June 23, 2023
Shabbat Shalom | Candle Lighting: 8:58 PM EDT
A Note from Michael Levitt
Mandatory Holocaust Education in Ontario Elementary Schools Comes at a Critical Time
As the school year draws to a close, members of FSWC’s Education Department are justly proud of the extent of their involvement with students since last fall and its impact. With the launch of our second Tour for Humanity mobile education centre last September and our hybrid approach to presenting workshops - offering both in-person and virtual options to schools - our educators reached tens of thousands of students across Canada with Holocaust, antisemitism and human rights education, including on the east coast for the first time ever. (Stay tuned for our year-end review of the school year in the coming days.)
With last week’s wrap of our successful 2023 State of the Union event in Toronto and the school year concluding, our team is now heading into a summer of program planning and gearing up for what will be another busy upcoming year. With our next Compassion to Action Holocaust study tour leaving for Poland and Israel in two weeks, speakers confirmed for Freedom Day 2023 and discussions with teachers underway as they prepare for the updated curriculum that will include, as of September, Holocaust education in Grade 6 – everyone at FSWC has much to look forward to.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to Ontario’s Minister of Education Stephen Lecce and chairs of the province’s school boards about the importance of the new Grade 6 social studies curriculum, which will now teach students about the Holocaust and Canada's response to it, our country’s Jewish community and the toxic impact of antisemitism. The revisions to the curriculum were shared with the public last week, after the Ontario government announced plans last year for introducing mandatory Holocaust education in elementary schools as well as relevant support for community resources - including FSWC's Antisemitism Classroom Toolkit. FSWC’s education team is honoured to have been part of the consultation process in the writing of the expectations.
During yesterday's meeting, I once again thanked Minister Lecce and the Ontario government for recognizing the need to include the Holocaust and related subjects in the elementary school curriculum and putting it into action in such a timely manner. The importance of involving community organizations, in this case the Jewish community, in such an initiative cannot be overstated. For many years, the Holocaust has been taught through the lens of the Nazi perpetrators. While we need to teach about the perpetrators as part of this history, it’s imperative that students see Holocaust victims as so much more than nameless victims. We must understand what was lost before we can really understand the impact of such a far-reaching catastrophe. And that’s exactly what these new curriculum expectations do.
At a time of rising hate targeting Jews around the world, we applaud the Ontario government's ongoing commitment to combatting antisemitism in schools, particularly through Holocaust and antisemitism education. The learning in these new curriculum expectations is necessary in countering the highly disturbing trend of increasing antisemitic incidents in our schools and classrooms. We are urging all provincial governments and schools across the country to follow suit.
Community Update. Short film documents impact of FSWC's Compassion to Action journey
Following last week’s premiere at FSWC’s State of the Union event, our short film documenting the experiences of participants in our recent Compassion to Action for Educators journey was shared with the public earlier this week. Made by Canadian filmmaker Matthew Shoychet, the moving video spotlights the impact of the program, which took 24 Ontario educators on a journey through Poland to learn about the Holocaust where much of it actually happened and gain tools to incorporate Holocaust lessons in classrooms.
With the new school year just over two months away, the FSWC education team has already begun preparing educators for the new Grade 6 curriculum that, as of September, will include lessons on Canada’s Jewish community, the impact of antisemitism and the Holocaust and Canada’s response – or lack thereof – to the Nazi genocide of European Jews. This week, FSWC thanked the Ontario government, particularly the Ministry of Education and its Minister Stephen Lecce, for revising the province’s school curriculum to include Holocaust education in elementary school.
Advocacy and Community Engagement Update
On the advocacy front this week, after it was announced that the York Region District School Board had hired private consultants to develop its Dismantling Hate and Oppression Framework, we reached out to the consultancy firm and set up a meeting with them to discuss our concerns about antisemitism in the district and promote our educational programs. Meanwhile, there have been several recent reported incidents of antisemitic vandalism around the country, including “Kill Zionists” graffiti in Toronto’s Graffiti Alley. In each case, we followed up with local police to ensure prompt removal of the offensive graffiti and investigation to locate and charge those responsible, while also offering support to the affected parties.
FSWC’s Director of Allyship and Community Engagement, Dan Panneton, has been busy engaging with members of diverse communities, building allyship between them and the Jewish community. This week, he met with the Alliance of Genocide Victim Communities, which includes organizations representing the Tigray, Uyghur, Tibetan and Rwandan communities, to discuss our respective organizations' work and possible points of collaboration. He will be continuing to nurture this relationship as the recently founded AGVC grows. Dan also attended the first meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario's Healthy Democracy Project Advisory Board, which FSWC joined to provide a Jewish voice.
Education Update. FSWC delivers final student workshops as school year comes to an end
As the current school year concludes, FSWC educators continued to deliver educational programs until the end of this week. There were 35 programs delivered to 1,020 elementary and secondary school students in Ontario this past week. This included one virtual workshop, one in-person workshop and 32 Tour for Humanity workshops.
In partnership with the Los Angeles office, Emily Thompson, Associate Director of Research, delivered the Combatting Online Hate program to the entire 90+ faculty and staff at Greenwood College School. This was followed by a facilitated discussion about the content of Emily’s presentation and directed Greenwood staff to start creating ways to implement their learning in the 2023-2024 school year.
The French version of the new Simon Wiesenthal picture book from FSWC, published with support from the Government of Ontario, was finalized this week and will now be going to print. The French and English versions of the book will lay the foundation for a new program that FSWC will offer to students in the fall. This book will support the new Grade 6 Social Studies curriculum on the Holocaust and antisemitism that was just released last week.
Simon Wiesenthal Around the World
2023 FSWC Sponsors
Fred and Linda Waks and Family