Holocaust fellowship builds network of master educators

For decades, Holocaust survivors have played an active role in educational programs about the Holocaust. Bringing a survivor into a high school classroom captivates students and brings history to life; it’s the “number one choice for a powerful Holocaust education,” according to Adrian Schrek, director of the Teen Curriculum Initiative at Jewish LearningWorks.

But more than 70 years after the close of World War II, fewer survivors are available to tell their stories. As a result, educators must take new approaches to Holocaust education. One such effort, launched in the Bay Area in 2011, is the Tauber Holocaust Educator Fellowship, which invests deeply in teachers.

The fellowship recently accepted its fifth cohort into a program that provides an 18-month mentorship and three weeks at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, providing teachers with rich resources for delivering Holocaust education programs to their communities.

“I wanted to create a network of master educators,” said Schrek, who runs the Tauber fellowship under the umbrella of Jewish LearningWorks. The teachers in the program are supported in planning and implementing a Holocaust learning project in their home schools and organizations. The intimate program admits only three or four teachers a year but provides ongoing funding for alumni to continue their Holocaust education projects. About 15 teachers have gone through it so far.

Adrian Mison Fulay (second from right) joins other Tauber fellows in Israel in 2013. photo/courtesy adrian schrek

Teacher Adrian Mison Fulay, chair of the religious studies department at Salesian College Preparatory, a Catholic school in Richmond, used his fellowship to implement a new interdisciplinary Holocaust curriculum for freshmen at his school. He brought together the history, English and religion departments to launch a combined three-week unit last April in which students were exposed to lessons about the Holocaust in each class.

“The kids would be reading ‘The Book Thief’ in English, and they would get the background of it in history and we would talk about it and do reflections in religious studies classes,” Fulay said. “When they’re getting it from three classes at the same time, it intensifies the significance for them because they can see for themselves the connections.”

Fulay received a $2,000 Tauber grant to cover research and the purchase of books, videos and other resources for the interdisciplinary program. Students, faculty and administrators judged it a success, and it will be returning this spring. An 11th-grade teacher from Salesian has applied to be a Tauber fellow in order to implement a similar program for the junior class.

Tauber fellows come from public and private schools, synagogues and Jewish organizations. One of this year’s fellows, the assistant principal of Novato High School, is planning a daylong training for Bay Area educators about the roots of German anti-Semitism at the end of February. A fellow from an earlier year, the director of education at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El, created an ongoing annual program at the synagogue in remembrance of Kristallnacht, Schrek said.

“Instead of people coming in from the outside saying, ‘Let’s go in and create this or that program,’ we’re having people on the grassroots level who really know their own communities,” Schrek said.

It was that encouragement toward customization that helped Fulay develop a program that fit the personality of his Catholic school.

“For me personally, the one major lesson of the Holocaust is we are all responsible for each other,” Fulay said. “I teach a course on Scripture, and it’s clear that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and we’re responsible for each other.

“And so for me, the lessons of the Holocaust only highlight this kind of notion that we are meant to care for each other. … I think that’s at the heart of our religious studies [program].”


Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.