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MONTREAL, APRIL 21, 2006 - Over 80 grade 11 students from Bialik High School in Cote St. Luc and Laurier Macdonald High School in St. Léonard got together recently in a spirit of harmony, dialogue, interaction and understanding. The morning-long gathering at Laurier Macdonald was part of the program that will rename the facilities of the former Wagar High School in Côte St. Luc in honor of Giovanni Palatucci, the northern Italian police chief who was instrumental in saving the lives of 5,000 Jews during World War II. The official rededication ceremony is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, May 16.

“(This is) the first time that a public school in Canada is being named after an individual who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust. I am proud to have the students and teachers of both Bialik and Laurier Macdonald share this significant two-part celebration with us,” said EMSB commissioner Frank Verrillo, who addressed the students in the school’s auditorium. Other speakers included Miriam Rabkin from the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre Museum; Beryl Wajsman, president of the Institute of Public Affairs of Montreal; and Pat Buttino, Principal of Laurier Macdonald, who also served as principal of Wagar High School for two and a half years.

This was followed by a screening of “Ripples in Time,” the 47-minute film that was produced by staff and students of Laurier Macdonald as a companion piece to their sixth book of the same name, which is a collection of stories about the immigrant experience to Canada of several of the students’ families.

After the screening, the students convened at the school library, where they were divided up into 10 discussion groups, each one named after a Holocaust hero or prominent champion of human rights (Giovanni Palatucci, Oskar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, John Humphrey, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King and Simon Wiesenthal). Each group was led by an adult facilitator, including Mr. Wajsman, Ms. Rabkin and Mr. Verrillo, as well as Hanna Eliashiv from Bialik High School, Leah Berger from B’nai Brith Canada and EMSB Spiritual, Religious and Moral Education Consultant Irene Miller.

The students were asked to give their opinions about why their schools were chosen to participate in the Palatucci project, their impressions of the Holocaust Museum (which the Laurier Macdonald students visited along with the school’s spiritual community animator Vince Lacroce on March 29) and the “Ripples in Time” movie, and the role they would like to play in the May 16 ceremony. Each group selected a student as its leader, in which they wrote down what was discussed; each group leader then made a brief report in front of the rest of the groups towards the end of the program.

The group reports covered a wide range of topics and reactions, such as:

One group talked about how Giovanni Palatucci’s heroic actions were seen as influential to future generations on how cultures can become more tolerant towards one another; another group was impressed how this gathering gave them the opportunity to exchange ideas and promote intercultural awareness, and show how there are many similarities between the Italian and Jewish communities; one group discussed what is a miracle, and how a “miracle” can be defined in this day and age; the students of the group led by Beryl Wajsman were so galvanized and inspired by his message of going forward and helping people, that they decided to start a petition campaign against child labour, and hope to collect 10,000 names that they can present to federal government, in order to encourage them to place labels on products that are manufactured outside of Canada.

The participating students from Bialik and Laurier Macdonald will also be present at the Giovanni Palatucci Facility rededication ceremony on May 16.

Michael J. Cohen
Communications and Marketing Specialist
English Montreal School Board
Tel: (514) 483-7200 ext. 7243
Fax: (514) 483-7213