A Bay Area nonprofit has been awarded $ 1.9 million from the Marin County Office of Education and the state Legislature to expand classroom education about the Holocaust and genocide.
The nonprofit, Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center, intends to use the money to create a first-of-its-kind statewide network called the California Collaborative for Holocaust and Genocide Services Center.
The network will conduct teacher trainings and curriculum development for schools in the state that lack the resources to do so on their own, said Morgan Blum Schneider, director of the JFCS Holocaust Center.
“What this allows us to do is support our California teachers to bring these lessons back to the classrooms,” Schneider said. “Also, to provide them with the confidence to incorporate lessons from the Holocaust and genocide – and to address the surge of antisemitism and all the hate we see in our California school communities.”
Research has show that such study “develops empathy in our youth, reduces discrimination and hate and inspires our students to be morally courageous and socially responsible individuals,” according to Schneider, a Marin resident.
The nonprofit, which serves about 28,000 people in Marin and Sonoma counties, San Francisco, San Mateo and Palo Alto, will be able to reach about 70,000 more students with the new network – and offer at least 25 trainings and workshops for an estimated 700 teachers statewide over the next three years.
“The students and schools of our community have greatly benefited from the ongoing partnership with the JFCS Holocaust Center,” said Mary Jane Burke, Marin superintendent of schools. “The California Collaborative for Holocaust and Genocide Education will further deepen that relationship and will result in important resources being made available to schools locally and throughout the state.”
According to state Assemblyman Marc Levine, whose district includes Marin, the Marin County Office of Education was chosen by the state Legislature to administer the grant because of its established relationship with the Holocaust center and its strong track record in fiscal management.
Levine was referring to “Confronting Antisemitism,” a workshop series launched in 2020 by the Marin County office and the JFCS Holocaust Center that reached more than 1,500 students, teachers and community members to address instances of hate and antisemitism.
“Not only do students have very low rates of awareness about the Holocaust, but educators and parents alike have a need to be educated about the Holocaust,” the Democrat from Greenbrae said. “This partnership through a collaborative is a strong approach in making sure all of society understands what hate can lead to.”
Even though there is a rise in hate crimes against other ethnic groups, Levine said, “we know the hate against Jewish communities is not subsiding, sadly.”
“It ties into what’s happening in Ukraine,” he added. “The whole world is focused on this because it does impact everyone globally when hate is used as a lever for persecution and war.”
Russia President Vladimir Putin “has talked about the need to invade Ukraine to de-Nazify the country, when that could hardly be the case, as Ukraine has a Jewish president,” Levine said.
“To use the Nazis and the memory of the Holocaust and what that meant to Russia as an excuse to invade another country is, while obviously misleading, also extraordinarily damaging to the lessons we need to learn from history,” he said.
One of the lessons, he said, is the parallel between the Nazi genocide of the Jewish minority to provide cover for a failing regime and Russia, a country in a downward spiral, committing atrocities in Ukraine, Levine added.
“Holocaust education can help us understand and give us perspective – and recognize this danger,” he said.
Levine is co-author of Assembly Bill 2282, which would strengthen the tools law enforcement can use to level hate crime or felony charges in cases where symbols such as swastika stickers are posted in public places.
The bill was unanimously voted out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee last month and is now in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Levine said.
Members of the new statewide collaborative network include: the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation; the Museum of Tolerance; the Genocide Education Project; Facing History and Ourselves; Holocaust Museum LA; the Anti-Defamation League; the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation; Redbud Resource Group; Avenues for Change; and leaders from the Cambodian, Rwandan, Armenian, Sudanese, Uyghur, and Indigenous communities.
The California Collaborative plans to hold a conference for California teachers on teaching the Holocaust and genocide next year.