Today was an incredible day ! Visiting a school anywhere is always interesting, intriguing and always feels familiar. There were many reasons why I felt at home today. Let's first start with the bell. Yes, in this high school too they have bells. They are just a bit different. Imagine, Jingle Bells being the ringtone for your school bell !! I was astounded at this fact and even more amazed that the students did not know it was a Christmas song ! The teachers did and in the middle of my first presentation we laughed over this very unusual system.
I did three presentations today to mostly juniors and seniors. The presentations were about our Holocaust program with emphasis on the Holocaust Study Tour. These students all will take similar trips to Poland during their high school career. The concept of traveling to authentic historical sites to study the Holocaust is very familiar to them.
What did I learn from this group? First, studying the Holocaust is part of their life and their consciousness. Most understand the Holocaust from the history of Jews during that time period. When I began to discuss other genocides and the warning signs of genocide, they were completely unfamiliar with the term even when the teacher translated it into Hebrew. So, I asked them to name other genocides to build the connection. In the first class, they were familiar with the Armenian Genocide, but not Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur, etc. I asked them if they were aware that they had 200 Sudanese refugees living in Israel, they were unaware. I told them about Holocaust survivors in America speaking side by side with Rwandan survivors, they couldn't conceptualize that idea and were amazed. I told them about our efforts to raise funds for Darfur, how many schools in America participate in this kind of relief work and I think I caused some of the students to research this more.
When we continued the conversation of genocide, I asked them if they knew Israel's stance on the Armenian Genocide in connection to Turkey. This they knew, that as a government, just like our government, neither go against Turkey's wishes and call the massacres against the Armenians and other Christian minorities a genocide. Several students in the first class felt very strongly that the nation of Israel should be outspoken on this issue and call the atrocities against the Armenians a genocide. And this is exactly how the students in my class feel about every recent American president who won't confront Turkey on this issue.
What did they learn? Well, they were amazed at the backgrounds of our students studying the Holocaust. It just isn't in their framework. I emphasized the lessons that our students learn in the course and on the Holocaust Study Tour. In particular, they watched a clip from our 2009 trip documentary of the clean-up of Plaszow- the former site of a Nazi concentration camp. They were horrified over devastating the conditions of the historical site and clearly understood the level of responsibility of the students who initiatied this effort. I had them read the Hebrew text on the gravestone to involve them fully in understanding that this was a gravestone of a Jewish woman who started the first girls Orthodox school. And then they saw at the end of this piece, a Muslim student, Sarah Moghul from Jersey City, also participating in this effort. I don't think I have to explain to anyone who is reading this blog why that is an important lesson for these students and they fully embraced the idea. Most students thanked me for this work and for the students who have taken on this issue. We all walked away learning something new and with a deeper level of appreciation for eachother's culture.
As we work on this partnership, it is obvious to me after today that we have a school that in many ways has students like ours; bright, passionate, enlightened and most of all willing to delve deeper into issues that matter. They were very open to a dialogue which I am very much looking forward to. In the future, I see a wonderful opportunity for these students to visit us in New Jersey ! Yes, another project that will be fruitful for all !!!
I am trying to download pictures from today to this post. I am going to publish this post now and edit later when someone can help me with this computer that doesnt' seem to like my camera !
Oh, by the way, all of Israel is going on strike tomorrow! Trains, buses, airports, schools, all union workers! This is very much like Israel. The last time I was hear in 1999 the airport was threatening a strike and it didn't occur until I left. To get to Jerusalem tomorrow I already knew that they were driving me in the afternoon to Haifa, which is one hour from here and then I was supposed to get the train to Tel Aviv where Mr. Barmore was picking me up. Yesterday the train didn't go directly to Nahariya so I had to get off at the end of the line and take a shuttle to Nahariya. Thank goodness for the young Israeli soldiers who could speak English because they were very, very helpful. Now the plan will have to change if there is a strike and the car will have to take me directly below Tel Aviv for me to get picked up and go to Mevesseret which is a suburb of Jerusalem.
All I can say is, they tell me here the strike is supposed to last only 24 hours so I hope that is true!