The Holocaust is a foundational part of our Jewish history, and most adults grew up hearing personal accounts from parents, grandparents or their friends. As the generation who survived the Holocaust ages it has become harder to access these first hand accounts and educators struggle with ways to keep this a living part of our history, teaching the sensitivities and the stories to our children.
Though the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey held ceremonies on Yom HaShoah that included firsthand testimonials, the teachers and administration felt that they needed to bring more awareness to their students. They created a program for their eighth graders titled “From Roots to Routes.”
“For both the boys and the girls, this was a true humanities project,” said Middle School General Studies Principal Robin Wexler. “All of our eighth grade history and English teachers met and developed the units that would ultimately inspire our eighth graders to remain highly engaged until the culminating event,” she explained. Starting with the grade visiting the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and then hearing first hand accounts from survivors on Yom HaShoah, “the students were truly awestruck after listening to the details of what each individual had to endure,” said Wexler.
As a cross-curricular endeavor, the students learned about the events leading up to World War II in their social studies classes. As part of the English curriculum, the boys read “Night” by Elie Wiesel and “Animal Farm” by George Orwell. The girls read “The Children of Willesden Lane- A True Story of Hope and Survival,” in addition to watching video clips, researching their own family history and selecting a family member’s journey to write about. The students also wrote their own poems or diary entries based on what they learned and how it made them feel.
Different students or groups of students were assigned topics that they researched, wrote about, made projects for and presented to fellow students and parents at a museum type of event on Monday night, June 3. “It was so meaningful to see the boys use their creativity to present a sensitive topic,” said Rifky Shor, parent of an eighth grade boy. “It was so well done and impressive.” The boys’ displays included models of the concentration camps, pieces of artwork, blackout writing and sculptures depicting their understanding of what they learned, and memorials of Holocaust victims.
The girls set up the RYNJ shul as a walk through museum, walking visitors through a timeline of life in the shtetl, to the ghettos, Kristallnacht, Kindertransport, the journey of the Mirrer Yeshiva, as well as concentration camps, stories of the gas chambers and uprisings during the war time periods.
“The students created passionate projects and writings,” said Meitel Mandelbaum, eighth grade social studies teacher. “Their projects reflected each child’s strengths and talents and exemplified insights beyond their years. We were blown away by all they accomplished.”
Together with their Talmud and Halacha rebbe, Rabbi Eliezer Abish, the eighth grade girls also studied halachic questions that came up in the ghettos and during the Holocaust, using the application of their studies over the course of the year to present the questions and answers. The displays were presented to middle school students during the school day and family was able to come and view them at night. Guests who came to visit the exhibits expressed their amazement at what was accomplished, as well as the depth of understanding and sensitivities displayed by the students.
“Studying the Holocaust as part of a bigger picture and learning about all of our families’ past histories made this unit so much more meaningful because it became personal for each one of us,” said Elisheva Kelsen.
“This showed me the importance of finding out and continuing to share our unique family history,” said Shoshana Fischer.
“The event held a great deal of meaning for our students, as they realized it is now up to their generation to keep alive the incredible stories of so many survivors,” said Wexler.
By Jenny Gans