I’ve been blessed, blessed to teach at one of the finest high schools in the country, blessed to teach in a diverse community, and blessed to have made the friends I did early in my career. I began teaching at Central High School in 1998, and by the 2000-2001 school year, I was teaching seniors. I wanted to teach my students about social justice, and I began teaching Night that year. I understood from that experience that I had a lot to learn. Then, I met Beth Seldin Dotan, and the friendship and mentorship I experienced from her changed the course of my life.
I attended the first course Beth taught at the Institute for Holocaust Education just after the IHE opened its doors. Learning about the courage, creativity, and humanity of the Danish rescuers taught me that the Holocaust was not just history, that it was human beings, and I needed to understand it to become the teacher my students need. I benefited from the wisdom of Beth and the other teachers who attended that session and others and I received opportunities I could never have imagined.
Over the years I have participated in countless classes, cultural events, and meetings through the IHE and JCC. After, of course, the classes Beth taught, one of the most memorable was the focus group presentation of the Echoes and Reflections curriculum presented by the ADL, USC Shoah Foundation, and Yad Vashem, facilitated by Deborah Batiste. From that work and other work we did, Beth chose to take me to Israel in 2006 to study at Yad Vashem. Due to forces beyond our control, that event was relocated to New York, where Beth and I learned alongside other educators from all over the country. I was lucky enough to be chosen to study at Yad Vashem the following summer with a new group of educators, with Beth always by my side, teaching me more than any tour guide ever could. At the first conference we attended in 2006, Beth and I were tasked with creating an action plan for using what we learned. We audaciously planned a Holocaust Literature class and proposed it to my curriculum supervisor at Omaha Public Schools. Though our supervisor had denied all the English classes colleagues and I had previously suggested, that fall the stars aligned and my supervisor said yes. She even used her extra budget to buy some copies of Night. Since 2007, I have taught Holocaust Literature at Central High School, a course that counts as senior English, which the students have the option to choose.
Ever since the first night I met Beth Seldin Dotan, I wanted to make her proud and to help her in any way I could, to educate our community about the lessons of the Holocaust. I have tried, in every conversation about what I do with adults in my building, other teachers across the country, students, and parents to help people understand not only how important it is to educate ourselves and remember, but also to challenge ourselves to use what we learn to make our community stronger, kinder, more accepting, and more inclusive of all people.
Teaching this course taught me about history, ethics, politics, and science, about the power of words, the power of hate, and the power of love. While it is important, so important, to understand the machine of the Holocaust, I believe it is most important to understand the lives of the individuals. The Nazis and their collaborators systematically targeted and murdered six million Jews and more than five million other people. Millions of others lost so much. This is a heavy topic to teach to young people embarking on their own adult lives, so I have always made sure that they understand that everyone who lived and died, everyone who survived, everyone who rescued were human beings first and those human beings who lived created a future after experiencing the unimaginable.
My work with the IHE, the Nebraska Holocaust Education Consortium, the ADL, and Omaha’s Jewish community over the last two decades has benefited me immeasurably. Because of family responsibilities, it is time for me to train my replacement to continue the work I began at Central. For the first time in fourteen years, I will not be teaching the Holocaust Literature class in the fall, but that does not mean I will not be teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. They inform the core of who I am as a teacher and my students will always benefit from what I gained during my journey. To Beth Seldin Dotan, Alan Potash, Jessica Gall, Donna Walter, Liz Feldstern, Kael Sagheer, the Jewish community of Omaha, and all the survivors and liberators who have shared their powerful stories with me and my students, thank you.