Holocaust education at a deeper level

Holocaust education at a deeper level

JFR fellowship participants bring added nuance and knowledge into their classrooms

Alexis Eldridge
Alexis Eldridge

Alexis Eldridge of Cranford has acquired some new tools for teaching the Holocaust at Cranford High School in the fall.

She was one of 28 middle and high school teachers from 13 states selected to participate in a five-day fellowship offered by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous this summer.

“It was really an invaluable experience for educators,” said Ms. Eldridge, 30, who is Jewish and teaches ninth through 12th graders about the Holocaust and genocide.

Fredy Reyes from Arthur L. Johnson High School in Clark also represented northern New Jersey at the program, which met in Newark.

Ms. Eldridge applied for the fellowship because “I have always felt that I have this responsibility to ensure that my knowledge of Holocaust scholarship is up-to-date and comprehensive, that I’m teaching my course with fidelity,” she said.

Among nine scholars who lectured at the program, Ms. Eldridge was most impressed by Peter Hayes of Northwestern University, a specialist in the histories of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, and Doris Bergen of the University of Toronto, whose research focuses on religion, gender, and ethnicity in the Holocaust.

“You’re not only getting into the nitty gritty of the timeline of the Holocaust and an understanding of what happened, but you’re also gaining the opportunity to really discuss and reflect on the nuances of the Holocaust,” Ms. Eldridge said. “I can take all of that information and tools back with me to my students and my own classroom.”

The graduate-level program allowed the 2023 Alfred Lerner Fellows to meet in small groups following each lecture to address the specific aspect of the Holocaust that had been presented, discuss teaching concepts, and develop approaches to introducing the subject matter to their students. The initiative honors the late businessman Alfred Lerner, an early supporter of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.

Last year was Ms. Eldridge’s first experience teaching the Holocaust. “I plan to switch the focus a little bit of what I’ve been teaching,” she said. “Until now, it’s been sort of a survey course in the sense that I’m trying to fit a lot of material into a relatively short period of time. Now I want to focus specifically on the bureaucratic hurdles that existed that prevented you from being able to escape Germany in the early years of the Nazi regime or even after the end of World War II.”

Ms. Eldridge also wants to focus on ways in which artifacts can “enhance our understanding of the Holocaust. The importance of survivor testimony and diaries and journals. These are just some of the things that I’m going to bring into my class next year.”

Many states mandate Holocaust education in public schools while a few y are banning or censoring textbooks that confront uncomfortable or difficult truths about the past. Some local school boards are even giving parents the ability to ban a book from a school library. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican running for his party’s nomination for president, has called that move a clampdown on “woke indoctrination” and says it is intended to ban educators from making students feel guilt or shame in relation to historical events.

In her own school district, “Holocaust education is a huge initiative to teach about prejudice, equity, and inclusion,” Ms. Eldridge said. “I’ve faced no resistance whatsoever. We are working toward doing better in terms of deepening a student’s understanding of the Holocaust.”

Besides Holocaust education, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous provides monthly financial assistance to more than 110 elderly, needy righteous gentiles, who live in 11 countries, according to a news release.

Since its founding, the JFR has provided more than $44 million to aged and needy rescuers. They represent people who faced immense risks, often putting their own lives and the lives of their families in danger, by providing shelter, food, and protection to Jews in Nazi-occupied territories.

JFR says its Holocaust teacher education program has become a standard for teaching the history of the Holocaust and educating teachers and students about the significance of righteous gentiles as moral and ethical exemplars.. For more information, go to www.jfr.org.

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