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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Integrated Day of Learning on the Holocaust

Our Juniors are watching the award winning film, Life is Beautiful, in order to lead to a discussion of whether it is appropriate to create fiction and/or comedy about the Shoah.

Yesterday at Frisch was the juniors’ integrated day of learning. The topic for the day arose from the Hebrew Language department, whose eleventh grade curriculum is on the Shoah. In fact, for the junior integration day, we were able to arrange, through Mrs. Dafna Zilberschmid, head of the Frisch Hebrew Language department, a partnership with Ulpanat Harel, a school in Nahariyah. Frisch and Ulpanat Harel planned our Holocaust integration days together and are following the same curriculum. Next week, Rabbi Pittinsky will be in Israel and will Skype with us at Frisch from The Ulpana, enabling students in both schools to share their thoughts about the integration day. 

The topic of the Shoah also connects well with the junior theme for the year, Conflict. In fact, Rabbi Ciner introduced the day, explaining to the juniors that becoming more mature means grappling with deeply troubling issues, such as the Holocaust, on a complex level. Doing so was the aim of the day.

To begin the program, the juniors watched Life is Beautiful, a fable about the Shoah. Five different sessions on the Holocaust followed:

English: Dr. Anne Berkman, Mrs. Ruth Wang-Birnbaum, Rabbi Daniel Rosen
Last week, students were assigned “The Shawl” by Cynthia Ozick, a short story about the Holocaust. After watching the fictional, even “comic” film about the Holocaust, students then debated whether one should create fictitious stories about the Holocaust.

American History: Mrs. Betty Kaplan, Mr. Josh Gotlieb, Mr. Peter Tamburro, Mr. Anthony diBartolo
American history teachers covered the controversial issue of whether Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the American Jewish community did enough to help European Jewry during World War II. Although Roosevelt was once seen unequivocally as the Jews’ savior, recent research has thrown that idea into question.

Talmud: Rabbi Yaakov Blau, Rabbi Asher Bush, Rabbi Michael Zauderer, Rabbi Sheldon Morris, Rabbi Gedaliah Jaffe
Responsa from the Holocaust is heartbreaking and yet inspiring. Students saw the incredible level of devotion Jews had  to observing halakha and keeping their faith alive even in the midst of the fiery cauldron of the Shoah. With our school in Israel, we decided to focus on responsa that have to do with making a Kiddush Hashem, but some Talmud teachers here also added teshuvot about Pesach, as students are learning Pesachim this year.

Hebrew Language: Morah Miriam Bar-Oz, Morah Ella Regev, Morah Dafna Zilberschmid, Morah Ronit Cole
The Ulpana in Israel visited a museum, Shem Olam, that not only takes one through the experience of the Shoah from a historical angle, but also grapples with the theological questions the Shoah raises, such as how could God allow the Holocaust to occur and why do bad things happen to good people? The Hebrew Language department began this conversation at Frisch through the poem, “Akeidat Yitzchak,” by a Hebrew poet named Itzik, who felt, as other Jews did, that God had allowed His children to be sacrificed, had not replaced us, as He did with Yitzchak in the Torah, with a ram.

Jewish Philosophy: Dr. Shira Weiss, Morah Racheli Weiss, Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky, Mrs. Tikvah Wiener
Why do bad things happen to good people? Students continued the discussion of theodicy in a session on Jewish philosophy, during which they discovered philosopher Viktor Frankl’s and the Rav’s responses to suffering: that we cannot fully know why or how evil happens, but we can transform ourselves into better people and the world into a better place, by saying that we will not inflict suffering but will instead work to end it. 

Wrap-up session:
A film clip from the movie Skokie, about the Nazis’ desire to march in Illinois, served as a wrap-up for the day’s classes and transitioned students into their facilitated discussion time. Students talked out the day’s issues with Rabbi Neil Fleischmann, Rabbi Eli Ciner, Rabbi JZ Spier, Rabbi Michael Zauderer and Mrs. Tikvah Wiener, analyzing whether Life if Beautiful should have been made; what we can do today to make sure world Jewry is safe and alleviate the suffering of all peoples; and even whether forgiveness is possible or necessary.

Student response:
Students then finished the day by taking a survey about the day’s lessons. Here are some of their responses:

On theodicies:
“I don't think that anything will ever make me understand why the Holocaust happened.”

On whether Evan Kauffmann, an American Jew, should play for the national German hockey team:
“The Holocaust was a long time ago so I am not saying we should forget about it, but if this guy wants to play hockey for [the Germans] then it’s up to him. I don't know if I was asked to play hockey for them, I would be able to say yes to the Germans. For example, people buy German-made cars. Is that right???”

On what session or idea was most moving:
“Hearing about the difficult Halachic choices the Jews had to make, and their stories of what they did was the most moving. During our Talmud class, we read a story about what lengths Jews went to observe the mitzvah of matzah on Passover.”

Thanks to all the teachers who worked so hard to prepare meaningful and unique lessons for today; to Mrs. Beverly Geller, for being, as always, an amazing resource for the teachers; to Mrs. Betty Kaplan, for the many enhancements she made to the program; and to Mrs. Lila Korn for her contributions. Finally, Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky worked tirelessly to create today’s program; he is an invaluable member of the Frisch community.

We dedicate our day of Holocaust learning to the survivors who experienced the atrocities of the Shoah and to the kedoshim who perished in its flames.

-Mrs. Tikvah Wiener
English Department Chair and Coordinator of Interdisciplinary Studies

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