What is more timely for us, Israeli teachers, than talking with our German colleagues about the fight against racism and anti-Semitism? It's already been happening for the 29th time! For the past 50 years, a bi-national seminar has been held once every two years attended by Israeli and German educators that are discussing l questions regarding the ways by which they can contribute to combating Racism and anti-Semitism in today’s world and how to promote the acceptance of the other and the different. These seminars take place both in Israel and Germany.
At the end of July 2019, I took part in one of these fascinating bi-national seminars, held at the Grand Beach Hotel in Tel Aviv. As part of the seminar, 15 teachers from the "Educators for Combat against Racism and Anti-Semitism" association founded by our union, the Israel Teachers Union, met with colleagues from the German Teachers' Federation (GEW).
In the unique framework of the seminar, lectures are given by the participants, each in their own language, accompanied by simultaneous translation. In the last seminar, the lectures dealt with relevant issues in Holocaust education, such as:
- Combating and preventing racism at school;
- Teaching the Holocaust through children's literature and through diaries of children who lived in that period;
- Education for tolerance and acceptance of others;
- Child rights, using family stories and testimonies told by second generation family members of survivors;
- Education against Holocaust denial;
- Plundering Jewish property;
- German-Israeli relations;
- German volunteer activities for Holocaust survivors and more.
After each lecture, a discussion was held in which different opinions were expressed and sensitive points were introduced by both parties. These discussions were significant and invaluable. We shared positive experiences on methods and ways of teaching about the Holocaust and we had the opportunity to share dilemmas and challenges when confronting the students with the story of the Holocaust.
This unique seminar was an exciting and extraordinary experience for me as a teacher and as a Jewish person. Through our meetings, I realized that the theme of the Holocaust and the fight against anti-Semitism were engaging German teachers, of all generations. I had the opportunity to learn about the caring and serious attitude of the Germans that was reflected in their sympathy for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Their commitment excited me to tears. The message of love towards all persons was at the centre of this seminar. It gave me hope for better days.
During the seminar, the Secretary General of ITU, Mrs. Yaffa Ben David, honored the participants. In remarks to the group, she emphasized the importance in holding such bi-national meetings and learning.
One of the highlights of the seminar was the sense of partnership of all participants in a moving ceremony held at Yad Vashem memorial site in Jerusalem, organized by Ms. Gila Finkelstein from ITU and teacher Ram Steindel of the "Irises" School in the city of Karmiel. Ram, a second-generation Holocaust survivor, summed up his experiences in a song in which he wrote that "he knew his colleagues would be Brave Germans who are trying to do good, but did not know how much his heart would connect and did not know that his heart would almost break, there in Yad Vashem. "
From the lectures and discussions, it is evident that the German colleagues are fighting for the preservation of the memory of the Holocaust and for teaching the lessons of the Holocaust in their schools. Many claimed that they did not know that the Holocaust issue was so central to the daily lives of Israelis. Matthias, one of the German teachers, noted that the degree of in-depth teaching about the Holocaust in Germany is usually done according to the federal state (Bundesland) policy, and at the discretion of the teacher. Matthias personally attaches great importance to teaching the Holocaust. For him, no student will leave school until he learns about the Holocaust and the prevention of anti-Semitism and Racism towards any individual. Silvia, a German teacher in a fourth-grade class in Berlin, demonstrated to the participants how her students were preparing a creative reading journal following reading a child's book about the Holocaust from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl.
Lea Zazon, a senior history teacher and professional coordinator of History in a high school at Haifa, was impressed that among German teachers there is a great amount of acceptance and support of the State of Israel. She felt that following the seminar, a warm human connection was formed and true friendships were built between members of the Israeli delegation and the German delegation.
In the concluding conversation, the German colleagues noted the good atmosphere that accompanied the seminar, the discussions and the personal conversations that left a great impression on them. At the end of this fascinating week, an exciting farewell party was held, accompanied by a musical performance by artist Tal Kravitz, who generated an enthusiastic party of singing and dancing. At this special meeting, seeds were planted for deep friendship between educators from both nations. Participants are eagerly awaiting the next seminar to be held in the summer of 2021 in Berlin.