On February 26 the USC Shoah Foundation, The Institute for Visual History and Education, and the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE) announced a new partnership that will streamline a hi- tech learning program for Jewish Schools across the country. Currently, 150 Jewish schools nationwide augment their learning curriculums with CIJE K-12 programs but there has not been a learning curriculum which included the detailed interviews that are the essence of IWitness.
The new CIIJE partnership will format IWitness interviews so they become an integrated part of student-centered activities that will be used by teachers to encourage critical thinking and self-reflection, helping students get a sense of their own place in the world, while also developing digital literacy and other 21st-century competencies.
The collaboration was launched at USC, where dozens of heads of Schools and school board members gathered to learn about the new plan, a four-year project, which will, “identify and develop resources, activities and pathways into IWitness that will be appropriate and effective for teaching the Holocaust and other topics at Jewish day schools of all denominations.”
CIIJE programs will educate kids from middle school through high school, in both Judaic and English programs, in Yeshivas and Jewish day schools. Ann Marie Stein from the Shoah Foundation was full of praise for the new partnership noting that students who have been educated with IWitness are 70% more likely to stand up for someone when they hear hateful speech or hateful behavior.
The IWitness interviews, “Connect students with the past, engage them in the present and motivate them to build a better future.” IWitness provides Internet access to 7,000 educators across 59 countries with a program of 1,467 full life histories of survivors and 109,000 hours of victims testimonies that have been recorded since 1994.
The survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust and other genocides have been recorded for posterity and the IWitness program has indexed the footage. Many hours have been curated so that teachers can include the powerful interviews in their learning programs. In the age of Ipad’s and cell phones, the interviews are popular and meaningful because they feel as if you are having a personal conversation with a survivor.
Dr. Michael Berenbaum, an American scholar, professor, rabbi, writer and filmmaker who specializes in the study of the memorialization of the Holocaust, is spearheading the new program. He is currently director of Sigi Ziering Institute and is Professor of Jewish Studies at American Jewish University, and former executive director of USC Shoah Foundation. Dr. Berenbaum was also project director in charge of the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and served as deputy director of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust. “The goal of this groundbreaking partnership is to provide additional resources and leverage the vast multimedia databases for use by Jewish schools and Yeshivas,” Dr. Berenbaum explained. “The expanded program will be designed to provide discovery- based exercises and information that is appropriate to specific religious values, age ranges and content focus. We will bring to life, stories of specific communities, their great rabbis as well as the events that lead to the development of the State of Israel.”
“Because CIJE has been successful in providing STEM-based programs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to Jewish day schools, we have been approached by many schools and Yeshivas to provide suitable Holocaust Studies as well,” explained CIJE President Jason Cury. “Students are educated about events that happened 2000 years ago, but the critical period of 1900 – 1950 also needs to be taught. We have spent two years putting online learning pathways together that can be downloaded in a variety of formats that could suit, for instance, a Haredi boys school’s or a class of modern orthodox girls.”
CIJE will also provide teacher development workshops around the country to facilitate use of IWitness at CIJE schools. Initially, CIJE plans to invest $700,000 to implement the project and will subsequently raise additional financing. The Claims Conference is also providing a $75,000 grant for the project.
“This new partnership gives us the opportunity to reach a large group of young people who may not have been able to interact with IWitness before,” said Dr. Kori Street, USC Shoah Foundation Director of Education. “No matter what discipline a teacher is using IWitness for, be it History, English, Media Studies or Civics Education, engaging with testimony is a valuable activity for any student.”