Yad Vashem hosts 150 educators from over 40 countries at the “Holocaust Education in a Global Context” International Conference

July 8, 2024 by Simmy Allen
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Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Education convened its bi-annual International Educational Conference, drawing together 150 dedicated educators from 40 countries worldwide, including Melbourne’s Sonia Slonim.

Educators in Jerusalem

Titled “Holocaust Education in a Global Context,” this four-day summit took on unprecedented significance as the first such gathering since the October 7th attacks in Southern Israel. Against a backdrop of rising antisemitism and emboldened Holocaust denial, the conference stood as a powerful testament to the enduring importance of Holocaust education in our increasingly complex world.

As darkness threatens to encroach once more, this assembly of scholars, educators, and witnesses reaffirmed their commitment to illuminating the past to safeguard our future. In an age where the echoes of history grow fainter, their mission has never been more vital: to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust resonate across generations, serving as a bulwark against hatred and a catalyst for compassion.

Attending lectures

Among the distinguished participants was Australian educator Sonia Slonim, Head of Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Leibler Yavneh College, a Modern Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne. Slonim has observed firsthand the impact of recent events and rising antisemitism on education and student engagement.

“It has not affected the way that I teach, but it has affected how the students learn,” Slonim notes. She has witnessed a significant shift in students’ connection to their Jewish identity. “All of the sudden, there is more interest learning Hebrew, there is more interest in understanding antisemitism…We see more interest in sending their children (parents) to Jewish schools because of the antisemitism in public schools.”

The current climate in Melbourne has necessitated caution. Slonim explains, “It is not pleasant at the moment in Melbourne…we just ran a program and we did not wear our school uniforms so that we would not draw too much attention. We were aware that there might be issues because the uniforms have a Maagen David.”

This atmosphere has also strained community relationships. “I think that unfortunately, we have more friends than we think. Only issue is that we don’t hear them or see them. They are quiet, but we hear the protestors,” Slonim observes. Despite her efforts to expose her students to diverse perspectives and religions, recent events have unfortunately eroded these connections.

Nevertheless, Slonim remains committed to the positive impact of Holocaust education. As a part of the second generation of Holocaust survivors herself, she continues to implement innovative lesson plans and exhibits, including a comprehensive approach to International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Utilizingresources from Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Education, such as Ready2Print exhibits, Slonim engages students across grades 7-12 in learning various aspects of the Holocaust.

Having participated in a special conference for educators at Yad Vashem in 2018, Slonim recognizes the ongoing need for new approaches to Holocaust education. “I think it makes a big difference to put into context Yom Hashoah…its not enough to hear a passage, to hear a song and then go home,” she says. As survivor numbers dwindle, new strategies are necessary. “It is getting harder to find survivors to speak, so we are beginning to look at the second generation as a source to tell these stories.”

Slonim emphasizes the importance of resources like Yad Vashem’s Echoes and Reflections Program in preserving and presenting survivor testimonies. She concludes, “We are going to lose something when we no longer have survivors to give their testimonies. But we have to make so with what we have, just as we did with any other history. The Holocaust is a unique history, but when we teach history we don’t always have testimonies for everything.”

As educators like Sonia Slonim continue to adapt and innovate in the face of new challenges, the upcoming International Educational Conference at Yad Vashem takes on even greater significance. This gathering of 150 Holocaust educators from 40 countries represents a crucial opportunity to share experiences, strategies, and resources in the ongoing effort to preserve and transmit Holocaust memory. In a world where antisemitism is on the rise and firsthand witnesses are becoming scarcer, this conference underscores the vital importance of Holocaust education as a bulwark against hatred and ignorance. By bringing together dedicated educators from around the globe, Yad Vashem reaffirms its commitment to ensuring that the lessons of the Holocaust continue to resonate with future generations, fostering a more informed, empathetic, and just world.

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