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working together: making a difference

Working Together: Making a Difference - Diversity & Lessons to be Learned for Human Understanding was the title of the DPI NGO briefing on Holocaust Remembrance at UN Headquarters in New York. 

ICJW representatives Fran Butensky, Madeleine Brecher, Judy Mintz and Joan Lurie Goldberg report on the impressive panel. The speakers introduced their initiatives, developed to teach the lessons of the Holocaust, primarily with youth in mind. With the number of survivors of the Shoah dwindling, it is imperative that we remember to “teach the children”. The UN believes the best way to achieve this is through collaboration so that no one is left behind. 

Kimberly Mann, the Moderator of the session, is Chief of Education Outreach in the
UN DPI. Kimberly has done an extraordinary job of developing and overseeing the UN’s global education initiatives most especially on the Holocaust. . She said, “Through the centuries, there has been an evil and systemic attempt to eliminate the Jewish people.” The annual Holocaust remembrance programs are promoted across the globe, geared to educate kids against prejudice and hate. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is concerned that hate has moved from the margins to the mainstream. This year, there will be 150 Holocaust programs in 38 countries during the month of January.

Sarah Kaidanow is the NGO youth representative for the Holocaust and Human Rights  Education Center (HHREC) of Westchester. She is also the granddaughter of two Holocaust survivors. She showed a short movie about her grandparents which was very moving and spoke of her Jewish journey having learned from the past of the need to protect the future. The HHREC initiative allows kids to meet survivors and become witnesses to the Holocaust. 

This group of 800 empowered youth, known as UPSTANDERS, makes up the speakers bureau of the Generations Forward program. They are trained to speak out and teach the lessons of the Shoah. Sarah is a charismatic millennial Upstander who certainly must make her parents and grandparents proud!

Evelyn Sommers is the Chair of the World Jewish Congress, North America.
WJC’s #WeRemember global campaign encourages millions of people to speak out on social media to raise awareness about the Holocaust. The campaign calls on people in every country to hold up a sign with the words “We Remember” and post it to social media with the hashtag #WeRemember. The campaign, a great success last year, took off again on
Monday, January 9, and has already garnered thousands of positive responses. It is seen as a perfect platform to reach youth via Twitter and Facebook. 

Secretary-General Guterres, Melania Trump and US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley have already posted messages on Twitter. Survivors have also told their stories online to teach those who have not heard a personal story about the Shoah. The goal of the #WeRemember campaign was to reach 6 million people to represent the 6 million Jews who died in the holocaust; 250 million people have already posted their photos holding a sign #WeRemember! To date, that represents 100 communities in 50 countries in 23 languages’.

David Michaels is the Director of United Nations and Inter-communal Affairs at B’nai
B’rith International. His work and perspectives have been featured widely in international media. Mr. Michaels has been actively involved in the Diverse Minds Project involving people in 50 countries. It is an education and awareness initiative created by B’nai B’rith International, a program that promotes tolerance and communicates a message of equality among all citizens, regardless of race, religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation. 

B’nai B’rith has been committed in its efforts to remembering the Holocaust, and bridge building in the diaspora and among Israelis. Across the European continent as well as South American countries, Cuba and Australia, they reach out to Jews and non-Jews combating anti-Semitism, assisting survivors, setting-up hotlines to report anti-Jewish crimes and teaching about the Holocaust in the current atmosphere of anti-Jewish sentiment. In multiple cities throughout the US, B’nai B’rith has involved young adults in writing and illustrating books on diversity for younger children. 37 original books have been written and 42,000 books have been donated and distributed to schools. Mr. Michaels is very proud of the work they have done and reminded us that for the last 10 years, B’nai B’rith has been involved with the UN participating and bringing new and relevant themes to the annual Holocaust
Commemoration.

Jason Sirois is the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Director of No Place For Hate, a
program he oversees that over 1600 United States schools currently participate in.
He has been a motivational speaker and trainer addressing issues of bias, harassment,
discrimination and bullying in schools. The goal of the program is to create positive,
sustainable change in school environments, and encouraging children to take leadership roles in developing an atmosphere where respect is the norm. He believes that all stake -holders must be involved. There must be a dialogue that includes, students, family members, educators and the entire student body. Students are now realizing that it is cool to stand up and say “IT”S NOT OKAY”. 

Another program is the A World of Difference Institute. Studies show that most children in middle school and high school are not really experiencing anti-Semitism so it’s a shock when they meet anti-Semitism in college. They don’t know how to address it. Those students who are interested in resistance have to learn how to stand up to it. 

During the Q&A, many in the audience were concerned and interested in how to get more
young people involved and motivated. Social media appeared to be the most effective way of getting more information out there and accessible. Music is also impactful and when it goes viral, it can be galvanizing.

Young people are the leaders and decision makers of today and tomorrow. They need to be
given more positions of importance. ADL has a program to train students how to speak out
in the classroom. Fortunately, more and more organizations are following their lead.

When the panel was asked the very best way to reach a young audience today, the answer
seemed obvious: WITH SOCIAL MEDIA, YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE TO BE IGNORANT.