of visitors and demand for its educational services, necessitating the ambitious expansion.

A study by an independent consulting firm supported the project’s feasibility.

The work of the MHM remains more important than ever, as “Holocaust diminishment has taken root and awareness is declining,” Zalcman Howard told the MHM’s annual general meeting, held virtually Sept. 14.

Completing her two-year term as president, she assured: “Our future is vibrant and secure.”

MHM communications director Sarah Fogg later told CJR, “We are actively looking for a new location and have explored three excellent possibilities since April. We are definitely confident we will find a great site.”

The pandemic forced the MHM to close from mid-March until its reopening, with restrictions, on July 6. Despite this curtailment, Zalcman Howard reported that the facility reached hundreds of thousands of people over the previous 12 months, including 20,000 visitors, 9,750 of those students. More than 8,700 attended some 55 events organized by the MHM and 19 Holocaust survivors told their stories to some 12,500 people before the shutdown.

The MHM now has 13,405 items in its collection, the majority donated by local survivors or their descendants, as well as 858 videotaped survivor testimonies.

Following the shutdown, the museum’s already multi-faceted online and digital presence was further enhanced and attracted even more users, Zalcman Howard related.

Executive director Daniel Amar said the website and virtual exhibits had 116,000 visitors, while videos on YouTube of survivors’ testimonies were viewed 198,000 times, a 25 percent increase over the previous year.

The MHM produces pedagogical materials and runs teacher training programs. Over 35,000 visits to the educational pages on its site were recorded, traffic that did not stop while the schools were closed.

Zalcman Howard hailed the fact that her successor, Richard Schnurbach, is the first grandchild of survivors to serve as president of the MHM.

Three new members named to the board of directors reflect the MHM’s aim of attracting a more diverse public. Yasmine Abdelfadel is a founding member of Mémoires & Dialogue, a group fostering rapprochement among Jews and Arabs of North African origin; Widia Larivière is an Indigenous rights activist; while Denis Marion, a former senior political aide to Bloc Québécois and Parti Québécois members, is mayor of Massueville, a town near Sorel-Tracy. He lived in Israel in the late 1980s, earning a master’s degree in political science at Hebrew University.

Jennifer Carter, chair of the museum committee and University of Quebec at Montreal museology professor, is vice-president.

The latest virtual exhibit produced by the MHM is “Witnesses to History, Keepers of Memory,” portraits by Marie-Blanche Fourcade and Eszter Andor of 30 Montreal survivors who were photographed at home with objects that hold precious memories.

The annual meeting began with a memorial to the 60 survivors who died in the past year, conducted by Cantor Hank Topas and Rabbi Mark Fishman of Congregation Beth Tikvah.

JCC Uses Zoom to Engage Youth

Aug. 13, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

It’s been more than five months since Ben Pillersdorf has reported to work at the Cineplex movie theatre in Toronto’s Fairview Mall.

His job, directing moviegoers to the right theatre, was put on hold with the onset of the COVID pandemic. To date, this Cineplex has not reopened.

Pillersdorf, 26, says he misses work, but he is staying busy. On week-day afternoons, he participates in Summer Fun Intensive!, a two-hour, online program for youth with developmental disabilities run through the Miles Nadal JCC.

Ben Pillersdorf
Ben Pillersdorf

“We do different drama games, we do arts, we listen to music while we dance, and we do yoga,” he said.

Before the pandemic, Pillersdorf attended Every Day Friends Social Network at the MNJCC, a social and cultural program geared to young adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Many of the Every-Day-Friends participants have joined Summer Fun Intensive and have remained connected through online programming, said Liviya Mendelsohn, director of inclusion at the MNJCC.

“We have had a robust social network for people 18 to 35,” said Mendelsohn. “The MNJCC has for many years been a hub for inclusive programming that has been welcoming and encouraging to people of all abilities to be together based around their interests.”

Mendelsohn said that in March, COVID put all programming at the JCC on hold, so it was important to make sure that the participants in Every Day Friends could connect online.

Through funding from the Azrieli Foundation, there were training opportunities for them to learn to use Zoom. “People were given individual coaching by the IT department and everyone was online within a week.”

Mendelsohn said Summer Fun Intensive covers eight weeks of online programming – 10 hours a week for 25 participants. “It’s full every week.”

The program was made possible through support from the Green-Wagner Family Trust and the Azrieli Foundation.

In addition to Summer Fun Intensive, the MNJCC has received government funding for two online courses: filmmaking and photography, programs that have been running since mid-June. The filmmakers work with 25 youth who use camera phones to document their experiences during COVID.

“They want to make the wider community more aware of what people with disabilities have been through,” Mendelsohn said. “It’s really been hard.”

She pointed out that many of them had part-time or volunteer jobs, and/or community supports that have been temporarily suspended during the pandemic.

The online programs have given participants some structure to their day. “We have become the anchor to people who had [previously] had routines and jobs.”

Cathy Mallove, the mother of a participant in Summer Fun Intensive, described the online programming as “welcoming and vibrant.

“It’s an extension of the way the MNJCC operates. They’re giving people the socialization and community.”

Her daughter, Rebecca Geffen, 25, said she enjoys the online programs, particularly Civics, Improv Games with Becky, and Yoga with Karmit.

Rebecca Geffen

“Before COVID, I did Every Day Friends at the JCC,” Geffen said. “Now I do the program on Zoom every day. I love Zoom.”

“The JCC has done a lot for these kids,” said Mallove, noting that once people with disabilities reach the age of 21, there are fewer programs for them. “The JCC is a wonderful place. They think about this community and they keep this community engaged.”