Here's what the Education Department at Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) has been up to over the past month.
Finding Hope Through Education
The terror attack in Israel by Hamas terrorists on October 7, followed by the significant uptick in antisemitic incidents in Canada and around the world, have certainly challenged our faith in humanity. Simon Wiesenthal believed that the only way to shift the paths of hate and intolerance was through education, and we have leaned on education over this past month to help us hang on to hope.
We have found hope in our student programs that we have been delivering across Ontario. We taught a series of 14 workshops at an Ottawa-area school for all their Grade 3-8 students. There were several special moments of connection that students made with the FSWC facilitator during these presentations. One in particular involved a young student who was eight or nine years old. At the end of the last workshop, she handed a paper flower she had made to the FSWC educator while she was speaking. She, along with two of her friends, then also gave a hug to the educator.
Hope made its way into the teacher training we have been leading. Upper Canada District School Board's Equity and Inclusion Lead, Dan McRae, shared the following message after our four-part training session concluded: "I spoke to two senior students this morning who saw Holocaust survivor Andy Réti speak and were so inspired that they have started a student group committed to creating a safer and more inclusive school. That makes me happy and hopeful. Thank you for your partnership and always choosing hope."
The lasting impact of hope was shared by Halton Catholic District School Board teacher John McPhail in a message that he copied us on to his school board leadership: "The incidents of hatred are increasing in Canada and around the world. Antisemitism is an affront to the human dignity of our friends and neighbours. We cannot allow creeping apathy and normalization of hate and prejudices to take hold. FSWC has an excellent presentation on how media contributed to the stigmatization and hatred of the Jewish people in the years leading up to WW2. It begins with words and ends in tragedy." His call to action to his school board was to include more of this learning with their students and teachers.
There is still much work to do, and we are committed to carrying on Simon Wiesenthal's legacy to make this world a better place by fighting antisemitism and hate in all its forms.
Keep looking for hope. It is out there if you look for it.
Tour for Humanity: Notes from the Road
In October, Tour for Humanity was busy on the road, with both buses visiting elementary and secondary school students each day in numerous cities and towns across Ontario. The students were engaged in the discussions that we led about the Holocaust, antisemitism and what steps each person can take to stand up to hate and intolerance.
The visits in Kitchener-Waterloo and Halton Hills were in the news in October:
Holocaust education bus tours schools in Waterloo region
Holocaust education bus makes stops at Halton Hills schools
Tour for Humanity Director Daniella Lurion arrived at a school in Oakville and was met by a class with a copy of FSWC's picture book publication, The Long Road to Justice: The Story of Simon Wiesenthal. Not only were the students there to learn about the Holocaust, they were also eager to share what they had already learned about this dark chapter of history and to get their books signed by one of its co-authors.
Professional Development Training Continues
FSWC's Senior Educator Elena Kingsbury and Director of Education Melissa Mikel completed the delivery of a four-part training series with a select group of Upper Canada District School Board leaders in October.
After delivering three 90-minute virtual presentations that addressed what it means to be Jewish, the history of antisemitism and how to teach the Holocaust, the fourth and final session was an in-person training experience that tied all the training pieces together. It was also an opportunity for this group to share their next steps and what they intended to do with their learning.
The educators had the opportunity to speak directly with Holocaust survivor Andy Réti. Their questions drew on Andy's experience in speaking with students over the last several decades and sharing lessons that can be drawn from the Holocaust.
Andy also shared his testimony with 400 high school students who were fully engaged throughout his presentation.