Posted by Elyse Rast
Many wonderful things can happen when middle and high school students meet Holocaust survivors. This engagement can help the past become more compelling, remind teens to be thoughtful in their personal choices, and ensure this tragedy is not forgotten. The importance of engaging with a survivor and hearing about his or her experiences are impactful and can be life-changing.
After a survivor spoke in a Boston public school last year, one student told me that he would "use [the survivor's] story and inspiring words for good and try to better myself." Another said that hearing about the past "taught me that you should always be kind and help others." At Schechter Holocaust Services, we wondered what might happen if students had the opportunity to meet a survivor three times at his or her house and create a meaningful project together. What might happen if students could absorb more than the survivor's experiences during the war by learning about his or her life beforehand as well as methods for coping in the decades afterwards?
In response, this past year we piloted Legacies: High School Visits, a program that matches high school students with Holocaust survivors. Students attended a training session where they learned about interviewing and public speaking skills, emergency preparedness, triggers and emotional trauma, and professionalism. After being put in pairs, students were matched with a survivor and subsequently met with them three times during the school year with a program culmination event that included presenting their projects.
The first year of this program was a resounding success! At the graduation ceremony, you would have been hard pressed to find a dry eye in the house. When I spoke to some of the survivor participants at graduation, they all had wonderful experiences to share. Leon, who survived in a ghetto, remarked, "I'm the luckiest guy in the world. There have been a lot of good things that have happened to me in this country, I've been fortunate, but this [program] is the most fortunate thing that ever happened." Another survivor, Yvette, commented that doing the project was "fabulous," the program was "wonderful," and she hopes to participate in it next year.
We look forward to sharing some of these graduation projects with you on our blog in the coming weeks. For more information or to get involved in the 2015-2016 Legacies: High School Visits program, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 781-693-1201.
JF&CS Schechter Holocaust Services is made possible by the generous support of the Claims Conference and the Dorot Foundation.
Elyse Rast is the Manager of Outreach and Education for Schechter Holocaust Services. For the past 20 years Elyse has taught children ranging in ages from 3-18 and specializes in Holocaust education. Currently, Elyse runs Jewish teenage empowerment classes at Prozdor Hebrew High School and is working on her PhD in Education at Lesley University. Elyse has two kids and two cats and lives in Westwood.