Gov. Gavin Newsom announcing the formation of the Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, Oct. 2021. (Photo/JTA-Courtesy Newsom's office)
Gov. Gavin Newsom announcing the formation of the Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, Oct. 2021. (Photo/JTA-Courtesy Newsom's office)

Newsom’s state council on genocide education, established last year, takes shape

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Gov. Gavin Newsom has named nine new people to the state’s Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education, including two from the Northern California Jewish community.

The council, which was formed in October 2021, aims to oversee the creation of best practices for education on genocide, and promote better education on the subject in schools. The new appointees were announced Oct. 31.

Seth Brysk
Seth Brysk

“As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles, it is vital that we find ways to ensure history is remembered and honored, especially in an environment of rising extremism and antisemitism,” new appointee Seth Brysk, the S.F.-based regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, said in an email to J.

Also named to the council was Joyce Newstat, former chair of the Council of Children of Survivors at the JFCS Holocaust Center (a program of S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services).

The new appointments mark the expansion of the council to include outside experts.

Anita Friedman
Anita Friedman

During the first year, the council was composed primarily of politicians, with the exception of Anita Friedman, the San Francisco–based executive director of JFCS.

Friedman is one of the council’s four co-chairs, along with state Sen. Henry Stern, Attorney General Rob Bonta and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

Most of the new appointees are educators, researchers or advocates “representing organizations that reflect the diverse groups impacted by the Holocaust and genocide throughout history,” according to the governor’s press release.

“The council members bring a depth of knowledge, experience and expertise, and I look forward to working with them,” Thurmond said in the press release. “We know that comprehensive Holocaust Education implemented at all schools is an essential part of our effort to combat antisemitism and all forms of hate.”

Other experts from Northern California include Brian Fong, program director at the S.F. office of Facing History and Ourselves, a civics education nonprofit; Roxanne Makasdjian, executive director of the S.F.-based Genocide Education Project (which assists educators in teaching the Armenian genocide); and Taylor Pennewell, executive director of the Redbud Resource Group (a Native advocacy group based in Sonoma County).

Also new to the council are Beth Kean, CEO of the Holocaust Museum LA; Kori Street, deputy executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation; Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles; and Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute, which explores the ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust, at American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

Rebecca Bauer-Kahan
Rebecca Bauer-Kahan

Jewish politicians Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, assemblymember for an area that includes Lamorinda and the Tri-Valley, and State Sen. Scott Wiener, whose district includes San Francisco and areas south, have been on the council since its inception.

“National surveys have indicated a shocking decline in awareness among young people about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide,” Newsom said when announcing the launch of the council in 2021.

The council received $1.4 million in the 2022-23 state budget.

Part of Brysk’s expertise on the matter stems from his own family’s history: His father is a Holocaust refugee, his late aunt lived in a ghetto “where 80% of residents were murdered in one day” and later survived in the forest with partisans, and his Army lieutenant grandfather was part of an operation that transported more than 1,000 Holocaust refugees to the United States.

He said has hopes for the power of the council to make a positive change in a time of rising antisemitism.

“The council has the potential to play a critical role in suggesting new education modules, leveraging the power of social media and mitigating how online tools may be abused,” he said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.