Bar-Ilan University Prof. Zehavit Gross suggests that educational visits to Holocaust memorial sites would be more effective during university studies rather than in high school.
“I think university students should be obliged to visit Holocaust memorial sites as an integral part of their academic commitments. At this stage in their education, they have a broader intellectual maturity than during high school,” says Prof. Gross, who holds the UNESCO Chair in Education for Human Values, Tolerance and Peace and heads The Sal Van Gelder Center for Holocaust Research & Instruction at the University’s Churgin School of Education. “We should consider postponing our students’ educational visits to Poland from high school to college because the psychological and intellectual maturity of students allows for a more complex intellectual and reflective discourse,” she adds. According to Gross higher education has three main tasks. The first is research, the second is instruction and the third is contribution to the community.
As part of the third mission, Gross suggests finding creative approaches to turn the subject of the Holocaust into an issue of social cohesiveness for the purpose of forging Israeli solidarity among Arab and Jewish students and a fairer, more just, and empathetic society.
In her conflict resolution course at Bar-Ilan University, students from all walks of Israeli life study the Holocaust together and visited Yad Vashem before the coronavirus outbreak. The tour was initiated by Gross together with her Muslim research assistant, Naeemah Qeadan. Gross has led the course, whose participants include Muslims, Christians, Druze, and religious and secular Jews, for the past 24 years. The purpose of the workshop is to develop cross-cultural ties and to bring students from all sectors of Israeli society together to meet the “other” and forge Israeli solidarity. The workshops are actively engaged in eliminating stereotypes and prejudice, and educating towards tolerance, recognition and acceptance of the “other”.
Naeemah Qeadan is a Muslim MA student conducting her Master’s thesis on Holocaust instruction in the Arab sector under the supervision of Prof. Gross and will begin her PhD studies on the same subject next year. “I read special stories about how people saved strangers during the Holocaust, no matter what their religion. They hid them in their homes and integrated them into their families. I asked myself why. Where does this strength come from, the ability to know you’re doing the right thing when most of those around you follow the example of others, and don’t use their common sense or rely on their inner humanitarian values?” Qeadan asks. “Among them were Albanians, devout Muslims, which reminded me of a verse in the Koran: ‘One who saves one soul is as if he rescued humanity…The mighty God wasn’t referring to one religion, race or gender but to all of humankind when he spoke of the importance of saving a life.’”
The history of the Holocaust and its impact and relevancy are an integral part of the conflict resolution course, taught through informal techniques such as creative drama, mindfulness, role-playing, and simulations, and implementing some of the Anti-Defamation League’s “World of Difference” exercises and based on the educational theories of John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Laurence Kohlberg, Robert Selman and Paulo Pereira. “The corona crisis will add new layers to our conflict resolution course and will shape it with some new directions. I was very concerned when I heard that many countries all over the world people are accusing the Jews of disseminating the coronavirus,” says Prof. Gross.
“This means that nothing has changed and that the mantra ‘Never Again’ is just lip service. Above all it means that the Holocaust and Antisemitism should be an integral part of our curriculum in higher education. We need to enlist our students in higher education to combat anti-racist and Antisemitic and Holocaust denial agendas through a combination of Holocaust education and systematic anti-racist education. This is an innovative approach that perceives Holocaust education as an actual and relevant educational venue that can appeal to both Jewish and non-Jewish students. We can apply it practically in higher education even now, during the coronavirus crisis, through distance learning and Zoom platforms. Learning the history of the Holocaust presents an extraordinary window of opportunity to discuss the issues of human rights and empathy for the suffering of the ‘Other’. In our conflict resolution course we also focus on other genocides and human catastrophes that have taken place during the course of history and that inclusive approach broadens our horizons and enables us to broaden the scope and the educational potential of Holocaust education in Israel and around the world,” adds Prof. Gross.
Prof. Gross was moved to discover that in their final assignments for the course and in their reflective diaries many Arab students indicated that their visit to Yad Vashem was one of their most powerful experiences at Bar-Ilan University.