The "Then and Now" Alumni Educators' Conference

The "Then and Now" Alumni Educators' Conference

July 3–4, 2013

The dust has settled following the 2013 "Then and Now" Alumni Educators' Conference and the compliments and thank yous are pouring in. From Vancouver to Newfoundland, 60 educators who graduated from the Educators' Seminar at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, got together over two days to share successful teaching practices, learn new pedagogical tools to teach the Holocaust, and reinvigorate and renew their commitment to teach this difficult subject.

The morning of the conference began with a warm welcome from Fran Sonshine, National Chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, who served as MC, and Risa Drimmer, Chair of the Conference.

A sampling of the feedback we've received about the conference:

"The operation was smooth, coordinated, and impressive from the moment we arrived until the moment we returned to the airport."

"The presentations were captivating, inspiring, and meticulously planned."

"I think that the conference was a great success and I already look forward to the next one. I have ideas that I want to implement in my school from the great sessions we had this past week."

Here are the highlights:

The Speakers

Shulamit Imber, the Director of Pedagogy at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, held everyone spellbound by her passion and dynamism. Shulamit drove home the importance of exposing the human dimension of the tragedy of the Holocaust and, in a second lecture, explained how aspects of all genocides are found in the Holocaust.

Professor Irving Abella, co-author of None Is Too Many, talked about Canada's disgraceful immigration policy during the Holocaust and the climate of hatred for Jews which permeated Canadian society. The most egregious example of this policy was captured in the case of the MS St. Louis, on which some 900 German Jews sought refuge, as it landed on Canada's shores. The story is well known: the ship was turned away and most of the passengers perished in Auschwitz.

Ephraim Kaye, Director of the International Seminars at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, discussed the latest and cutting edge online resources developed by Yad Vashem. In a second lecture Ephraim described a new initiative, in which Holocaust Survivors are filmed as they return to their home-towns, where they reflect on the lives they had before the Holocaust

Dr. Mario Silva, 2013 Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, spoke about the rise of antisemitism in Canada and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. He recounted the long history of antisemitism in the world, including pogroms over centuries, blood libels, the nefarious accusations promulgated by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and more current forms of hate speech, assault, and violence against Jews.

Senator Art Eggleton discussed the global and disturbing rise in antisemitism across the world. He then listed the various mechanisms established by the government of Canada to ensure the protection of human rights.

MP Peter Kent delivered the keynote address during the dinner, in which he outlined the initiatives and policies the Government of Canada has put forth in order to promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research.

DJ Schneeweiss, Consul General of Israel in Toronto, stressed the importance of stopping moral relativism, which confuses moral accountability when understanding the actions of the perpetrator and victim.

Dr. Thomas Hecht, a survivor of the Holocaust, discussed his amazing story of how he fled his hometown in Czechoslovakia, staying one step ahead of the Nazis.

Elin Beaumont from the Azrieli Foundation spoke about the ways in which the books that comprise the Azrieli Series of Survivors Memoirs have been used by teachers from across Canada to teach about the Holocaust. Tim MacKay, also from the Azrieli Foundation, discussed the use of social media in promoting Holocaust education to a new generation.

Felix Opatowski, a Holocaust Survivor, whose story was published as part of the Azrieli Series of Survivors' memoirs, fielded questions from the audience after his story was presented via a short film.

Councillor Howard Shore discussed how the municipal government honours International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom Ha'atzmaut.

Iain Beaumont, a former student of one of the graduate educators, explained how learning about the Holocaust had transformed his life, inspiring him to be a leader in his own community in protecting the human rights of disenfranchised groups.


Eight workshops were held over the course of the two-day conference, led by graduates of the Educators' Seminar at Yad Vashem:

Shawntelle Nesbitt discussed how to use high quality literature to teach the Holocaust.

Clint Lovell examined the cases of Holocaust deniers, such as Jim Keegstra, Paul Fromm, and Malcolm Ross, against the protections afforded in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedom.

Graeme Stacey shared a number of pedagogical tools as part of his course which has students consider the central questions "How and why did the Holocaust and subsequent genocides occur?"

Oriane Falkenstein brought out the emotional aspect of the Holocaust through the illustrated story called "The Hôtel Meina," which recounts the tragic story of one Holocaust victim.

Isabelle Giroux discussed how using the graphic novel The Search can be used to engage otherwise reluctant readers and ESL students in a discussion of the Holocaust.

Patrick Mascoe demonstrated how the subject of the Holocaust is used in his school as a way to develop empathy, respect, and leadership skills in his largely Muslim student population.

