April 12, 2024
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Inaugural Student Leadership Conference In Ocean County Combats Hate

Four hundred students from nine school districts throughout Ocean County participated in the first Ocean Student Leadership Conference. The focus of the gathering was “Heroes and Rescuers.”

The event was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Ocean County and the Ocean County Cultural & Heritage Commission, with funds provided by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the New Jersey Historical Commission. The program was presented by the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights & Genocide Education (Chhange), and hosted by Ocean County College at the Grunin Center for the Arts.

According to Annabel Lindenbaum, board chair of the Federation: “When we embarked on our effort to combat hate in Ocean County, we didn’t realize that we would have so many great examples to refer to on a regular basis, most recently Kanye West and the extremist who attacked Nancy Pelosi’s husband.”

The featured speaker was Pastor Chris Edmunds. He told the story of his dad, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, who saved the lives of 200 Jewish prisoners of war in Germany. The commandant ordered him to identify the Jews among the 1,200 in a prisoner-of-war camp where he was the highest-ranking officer. His response: “We are all Jews here.”

According to Pastor Edmonds, he calculated that thanks to his father’s actions standing up for his fellow servicemen, there are now 13,000 people alive today.

The theme of how everyone can be an “upstander” was the key takeaway of this conference. As stressed by Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer, who also participated, we shouldn’t stand idly by when someone else is victimized. Other speakers included Dr. Henry Jackson of Ocean County College, Howard Dorman of Chhange, and Annabel Lindenbaum from the Jewish Federation. All stressed how this is particularly important today, especially among students and young people, as antisemitism and other forms of hate proliferate in our society.

This theme of being an upstander is also the idea behind the Jewish Federation’s Heroes Against Hate awards, presented at its Community of Caring event in December. The aim is to honor local community members who stand up to do what’s right.

As Pastor Edmonds said during his talk: “Sadly, antisemitism has not gone way. It is growing. It is real. And it is evil.” The students also heard from child Holocaust survivor Manny Lindenbaum. In his words, “It’s not complicated to make a difference in someone’s life. Don’t stand by. Stand up.”

For more information about this Student Leadership Conference and Heroes Against Hate, visit: www.jewishoceancounty.org/combatting-hate

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