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MONTREAL, NOVEMBER 4,  2015 –Nechama Surik, one of three English Montreal School Board teachers  who got the chance to participate in the annual Teaching of the Holocaust for Educators Program last summer at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel, is already applying what she learned in the classroom at the Shadd Health and Business Centre in NDG.

Ms. Surik recently gave a presentation at the Old Orchard Avenue building for special guests to see firsthand how she integrated this subject matter into the classroom. The Consul General of Israel for Quebec and the Maritimes Ziv Nevo Kulman was in attendance, marking the first time someone in his position had ever visited an EMSB school. Principal Roma Medwid and her Assistant Director Maria Caldarella made sure to make everyone feel comfortable by ordering an authentic Israeli lunch of falafel, chicken, pita and different vegetable dishes.

Ms. Surik, a native of Israel, teaches nursing at the Shadd Health and Business Centre in NDG. The program she participated in was made possible through the Riva and Thomas O. Hecht Scholarship Program. 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.

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.”

Ms. Surik said that many people asked her how she would link the Holocaust with the Health Program at Shadd. “Even professionals in Israel needed an explanation,” she said. “As a teacher of nursing I show how to provide ‘assistance in health care facilities’ and how to take care of patients using best practices, how to provide basic physical and mental health care at home, hospitals or geriatric centres.  Whoever understands Alzheimer’s disease and is familiar with Dementia knows that often the sick person returns to their childhood, goes back to their first language - even if it was not spoken for years. They might not remember what was said a second ago, but they can remember what happened 40 years ago.  This is a difficult disease not only for the patient, but even more for the family. After teaching my student’s theory in class, after spending many hours of practicing procedures in our modern well equipped lab, I guide them in a clinical practice stage in the hospital.

“Our great partners at Shadd include the Jewish General Hospital, Donald Berman Maimonides and the Jewish Elder Care.   These partners of ours have many Jewish clients. I have seen students who cannot understand why patients under their care refuse showers, not knowing that the person fights to stay away, because they think that the shower is a gas chamber so they are merely trying to stay alive. I have seen students discover little stashes of food hidden in dressers and in closets, in pillow cases, not knowing that this survival mechanism kept the resident alive 70 years ago and now with Alzheimer’s or Dementia they live this again.  They don't want to go through the humiliation of getting undressed in front of so many people, as they had to do when they were humiliated by the Nazis. If my students are not aware of the horrors that many of our clients went through how will they be able to understand this typical and sad behavior? How will they be able to care for this person and deal with the issue compassionately? The human aspect of nursing is the most important one for me as a clinician, teacher and human being.”

Ms. Surik says that she wanted to participate in the Yad Vashem seminar not simply to enrich her own education regarding the Holocaust, but to find the correct tools to teach her students. “I was invited to be part of this ‘once in a life time’ experience at Yad Vashem because of the active and ongoing support of. Riva and Thomas Hecht.   I have no words to thank them, so I decided to show them my gratitude by inviting them into my classroom and witness the implementation of the first ever Holocaust lesson in a vocational school. This trip changed my life.”

Ms. Surik revealed to everyone on hand that she is deaf, something most people are not aware of and that she expands upon in her book The Will To Live.

Riva and Thomas Hecht were in attendance as was EMSB Chairman Angela Mancini, Commissioner Joseph Lalla, Director of Adult Education and Vocational Services Cosmo Della Rocca and Assistant Director Mario Argiropoulos.

Mr.  Nevo Kulman spoke about what it was like growing up as the son of  a Holocaust survivor and emphasized the importance of teaching the Holocaust. He was delighted to make EMSB history with his unprecedented visit.  Mr. Hecht silenced the room by recounting his experience as a child survivor of the Holocaust, having fled the former Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia and then France. His family eventually settled in Canada and he went on to enjoy a very successful career in the pharmaceutical industry and as a philanthropist and community activist.

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