There is calling out in class and scribbling in notebooks as 22 British students learn about the Holocaust.
But this is adult education as heads and other staff members from Jewish schools make up the bulk of those taking the seminar at the Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem, which gives participants the tools to teach the Shoah in innovative and engaging ways.
Staff from JFS, JCoSS and Hasmonean were among those on the week-long programme, which ended yesterday. Sessions ranged from lectures by experts in the field to PowerPoint presentations and group discussions.
“I’m quite enjoying the student role,” confessed Rabbi Eliezer Zobin from Immanuel College in Bushey. “It’s a healthy reminder of what it’s like to be a student and it’s also nice to share ideas.
“We’re given the knowledge and asked what the value of this information is to our students. It’s not an ideological discussion.
“Every member of the group has chosen different sessions as their favourites. That’s part of the success of this trip.”
Seminar teacher Shani Luria — education director of the ISHS Jewish world division — reasoned that “the best way to get to students around the world is through the teachers. It’s the most important job a person can do.
“These are all experienced educators. I enjoy the debate and intellectual challenge I get from them.”
Debates in the classroom were heated — for example, on the dilemma of showing images of non-Jews being humiliated by Nazis for having relationships with Jews when intermarriage contradicts halachah.
The course has inspired Rabbi Zobin to instigate an “enrichment programme that focuses on Jewish identity. The Holocaust is an important part of Jewish identity because it has instilled a deep-seated insecurity in the Jewish community and is mentioned in everything from Israel to rising antisemitism and interaction with the Muslim world.”
Primary school teachers were among the group, including Hertsmere JPS head Steven Isaacs, who wanted “to link ideas of racism and discrimination with the Holocaust — it needs to be broken down and made more accessible for students”.
Subject specialities of participants covered art and music, as well as history and politics. “Holocaust education is not only the responsibility of the Jewish studies department,” pointed out JFS assistant head Simon Appleman. “It’s the responsibility of all teachers.”
Mr Appleman was joined by non-Jewish colleagues Keith King and Neil Davenport respectively from the JFS art and politics departments. Mr King, an art and photography teacher, was a key contributor.
“He just notices things that we don’t see,” said one attendee. “He notices what is photo-shopped [in images from the Holocaust], how the photographer used the camera and why they used it in the way they did. It’s so interesting.”
Mr Appleman, who also teaches music, wants to implement a specialised programme by the new academic year. “Music and songs can be a means of accessing the Holocaust, whether it’s looking at music written at the time or in response to the Holocaust. We could also look at putting on a concert.”
For Karen Gill from the Brodetsky Primary in Leeds, the seminar was her first time in Israel. “My history experience was very focused on the German perspective,” she said. “I didn’t know that the majority happened in Poland. It was probably very naïve of me. We learnt that whole communities in Poland and Eastern Europe were wiped out.”
She was grateful for the chance to “build up my basic knowledge about the Holocaust so I can introduce it to children in a more sensitive way — for instance, looking at people’s lives before the war and before they were transported. We don’t just want to leave the children with an image of the brutality.”
From a networking viewpoint, it had been “a good opportunity to meet people from other Jewish schools. We can be isolated in a smaller Jewish community.”
The Yad Vashem school runs more than 60 seminars annually, offering programmes for teachers from India to New Zealand. The seminar for British teachers coincided with one for a Lithuanian group from non-Jewish schools. ISHS also dispatches staff to countries including South Korea, Vietnam, Greece and Argentina to spread the word.
Research conducted by the behavioural sciences Henrietta Szold Institute showed that 70 per cent of participants in ISHS seminars had implemented fresh Holocaust educational programmes at their schools. And almost all had passed on Yad Vashem’s educational principles to other teachers.
“You don’t find these numbers anywhere,” claimed ISHS director Dorit Novak. “Educators leave the seminar and say it’s been life-changing. They plan to implement new programmes the minute they get back. We wanted to see if they keep their promises so we conducted this survey.
“The work we do with the educator is ongoing. We stay in touch and always provide them with further teaching materials.”