Four Duquesne University professors recently joined a mission of 14 Glimcher Fellows — mostly high school educators — on a 10-day trip to Israel for an intensive series of lectures on the Holocaust.
The Duquesne participants — Marie Baird, associate professor of theology; Mark Frisch, associate professor of modern languages; and Matt Schneirov, associate professor of sociology; and Kathleen DeRose, administrator in the Mylan School of Pharmacy — spent eight and a half hours each day in lectures on Holocaust-related topics with leading scholars at Yad Vashem.
The Agency for Jewish Learning, Duquesne University and Yad Vashem sponsored the trip.
Three of the four Duquesne professors — Baird, Schneirov and Frisch — teach a cross-disciplinary course each year on either the Holocaust or anti-Semitism through their association with the Jewish Faculty Forum at Duquesne.
Daniel Burstin, president of the Jewish Faculty Forum, expects his colleagues’ training will result in “more confidence in their mastery of the subject matter.
“They came away with the impression that they learned a great deal,” said Burstin, who helped organize the trip but was unable to go himself, “but also that we’re up to this, we’re up to teaching a course on the Holocaust.”
Burstin said the Forum was in the process of revising its course earlier this year, due to the retirement of one of its faculty members, when Zipora Gur, AJL director of advanced education, contacted him.
“We were pondering our next move when out of the blue Zipora Gur says how about a trip to Yad Vashem?” Burstin recalled. “It came at an opportune time because we are redesigning the course so it works for the professors who are involved.”
For Baird, who was making her first trip to Israel, the lectures filled out her understanding of Holocaust history.
“I have a fairly good general working knowledge of the chronology of the Holocaust,” she said. “In other words, I have broad overall knowledge, but not in-depth knowledge, and I just found these historical lectures to be extremely helpful.”
And even though she teaches at the college level, not the middle or high school, she found the discussions about instruction methodology to teach the Holocaust to teenagers important.
“It’s been a real long time since we were in middle school,” Baird said. “It gives me a better idea of what the students learn and how they may learn it before they come to us.”
Schneirov, who also made his first trip to Israel, said he plans to employ more narratives from the survivors into his lesson plan as a result of the lectures. He also hoped to convey how many survivors practiced “subtle forms of resistance” in the camps.
He didn’t necessarily mean violent resistance, but quietly defiant acts that kept people’s dignity and humanity alive. Dr. Leo Baeck, for instance, a famous rabbi and scholar of Progressive Judaism at the time, continued to teach Torah while in Theresienstadt concentration camp.
“Maintaining their everyday lives can be a form of resistance,” Schneirov said.
The Jewish Faculty Forum at Duquesne teaches the annual Holocaust/anti-Semitism course and plans an annual Kristallnacht program on campus.
Not all participants in the Forum are Jewish, Burstin said. “Most of us are Jewish, but some of us are not. The Jewish Faculty Forum is not a Jewish organization per se; it’s open to anyone who is interested in Jewish history, Jewish philosophy or teaching those subjects.”
The Forum is also behind an effort to create a minor in Jewish studies at Duquesne sometime in the next two years.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-687-1005.)