In mid-June, Charlotte took centerstage as 115 Holocaust leaders and scholars representing national and international Holocaust centers, university programs, museums and councils gathered for the 35th annual Association of Holocaust Organizations Conference. The theme this year was “Reconvening, Recalibrating, and Reimagining Holocaust Education for the 21 Century.”
The conference theme reflects the the fact that we are at a crossroads for a variety of reasons.
First, for more than two years, society has been grappling with the impact and aftereffects of a pandemic. Coming to terms with the pandemic highlighted issues like educational inequality, organizational fragility, and communal necessity.
Second, the heightened awareness of racial injustice and brutality in the US had us questioning our values. Living within a culture and a country that does not always live up to its ideals leads to many questions. The question that loomed large for us was, “What are the implications for Holocaust education within this space?”
Third, divisive and derisive politics and culture wars have escalated from words into violence against certain groups. This includes a virulent antisemitism that has left too many innocents dead and rocked some Holocaust survivors to their cores.
Finally, the war in Ukraine made us witnesses to flagrant and unprecedent abuses of Holocaust imagery and vocabulary to suit political ends. The news broadcast stories of attacks on Holocaust sites and memorials that hold enormous cultural and emotional value. We sat helplessly by as military forces desecrated the very places meant to help us remember the lessons of past atrocities.
During the conference, attendees examined the purpose of Holocaust education in the context of complex local, national, and global issues. We reevaluated foundational practices to identify those that are relevant and meaningful in today’s rapidly evolving field of education. We discussed our ongoing educational and memory work and asked hard questions about the implicit assumptions we might be making.
The conference opened with an invitation to participants to experience 165 years of Jewish life in Charlotte. The Jacobs-Jaffa Charlotte Jewish Tour (led by Susan Jacobs, Roz Cooper and Judy Schindler) presented a history rich with civic, business and religious leaders, and philanthropists.
Soren Kierkegaard once said, “The past can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” The conference spent time in both realms, looking backwards to discover ways of moving forward.
Over the following three days, participants heard from scholars, educators, and artists.
Dr. Mehnaz Afridi, the Director of the Holocaust, Genocide & Interfaith Education Center presented on the connection of Islam to the Holocaust and the overarching issue of colonialism.
Marco Gonzalez, Executive Director of Yahad-In Unum, shared a sobering update on the real-time research related to ongoing war crimes in Ukraine.
Dr. Kori Street, Interim Finci-Viterbi Executive Director, of the Shoah Foundation explored how the use of testimony has transformed social emotional learning.
Author Rich Brownstein discussed his book, “Holocaust Cinema Complete: A history and analysis of 400 films, with a teaching guide.” Dr. Michael Berenbaum, Director, Sigi Ziering Institute, joined him.
Our own Rabbi Judy Schindler interviewed Dr. Mark Weitzman on the the rising tide of violent antisemitism and how his work has evolved over the years.
Dr. Michael Berenbaum shared his deep knowledge and reflected on how Holocaust consciousness in American society developed over the past 75 years. He also spoke about America and the Holocaust.
We highlighted local Charlotte voices with a presentation by Dr. Willie Griffin, who discussed The Intersection between Holocaust and Civil Rights Education in the US. Folloing Dr. Griffin, Dr. James Grymes and Rosalia Torres Weiner Spoke about The Arts as a Bridge between Holocaust Education, Racial Justice, and Human Rights.
The group visited the Charlotte Museum of History in East Charlotte, where they explored the exhibits and learned about Charlotte’s past. During a delightful dinner, we honored the work of the NC Council on the Holocaust and collectively celebrated the passing of the Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act. The Charlotte History Museum, Aldersgate, Freida Rothman Jewelers, Helen Adams Realty and Novant Health sponsored the dinner.
Our final session, featured an International panel highlighting challenges and opportunities in their various organizations. Panelists included Tali Nates, Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, Karel Fracapane (UNESCO) and Dr. Tracey Petersen (UN) left everyone wanting more!
At the end of the conference many participants extended their stay and visited the Anne Frank Center at UofSC. The Anne Frank Center brings Anne’s story to life using a variety of immersive and interactive experiences.
Soren Kierkegaard once said, “The past can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” Conference participants took this to heart and looked backwards to discover ways of moving forward.