MONTREAL, AUGUST 24, 2015 – Three teachers from the English Montreal School Board– Lev Berner from Vincent Massey Collegiate in Rosemount, Nechama Surik from the Shadd Health and Business Centre in NDG and Marie Francis from John Grant High School in Côte St. Luc – got the chance to participate in the annual Teaching of the Holocaust for Educators Program, an annual seminar that takes place for three weeks every summer in Israel, which is conducted by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.
The program, which is made possible through the Riva and Thomas O. Hecht Scholarship Program, recently marked its 10th anniversary. Its goal is to provide professional development activities to teachers for teaching the Holocaust and anti-Semitism to students in the youth sector, and starting this year, in the adult education and vocational sector. As well, each scholarship recipient is asked to create at least one teaching unit or module developed within the context learned.
The participants went through a demanding, intensive schedule of course work every day except Saturday, which included lectures delivered by experts from Yad Vashem, Hebrew University and The Jerusalem Post newspaper, discussion groups and listening to live testimonies from Holocaust survivors. There was also time to explore Israel and visit its many sites and attractions through guided bus and walking tours to such places as the Yad Vashem museum, a kibbutz in northern Israel and the Golan Heights.
All three EMSB participants enthusiastically agreed that being in Israel for this year’s program was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Ms. Francis was excited about going to Israel for the very first time, but was slightly apprehensive because of the media reports she read about the Arab-Israeli conflict and the peace process; however, that all changed after spending three weeks there.
“What a wonderful and beautiful country!” she said. “The people are kind and very friendly. The society is multicultural and multi-religious. It was an unforgettable experience in an unforgettable country that I will surely want to visit again.”
Another memorable part of the program for Ms. Francis was hearing the personal testimonies of several Holocaust survivors, in particular Tibi Ram, whom she thought exemplified “the beauty of the human spirit.”
Ms. Francis noted: “He came to Israel after losing his family to the Holocaust, fought for its independence, joined a kibbutz, and still refers to himself as ‘a simple farmer and solder.’ I sat humbly at his feet listening to his words and realizing that my life has been soft and light in comparison to these heroes. They have lived and thrived despite of all the horrors they had experienced.”
Mr. Berner expressed his gratitude to the Hechts for giving him this rare opportunity to be a participant in the program. “To learn from some of the top Holocaust scholars in the world, and to be able to have the opportunity to bestow that knowledge onto my students is a charge that I do not take lightly,” he said.
As for integrating what he learned during those three weeks in Israel into his classroom curriculum at Vincent Massey Collegiate, Mr. Berner said he would combine some original ideas that he thought up of, along with the many inspirations he got from his fellow participants, to help him develop an educational framework. “The more I teach these topics, the more the unit will evolve,” he said. “It is not a set piece, but rather something that can grow with every year until I have reached my utmost potential, that of ensuring Holocaust Education remains an indelible part of the ERC (Ethics and Religious Culture) course.”
Ms. Surik, who was born in Israel, found the entire experience an eye opener, and wanted to learn more about the Holocaust during her time with the Yad Vashem program, so that she could integrate Holocaust Studies into the health program at Shadd.
“Since the Jewish community is a big partner at Shadd and the EMSB, it’s crucial that my students will receive training before going to their clinical stages,” she said. “It’s a challenge to introduce this to a very diverse class of adults, but at Yad Vashem I got the tools and the confidence I needed to do the work.”
As well, Ms. Surik was one of two participants who were appointed by seminar directors Steffie and Ephraim Kaye to be a “Captain” throughout the duration of the program. It included such daily duties as taking attendance, coordinating day to day issues and concerns, ensuring that participants were ready and organized for that day’s activities, and shepherding the group during guided tours that were taken outside Yad Vashem. “No words can ever express my appreciation to Riva and Thomas Hecht for this once in a lifetime experience,” she said. “My gratitude will be proven by my mission to teach the Holocaust.”