July 28, 2023
Shabbat Shalom | Candle Lighting: 8:39 PM EDT
A Note from Michael Levitt
The Enduring Power of Survivor Voices
Following a 10-day intensive Holocaust education tour in Poland and Israel, our 2023 Compassion to Action participants returned home late last week. Joining them was Holocaust survivor Gershon Willinger, who shared his testimony and insights throughout the journey. He followed in the footsteps of previous Holocaust survivor participants in our annual Compassion to Action program, including Max Eisen z"l, who devoted his time to the program for many years, and Andy Reti, who travelled with us last year. Stay tuned as we will be sharing more about this year's trip in the coming weeks.
The Compassion to Action tour concluded as our team back home ramped up summer programs, with several Holocaust survivors sharing their testimonies with students and professionals. Last Wednesday and Thursday, Holocaust survivors Vera Schiff and Hedy Bohm told their personal stories to summer school students in York Region, and this week, survivor Andy Reti shared his testimony with a group of professionals at UM Canada in Toronto.
The feedback we regularly receive from participants in our educational programs, whether they're students, educators or other professionals, is that the voices of survivors make learning about the Holocaust more powerful and meaningful. Through workshops and other programs featuring Holocaust survivor testimony, participants connect with the survivors on a personal level, learning about their traumatic losses, how they endured the Holocaust, how they overcame hurdles after gaining freedom and their triumphs since then. To this day, I am still in awe of all the survivors we work with, who remain committed to sharing their painful memories in an effort to ensure people don’t forget about the Holocaust and don’t allow such a monumental tragedy to happen again. Their ability to overcome extreme adversity and triumph over evil - building new lives here in Canada, surrounded by their growing families - serves as an inspiration to all.
On Monday, the FSWC team listened to virtual testimonies of Toronto survivors, many of whom we work with, as they paid a visit to the recently opened Toronto Holocaust Museum. These first-hand witness accounts provide an understanding of the Holocaust that no textbook can offer. It's why ensuring their testimonies and messages of Never Again continue to be shared, and are captured for generations to come, is more critical than ever.
Community Update. FSWC stands in solidarity with Ukrainian community in Canada
Standing in solidarity with Canada's Ukrainian community, FSWC denounced hateful graffiti discovered on a Ukrainian camp sign in Quebec, stating, "We stand with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in denouncing this despicable act and against rising hate incidents targeting Ukrainian Canadians. It's unsettling to see this hateful vandalism of a Ukrainian camp sign in Quebec, promoting the Russian military and Wagner Group, a Russian state-funded paramilitary with links to neo-Nazism and far-right extremism that is taking part in the invasion of Ukraine."
On Monday, the FSWC team visited the recently opened Toronto Holocaust Museum to explore its impressive interactive exhibits about the Shoah. We're thankful to the museum for welcoming us and for its critical contribution to educating about Nazi Germany and its genocidal campaign against European Jews and for ensuring the voices of survivors live on. We look forward to continuing to work with the museum to further Holocaust education in Toronto and beyond.
Statistics Canada is performing community consultations for their Police-Reported Indigenous and Racialized Identity Statistics via the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey. FSWC is providing input about how they will collect race-based data on the Jewish community, particularly in light of the difficulties StatsCan has previously had with defining and measuring Jewish identity in its census of Canadians. This week, FSWC was also pleased to meet with the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto (CCCGT) to discuss possible future collaborations and initiatives.
Education Update. Summer programs are in full swing
This past Sunday, St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Port Hope, Ontario invited FSWC to present a full day of programming with our Tour for Humanity. The church is active in the larger Port Hope community and looks for ways to engage in new learning opportunities. We began the day working with the congregation’s youth group through our Simon’s Story: Heroes Among Us workshop, that captivated a group of 8-12-year-olds.
The two afternoon workshops were geared toward both adults within the church and the wider community. The church’s pastor and two of the deacons also sat in on the workshops. Our Holocaust: Then and Now workshop led to a larger discussion about the new Grade 6 curriculum and challenges that both teachers and parents have been struggling with. For this workshop, we were also joined by local MPP David Piccini, who was thankful we brought our programming to his community.
Last Wednesday and Thursday, Holocaust survivors Vera Schiff and Hedy Bohm shared their testimonies with students in grades 6-8 at the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) Virtual Summer School. Students had received prior information on the Holocaust through virtual workshops and were engaged and respectful. They posed several questions, including how each survivor came to Canada, what messages they wanted students to take with them, and how each survivor found strength during the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, Holocaust survivor Andy Reti delivered his testimony to 40 employees at UM Canada, a strategic media agency and marketing consultancy firm that’s part of UM Worldwide, which employs almost 5,000 employees in 130 offices in 100 countries. FSWC and Andy were invited by UM’s Jewish Employee Resource Group called “Menches and Friends.”
Preparations are underway for the new school year
With the new school year just over a month away, the FSWC education team has been busy reviewing all of our student workshops to incorporate changes that reflect the classrooms we visit. The team has reflected on its own personal experiences, reviewed feedback from teachers, and is using all of this information to update content and redesign the look and feel of the presentations to ensure they will engage young student audiences across Canada.
New professional development programs are in development as well to support educators in teaching the new Ontario Grade 6 Social Studies curriculum that was introduced in June. The new curriculum includes content on the Holocaust along with Jewish heritage in Canada. FSWC’s educators are reviewing their data collection strategies, working with an external consultant to gather data from a sample of teachers on the impact of programming delivered, and to revise current data collection strategies to better measure the success of the educational programs moving forward.
Limited tickets for screenings in Winnipeg and Vancouver on August 21-22 are still available!
Simon Wiesenthal Around the World
2023 FSWC Sponsors
Fred and Linda Waks and Family