Hudson Jewish Community Forum

Jersey City public schools serious about Holocaust ed. Print E-mail
Written by Sarah Morrison   
The Jewish State
November 21, 2008

One of the most unique aspects of the New Jersey education system is the required study of the Holocaust in public schools.

The Jersey City public school system takes this requirement a step further. Instead of reading books or leading discussions, Jersey City takes its kids to Poland to see the remnants of the destruction firsthand.

None of the kids in the program is Jewish.

"Hudson County is the most diverse county in New Jersey," said Adam Weiss, chairman on the HudsonJewish board of trustees. "There are well in excess of 50 languages spoken in the public schools here, and it is the smallest county in the state, yet the most diverse and the most dense."

Weiss believes that the program brings Holocaust awareness to a group of kids who would have never met a Jew before. The program, he said, can relate to the home countries of some, where there may be genocide still going on.

"The children grow up with only limited contact with Jews," Weiss said. "A very good percentage of the children are second-generation immigrants. They certainly would have not met any Jews in their own countries. It's programs like this that help bring the Jewish experience to their attention."

The program was brought to the Jersey City school system by June Chang, language and arts supervisor of the Jersey City school system. In the program, students apply and 11 are allowed in. They raise the money to visit Europe for a first-hand look at the disasters they learn about back home. The program includes visits to Berlin, Prague, and Krakow in order to trace the Jewish life and history in each of the towns and where it stands today

"The program was implemented basically to bring awareness and� see and touch the places and actually get a detailed and real life connection to the Holocaust," Chang said. "They make associations that they would not normally be able to make in a classroom setting. [The students] have to come up with their own ideas and thoughts to understand the Holocaust and bring awareness to the community when they come back."

In order to raise community awareness, the students that attended the trip speak at other schools throughout the district, reporting on the Jewish life they learned about on the trip and the sights that they would not have seen if they did not attend. On their speaking tour, the students are raising money to build a memorial in Prague to those who helped rescue and hide Jews during the Holocaust.

The program, Chang said, also brings awareness other genocides currently going on throughout the rest of the world.

"This program also brings awareness to what's happening in Darfur and Sudan," Chang said. "We're trying to initiate a program where students write letters to state government officials [about] Darfur [to ask] questions about what's happening. The consciousness and awareness to fight against injustice is rising."

Most gratifying for Chang has been that students are able to make connections to their personal lives.

"There's a whole segment (of the program) where we're there (Europe) with an Israeli historian," Chang said. "He tells us about the people he interviewed who are survivors. These aren't just people who went through it. These are personal lives where people can connect to mother, daughter, son, or father. They're able to make the connection that it's a human life, of preserving human life no matter who you are or where you're from. It's a very powerful moment, at least for me, when they're able to see beyond the history of it and seeing that it is a human issue, and that's what makes the program worthwhile."

HudsonJewish trustee Raylie Dunkel is very proud of the program and what it is able to accomplish. The program has a resonating effect on the students, she said.

"I think it's very important because we cannot forget," Dunkel said. "Plus, it's not only the Jewish journey. It's every person's journey. And with holocausts still going on around the world, we have to involve everyone. It's important right here and right now because of the diverse group of people who are getting together for this, not only of Jersey City, but also for all of Hudson County."

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