JLI To Launch Holocaust Studies Series


by Rivka Chaya Berman - LUBAVITCH HEADQUARTERS, NY

July 26, 2005

The Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) will reach its widest audience yet when it launches its new course, “Beyond Never Again: The Holocaust Speaks to Our Generation,” this fall. Program coordinators anticipate that some 10,000 students will take the six-lesson course in their 160 affiliate sites around the world. The Jewish Learning Institute is a division of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, the educational division of Chabad-Lubavitch.

The 60th anniversary of the liberation from Auschwitz and other concentration camps, has generated a renewed emphasis on Holocaust education. The JLI course does not focus on the history of the Holocaust but its other aspects, so that there’s little overlap with Holocaust courses traditionally offered at universities and Jewish community centers. “Beyond Never Again” addresses how the Holocaust matters to Jewish people personally, theologically, psychologically, and how it challenges today’s generation to rethink its ethical values.

Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, and other prominent Holocaust memorial organizations have endorsed the Jewish Learning Institute’s new course.

“The Bible teaches us that man was created in the Divine image. The Holocaust raises serious questions with regard to this statement. That is why we need to confirm our belief in the goodness of creation and of man’s ability to differentiate between good and evil,” stated Dr. Mordecai Paldiel, director of the Yad Vashem Righteous Persons Project. “I welcome this Holocaust education initiative and urge community-wide participation.”

Endorsements have also rolled in from the New Jersey State Commission on Holocaust Education, Holocaust Education Resource Center in Scranton, PA, and the Holocaust Education Center & Memorial Museum San Antonio, TX, among others.

“The attempt is to broaden the discussion in terms of its sweeping themes and bigger issues and see the relevance in our lives,” said the course’s developmental editor Dr. Chana Silberstein, Chabad representative at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. “This knowledge is important if we are going to create a better world in the aftermath of the Holocaust.”

“Many people are afraid to take a Holocaust course. They are afraid to plunge into something that is depressing,” said the course’s author Rabbi Aaron Herman, Chabad’s representative in Raleigh, N.C. “There is a place for getting in touch with what happened during the Holocaust, but there is also a place to hear the Holocaust’s echoes, to see the meaning that it has for society and our lives.”

The JLI course will tackle big questions like why evil people prosper. Rabbi Herman called this paradox the “energizing Jewish question” that is a central thread through Jewish history from the patriarch Abraham and on. Later sessions include the Jewish approach to martyrdom, faith after tragedy, and preventing further suffering.

“The six lessons outlined are a solid introductory foundation to some key questions and issues related to the Holocaust,” said Dr.George Halasz, a Holocaust educator at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

Given the emotional nature of the material, JLI’s brain trust of writers, educators, and developers grappled mightily before taking this tack with the course. Part of the struggle came from the JLI’s obligation to meet the needs of its students, who come from a wide demographic. This course will attract Holocaust survivors, their children and young people three and four generations removed from the horrors, all of whom regard the Holocaust from different perspectives. In preparing the course, JLI developers sought to achieve a balance that would satisfy the disparate perspectives of those personally affected by the Holocaust and those concerned that Judaism is perceived as one long train of suffering. “Both are legitimate concerns from opposite ends of the populations that JLI attracts,” said Dr. Silberstein.

To honor the multiplicity of perspectives, the course has been constructed as a facilitated dialogue. Like all JLI courses, “Beyond Never Again” is source based. Readings from personal narratives and traditional sources like the Book of Job, and Jewish legal decisions of that period will be enmeshed with extensive group discussions. “We expect that the participants will think critically about the readings and make applications to their lives,” said Dr. Silberstein. “In writing the course we choose readings that are complex and may be understood in various ways from different perspectives. We expect a large part of the experience to be shaped by participants in the class.”

Though the focus on discussion is greater than in previous JLI offerings, the Holocaust course’s core is solidly within the paradigm of professionalism set up by JLI courses since its inception seven years ago. Every year, the JLI offers three courses: one on a fundamental Jewish concept, another on Jewish mysticism and a third on a timely topic.

Course development takes place in JLI’s office. Textbooks, PowerPoint presentations, handouts, video clips, advertisements and brochures are all created in-house. JLI presenters – educators, rabbis and community leaders – attend a compulsory summer institute to receive background training and instruction on teaching the course. “Every teacher reports how each lesson went. That allows the presenters to gain from each other and gives the editors and author a chance to modify the lessons based on feedback,” said JLI Executive Director Rabbi Efraim Mintz.

Because the courses are offered in lockstep pace at all JLI affiliate sites, student can move from one of the Institute’s 160 sites to another, from Valencia, CA, to Venezuela, without missing a beat. Every student that signs up for the course is also given access to a special JLI website where the discussions continue on a broader platform. “It enhances the learning experience and makes JLI participants part of a learning community,” said Mintz.

One student in Toronto signed up to keep current with her daughter’s JLI studies in Sydney. JLI students can attend any JLI course around the world. “It’s amazing how many people take advantage of the offer,” said Rabbi Mintz. “The global impact is unparalleled.”

According to Professor Dan Michman, Chief Historian at Yad Vashem, "The planned JLI course, 'Beyond Never Again: The Holocaust Speaks to Our Generation,' is a most valuable contribution to the effort to have the knowledge about and implications of this enormous event made accessible to youngsters, and lead them to positive Jewish awareness.

The JLI is underwritten by the Rohr Family Foundation. New York businessman and philanthropist George Rohr has taken “a special interest in the JLI and its growth,” said Rabbi Mintz, “and the worldwide Jewish community and all those affected by the JLI are deeply grateful for his support.”

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