Our students are participating in a three-day seminar at the Ghetto Fighter’s House Museum. Day Three was centered on learning about and experiencing the Center for Humanistic Education under the Guidance of Dr. David Netzer, who works at the center and teaches an education course in the program. The Center for Humanistic Education was established in 1995 on the inspiration of an Israeli history teacher after she spent a sabbatical year at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. She was fascinated by the Museum’s ability to make the Holocaust relevant for non-Jews and wanted to do the same in Israel. The center integrates Holocaust education for Jews and Arabs with a Jewish-Arab dialogue about the current conflict. The program is voluntary and contains three parts: the meaning of the Holocaust for us today, Jewish-Arab relations, and an optional session for graduates on shared and active citizenship. The second part of the program has existed since 1996 as a result of a comment by an Arab student who participated in the first course and asked “what about our story?” He was expressing that he came to hear about the Holocaust, the Jewish national tragedy, and wanted the opportunity to speak about his own story as well. This comment reset the Center’s orientation as in order to be a mutual process both sides of the story must be included.
Yariv Lapid, the Director of the Center, spoke to our students about this change in the program goals. Lapid said that if you take the lessons of the Holocaust seriously you have a moral imperative to apply the lessons of the past to the present. He takes Yehuda Bauer’s warning that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a genocidal potential seriously and dialogue is needed to deal with the conflict. Lapid shared that half the Center’s staff are Arab. Lapid described the second part of the seminar where Jewish and Arab participants learn about events since 1948 including the Nakba as centered on history and narrative as part of identity. The participants share their family stories and explore how we arrive at different truths and identities from the same event, how we tell these stories, and whether our telling leaves room for the narrative of another. Lapid discussed the challenge of teaching the Holocaust to Arab students due to the fact that Holocaust denial is mainstream in Arabic media and learning about the Holocaust contradicts their socialization in which they are taught to see the Jews as oppressors or to be indifferent to the Holocaust as an event that has nothing to do with them. Lapid concluded by sharing his belief that the Holocaust is a universal paradigm that has immense learning potential about human society.
Throughout the morning our students had the opportunity to engage activities that are used with the Center’s participants such as analyzing four views on what we can learn from the Holocaust today, identifying examples of social exclusion in Nazi Germany, and dealing with bystanders and the Righteous Among the Nations. An important component of all the activities is encouraging the participants to think, question, and make comparisons to their society today. For example, our students were asked to think about who is excluded in their society today, why, and what their part in that exclusion is. The purpose is to learn from the universal values of the Holocaust and integrate the study of history with a critical look at the present.
In the final component of the seminar our students were able to meet with one Arab and one Jewish graduate of the program. It was fascinating for our students to hear their stories, what motivated them to participate in the program, and what they gained from it. Philip, the Arab participants, participated because he is a “history fanatic.” He shared that he learned to see and understand other perspectives and that both sides in the conflict make mistakes through the program. He explained that his Arab teachers don’t respect the Holocaust and just teach it because they have to. Daya, the Jewish participant, shared that her main motivation to participate in the program was to meet Arab students and learn about the Holocaust from a different point of view then she received in school that included learning about other genocides. Daya explained that she learned to talk to someone that she thought was on the other side even if she disagrees with them without shouting. The third day at the Center for Humanistic Education was a dynamic and stimulating conclusion to the seminar.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/