NORTH BRUNSWICK – As a young Jewish girl, Beth Passner said she couldn’t understand how or why a tragedy such as the Holocaust could happen.
“It is a question that quite naturally still persists today for me. As I got older, my interest grew to focus on other injustices that had occurred around the world. When the genocide in Darfur occurred in the early 2000s, my students [at North Brunswick Township High School (NBTHS)] and I launched the Human Rights Coalition, a club that has now been running for 10 years and continues to raise money for various causes ranging from human trafficking to LGBTQ rights. I want to instill in my students the idea that we are all one people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation and that we all have to look out for one another. That is why I am so invested in Holocaust education,” she said.
Two years ago, Passner became the North Brunswick School District’s representative for Kean University’s Council for Global Citizenship and Education, formerly known as the Diversity Council.
“The council provides education and opportunities for teachers to work to make their schools places that promote tolerance and acceptance. NBTHS’s council has done an amazing job the past two years, winning first place for our project from Kean University,” she said.
The Holocaust and Genocide Resource Center at Kean University officially nominated Passner in February for the 2019 Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) Alfred Lerner Fellows program. She was one of 23 middle school and high school teachers from 12 states, Croatia and Poland to take part in JFR’s recent Summer Institute, a five-day academic seminar at Columbia University.
“It was an honor to be nominated and quite humbling,” she said. “The experience at the program was incredible.
“It was interesting hearing what other teachers across the country do in their classrooms. The whole experience was both intellectually stimulating and powerful. We had five full days of a combination of lectures by the elite professors of the Holocaust and teacher brainstorming sessions. The program culminated with a trip to the Auschwitz exhibit at the Jewish Heritage museum.
“I was amazed at how much I learned while I was there. I learned a tremendous amount from each professor. I especially enjoyed the lecture from Doris Bergen on anti-Semitism and Robert Jan van Pelt on racial hierarchy during the Nazi Regime. I also found Lawrence Douglas’s lecture on justice following the Holocaust to be extremely riveting. We also got to hear the testimony of Holocaust survivor, Roman Kent, which was truly amazing,” she said.
Passner will now bring those lessons into the classroom, when she begins to ready for the 2019-20 school year, during which she will teach the elective Dimensions of Prejudice, Genocide and the Holocaust, and freshman World History.
“This program will totally change the way that I teach certain aspects of the Holocaust to my students. After every lecture, we would go into break out sessions and brainstorm ideas of how to teach the material in the classroom. I learned so many innovative ideas from my fellow teachers that I will definitely use. I definitely plan on using strategies taught by Professor Paul Salmons about how to use artifacts in the classroom to humanize the victims of the Holocaust,” she said.
Passner continues to emphasize the importance of teaching the Holocaust.
“As time goes on, the lessons of the Holocaust continue to be the most important lessons that we can teach our students. Teaching the Holocaust is not simply about teaching an event that happened a long time ago where a lot of people were killed. It is about teaching the students how to prevent these terrible things from happening in the first place. It’s about teaching our students to be upstanders in society, to do the right thing and to not just blindly follow in the face of injustice. I think that in our current day and age, that message is more important now more than ever,” she said.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.