Scott Masters explained his unique "Oral History Project," in which his students make a personal connection with the Holocaust by interviewing Holocaust Survivors and WWII veterans.

Ian Jones described an amazing initiative "One School, One Voice, One World," in which he has taken students around the world—from the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles to the killing sites of Auschwitz and Terezin.

Roundtable Discussions

Six roundtable discussions were conducted, in which educators rotated to take part in various discussions:

Kayla Dominelli and Evelyn Howard discussed how to use high quality literature to teach the Holocaust.

Oriane Falkenstein discussed why it is important to discuss the Righteous Among the Nations in an exploration of the Holocaust.

Jonathan Friedrichs presented fascinating student-made short films on the topic of racism and antisemitism, as part of a larger discussion on using the Internet and Social Medial to teach the Holocaust.

Ryan McKenna discussed how to use the arts to teach the Holocaust.

Larry Mikulcik presented the face of modern-day antisemitism.

Brian Vardy discussed how Holocaust education can be used to help frame a strategy against bullying.

Canadian Educator's Declaration

The second day concluded with a segment called "Shaping the Future," in which the co-chairs of the National Advisory Education Council, David Lebovich and Jacquie Anderson, read the "Canadian Society for Yad Vashem Canadian Educators' Declaration." This declaration, which affirmed the teachers' commitment to teaching the Holocaust and promoting human rights in their classroom and communities, was signed by each of the 60 educators present at the conference.

It was a heartwarming and appropriate end to an intensive two days, which aligned the educators' hearts and minds toward the teaching of the Holocaust and its universal lessons.


"I want to thank you, and commend you, for such an incredible conference. As a conference organizer, I know only too well the myriad details and logistics that are entailed in running a conference, never mind running it well. And you ran it fantastically well."
— Danielle Zagar

"The presentations were captivating, inspiring, and meticulously planned. Even though three days passed, I am still awed by the intensity and scope of the Holocuast education units which were carried out in schools throughout Canada."
— Hagit Dekel

"I have to say that I think that the conference was a great success and I already look forward to the next one. I have ideas that I want to implement in my school from the great sessions we had this past week."
— Larry J. Mikulcik

"Indeed it was a wonderful conference that we all should be proud of. I believe that I am one lucky person to be part of such a great team and getting to meet such extraordinary people."
— Isabelle Giroux

"The conference went beyond all my expectations and I know that the participants really felt they gained a lot. I had never met or heard Shulamit Imber speak so that in itself was pure inspiration."
— Oriane Falkenstein

"We are also very fortunate to have had Shulamit and Ephraim come to educate us further, to contribute to discussions, and to encourage us. Their enthusiastic participation served to feed our own enthusiasm."
— Larry J. Mikulcik

"I can honestly say I have never attended a conference where every speaker was engaging and gave me something useful I can immediately bring to the classroom, until this one."
— Brenda Ball

"I simply wanted to thank you for an amazing Conference, which has inspired me so much."
— Eric MacKenzie

"Congratulations to you all on a highly successful breaking of ground here in Canada for educators. I am overwhelmed with the success of this venture …. We emerged revived, refreshed and reminded of the power of this job we do and incredible responsibility that comes with that in teaching the Shoah."
— Jacquie Anderson

"It was great to see the dedicated Canadian educators who have gone through the program and hear how much it has positively influenced them and how they are delivering high-quality Holocaust education in their classrooms."
— Jeffrey Morry, Senior Program Manager, The Asper Foundation

"Thank you for a truly outstanding conference. I was impressed and inspired by the incredible work you are all doing. It really was a very special couple of days."
— Jonathan Friedrichs

"It was a revelation to discover the amazing work being done by Canadian teachers in the field of Holocaust education and human rights. Their dedication, imagination, hard work and resourcefulness are worthy of the greatest respect. Clearly the education and outreach efforts of Yad Vashem are bearing fruit of the highest quality."
— Margaret Ferley

"I learned so much, and feel that this conference has been truly relevant to me on so many levels; as a parent, as a social worker and certainly as the daughter of a survivor."
— Risa Drimmer

"I just wanted to pass along my sincere gratitude to all of you for your time and effort in organizing an excellent conference. ... Holocaust education can be a very challenging and difficult topic. Meeting positive and dedicated people ensures that it is a very meaningful and enjoyable experience."
— Ryan McKenna

"In speaking to the teachers it was inspiring to see that the future of Holocaust education is going to be in good hands across the country."
— Tami Berman

"CONGRATULATIONS, CONGRATULATIONS. … Seldom, if ever have I been to a better organized conference in my long list of involvements with Jewish Communal affairs. Kol ha Kovod to you all."
— Riva and Tom Hecht