What do the Kurds have to do with Holocaust? More than you might think.
When Fran Lapides discusses the plight of this Middle Eastern minority group with her high school students, she notes the similarities to the way the Jews were persecuted during the Holocaust.
"Why do some people choose to treat the Kurds differently than other Iraqis?" the Milken Community High School social science chair asked her history classes. According to the educator, the rampant bigotry and racism is the same as the Jews faced in the Holocaust.
Using resources and teaching methods suggested by Facing History and Ourselves, an international educational and professional development organization, Lapides incorporates the Holocaust to illustrate stereotyping and hate connected with other significant historical and current events.
As Yom HaShoah approaches, thoughts of the Holocaust inevitably permeate the minds of Southland Jews. Faced with the challenge of communicating these horrors to children and hoping they can learn from it, various local educational programs strive to train teachers to teach this difficult subject matter.
Having participated in Facing History and Ourselves' training several years ago, Lapides and her staff have used the organization's resources for more than 10 years.
"First you look at the individual," Lapides said. "You look at yourself and how 'the other' is created and why people sit back and don't protest." Using the Holocaust as a case study, Facing History and Ourselves addresses how the Jews became "the other" in Nazi Germany and why individual Germans responded to Hitler.
With offices in seven cities around the United States, Facing History and Ourselves offers a more than a dozen teacher training opportunities yearly. The Los Angeles office was established in 1994. More than 1,400 local educators use its resources, and more than 130 local public, private and religious schools use the Facing History and Ourselves program in their curricula. Through the training, the organization aims to teach children morals.
"We're trying to get teachers to show their kids that it was habits of mind, people's failure to make ethical decisions as citizens, that made the rise of the Nazis possible," said Bernie Weinraub, a Los Angeles program associate.
Building on the idea that each person can make a difference, Facing History and Ourselves organizes a variety of events throughout the year. Currently, the organization is sponsoring a multimedia exhibit at the Los Angeles Central Library titled, "Choosing to Participate: Facing History and Ourselves." The traveling exhibition features dramatic stories of ordinary Americans who took a stand in their own communities, and how their everyday choices affected the course of history.
Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is in its 20th year of conducting a Holocaust education workshop for teachers. The four-session program, which is offered each spring, includes lectures, a visit to the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum and a meeting with Holocaust survivors.
This year's theme was "From Anti-Semitism to Genocide: Teaching Hope and Humanity in a World Threatened by Terrorism." Classes were held in February and March.
"A Holocaust education model can be a very effective way to teach humanity and empathy to students," said Marjan Keypour Greenblatt, associate director of the ADL's Southwest Region.
The ADL and the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles are targeting local Catholic school educators in offering a new course, the Bearing Witness Summer Institute: Anti-Semitism, The Holocaust and Contemporary Issues, which will be offered June 23-25. The program will address issues of diversity, prejudice and bigotry in contemporary society.
Lapides recalled one year when she taught a Holocaust elective class at Milken, saying, "The change in the kids over the three months of in-depth study was evident. [Holocaust education] makes kids so much more aware of what they're doing and how they're treating others, and in our world today, it's so important as we become a more diverse community."
The "Choosing to Participate: Facing History and Ourselves" exhibit is free and open to the public at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles through May 4. For more information, call (213) 228-7000 or visit www.lapl.org .