Houston Teachers Study Holocaust in Israel Thanks to New Fellowship Program

HOUSTON, TX (Aug. 27, 2012) – “Transformative” and “personal” are what two Houston-area educators are calling a recently finished, three-week trip to Israel to learn about the Holocaust thanks to the Henia Leibman Fellowship at Holocaust Museum Houston.

Every year, Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial and education center dedicated to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, selects teachers from around the globe to attend its 18-day International Seminar. Since 2010, sponsors of the Leibman Fellowship fund have sent at least two local educators each year to study with scholars at Yad Vashem as well as explore Israel with historical guides.

This year’s fellows were Aaron Markham, a high school teacher at the Emery/Weiner School, and Stephanie Finger, former English teacher and English Department chair at KIPP Liberation College Preparatory.

Finger is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivor Bill Morgan. She said she attended Jewish day school all her life, where the importance of perpetuating Holocaust education was always stressed.

“It feels impossible to sum up what I learned from the fellowship,” Finger said. “The content was so comprehensive it can’t be distilled into a single nugget of insight. I will say that I’ve always been somewhat intimidated by teaching the Holocaust. It’s such a massive part of my personal history and identity, and I feared I’d do a disservice to a very complex narrative by presenting it as a simplified educational unit. The fellowship provided a forum for discussing these pedagogical issues with other educators, allowed me to expand my own knowledge of Holocaust history and gave me the time and space to deal with the complexities of the Holocaust on a personal level before bringing them to my students.”

Markham called the trip “a transformative experience,” adding, “I genuinely believe that I have a much greater understanding of the Shoah – not just the facts, figures and stories but the personal connection to the Jewish people and its universal application to humanity. The charge to teach such an event is more fervent, more real and more urgent. In the stories of survivors and the history of the Shoah, I saw my students and heard the stories of their grandparents and family.”

Markham said he had already altered his approach to teaching the Holocaust. “There is so, so much that I am still wanting to read and understand, but I am able to put it into much more of a clear picture for my students. Despite that picture being dark and terrible, I find it leads to understanding of peace and hope more than of despair and emptiness. Literally every single of my lessons surrounding genocide and the Shoah has been impacted in a powerful and profound way.”

The fellowship was formed with a gift from John Hagee Ministries in memory of Holocaust Museum Houston founding member Henia Leibman, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, who died peacefully on March 28, 2009 at the age of 62. Hagee and his organization worked with the Museum to create a $100,000 endowment fund that will provide support for the ongoing scholarships for educators to travel to Israel under the auspices of the Museum.

Leibman was born in Israel on July 26, 1946, to Renia and Pesach Berzak. Pesach had fought with the Russian Partisans, liberators of Nazi Germany-occupied land, for much of World War II, while her mother Renia spent 22 months in hiding after losing her father and three younger siblings to the genocide that would claim more than 6 million Jews. Escaping with her mother from the Baranowicze Ghetto in Poland, Renia hid under the floorboards of their non-Jewish friends’ house, sitting virtually unmoving for the duration of their concealment.

Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the Museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy.

Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public and is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004.

For more information about the Museum, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.

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