|Artist’s rendering of the Morris and Ruth Kotek Library Technology Center.|
A special Holocaust media technology center will be added to the library of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, thanks to funds being donated in memory of Holocaust survivors Morris and Ruth Kotek.
In the new resource room, students, faculty, and parents will have access to the library’s print and digital collection of resources about the Shoah, as well as to materials from around the world to which they can gain access online. They also will be able to engage with testimony of Holocaust survivors, using the iWitness program hosted by the University of Southern California.
The new center will help facilitate study of the Holocaust through technology-based learning. It will house Smart Boards and 20 iPads and will enable students to plug in their personal devices to learn and collaborate in small-group settings. Students will research the history, individual stories, and broader impact of the Shoah. They will learn interviewing skills and video-editing, and the documentaries they create will be housed in Schechter’s library of testimony. This video documentary film program will be part of Schechter’s middle school Holocaust and Heritage education program, and will be shared with other religious schools, public middle and high schools, and day schools.
This is important, said Beryl Bresgi, who serves as both librarian and coordinator of Holocaust studies for Schechter, because a part of the focus on the schools’ Holocaust curriculum is to “translate statistics into people.” The phrase is from the educational guidelines of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In recent years, Schechter has invited survivors to speak to the middle school students studying the Holocaust. These visits have been filmed. “With fewer survivors able to give testimony, it’s important to be able to share video testimonies,” Bresgi said.
Kotek’s daughter-in-law, Beth Kotek, said all three of her children are Schechter graduates, and when she and her husband, Freddie, a Schechter board member, thought about how to memorialize her mother and father-in-law, helping the school’s Holocaust programming seemed like a natural move.
“It’s absolutely” a vote of confidence in Schechter and Bresgi, she said.
Bresgi said the school’s Holocaust curriculum is designed to be age-appropriate, and shields even the school’s oldest students, its eighth graders, from the Holocaust’s worst horrors.
“Our focus, throughout the curriculum, is on how Jews lived their lives, and not on how they died,” Bresgi said.
“The goal of our curriculum is for students to be prepared to continue their Shoah education.”
The Holocaust curriculum actually begins in the lower school, where a focus on memories is designed to lay the groundwork for later discussions of remembering and commemorating the Shoah. In addition, the curriculum addresses some of the broad ethical issues of the Holocaust through discussions of difference, tolerance, bullying, and social justice. In fifth grade, a “heritage fair” invites students to explore their Jewish roots.
Middle school students focus on studying the Shoah through historical events, testimonies, personal narratives, and literature. Themes include rescue and resistance – “both physical and spiritual resistance,” “choice and “choiceless choices” and memory, Bresgi said.
Holocaust education “is our responsibility as a Jewish day school,” she continued. “It’s really important for our kids to have some connection. It’s a watershed event in their lives that needs to be learned from not just a historical perspective but from a personal perspective.”
Schechter honored Beth and Freddie Kotek last week.
All four of their parents lived in Poland before the war.
Ruth Kotek died some time ago; Morris Kotek died two years ago at 97. He had sent his son to public school and Hebrew school but was very happy to have his grandchildren in a day school.
“He would kvell,” said Beth. “He came to all the Schechter ceremonies. It just made him very proud that the kids were really learning Hebrew and Judaism and our history. I have three daughters and they all learned how to read Torah. He really took pride in that.”