Lori, a Holocaust survivor from the JFCS Holocaust Center speakers' bureau, addresses students in March 2019. (Photo/Trish Tunney)
Lori, a Holocaust survivor from the JFCS Holocaust Center speakers' bureau, addresses students in March 2019. (Photo/Trish Tunney)

California earmarks $1.9M for Holocaust and genocide education

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Using a $1.9 million grant from the California Legislature, the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center plans to strengthen Holocaust and genocide education in classrooms statewide.

The grant will establish the California Collaborative for Holocaust and Genocide Education. The JFCS Holocaust Center will distribute funding to each of the organizations comprising the California Collaborative.

The first-of-its-kind statewide network will connect educators, genocide survivors and community leaders from organizations including the USC Shoah Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League, the Holocaust Museum LA and the Museum of Tolerance. Leaders from the Cambodian, Rwandan, Armenian, Sudanese, Uyghur and Indigenous communities are also part of the network.

“The goals of the JFCS Holocaust Center, now incorporated into the California Collaborative, are about learning from the past and applying those lessons to the present while inspiring youth to be socially responsible and empathetic citizens,” Morgan Blum Schneider, director of the center, said in an interview.  “We’re arming teachers with tools they need to facilitate difficult conversations.”

Over the next three years, the initiative aims to reach an estimated 700 teachers and impact 70,000 California students.

The teaching of the Holocaust is required in California classrooms as a result of the state’s adoption of Common Core State Standards. However, there is no enforcement mechanism, which is why organizations like JFCS Holocaust Center are necessary to provide educational resources for teaching about the Holocaust, Schneider said.

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“What part of this grant will do is put funding in the hands of network members to update and create curriculum so it aligns with Common Core standards,” she said.

The announcement of the grant follows last year’s launch of the Governor’s Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education. Co-chaired by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, state Sen. Henry Stern, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and JFCS Executive Director Anita Friedman, the council aims to bolster genocide education and give students tools to respond to instances of hate at their schools.

The Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California and elected officials, including Stern and Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, worked to secure funding in the state budget for Holocaust and genocide education, and the Marin County Office of Education was chosen to administer the funding, which ultimately was awarded to JFCS. After the funding was approved, the Marin County Office of Education was chosen to administer the grant, having previously worked with the Holocaust Center on anti-bigotry workshops designed for students, teachers and community members.

“Having JPAC front-and-center was important to making this successful,” said Gia Daniller-Katz, a government relations consultant for JFCS.

Students in Marin County “have greatly benefited from the ongoing partnership with the JFCS Holocaust Center,” Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke said. “The California Collaborative will result in important resources being made available to schools locally and throughout the state. The Marin County Office of Education is proud to be part of this important work.”

Next year the collaborative will hold a three-day conference in San Francisco for about 100 state educators nominated by different groups within the network. Teachers unable to attend can participate in virtual sessions, or in planned regional workshops.

In 2024, the network plans to launch a website that Schneider likened to a “Travelocity for Holocaust and genocide resources.” The site will allow teachers to filter curriculum material and identify appropriate resources for their classroom lessons.

The JFCS Holocaust Center was established in the 1970s after a Jewish protest at a Nazi bookstore in San Francisco’s Sunset District underscored the need for greater community support of the city’s Holocaust survivors. Today the center calls itself Northern California’s primary resource for Holocaust and genocide education.

“I always say our work today continues to reflect our founding motivation, which is to take a stand against hate and discrimination in our society,” Schneider said.

Ryan Torok

Ryan Torok is an L.A.-based freelance reporter and former Jewish Journal staff writer.