2019 New York City Summer Seminar


On a warm Sunday evening in June, 26 teachers from across the country gathered at the Olga Lengyel Institute for the first time.  TOLI’s 2019 summer seminar began with a short reception—an opportunity to create connections that would be built upon over the next 11 days.  During this time the teachers shared their identities, forged relationships and challenged themselves to rethink the ways they teach empathy, the Holocaust and social justice.

The seminar began with an exploration of identity.  Through movement, words and the creation of identity boxes, participants were able to share themselves with the group.  The teachers also received their first introduction to what would become a regular writing practice throughout the seminar by writing poems modeled after George Ella Lyon’s poem, Where I’m From.

On Tuesday, participants traveled downtown to visit the newest exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.”

On Wednesday Andrea Pitzer, author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps, spoke to the group about the way we define concentration camps and how reframing our thinking can lead to change.  Later that day, Irving Roth provided a powerful testimony about his experience as a survivor.

After a day of rest, the participants returned to Olga’s table for the testimony of William Bernheim, Holocaust survivor and author of My Story: From Hell to Rebirth.  William shared his story and presented a selection of his evocative and moving artwork.  That evening, participants were offered the opportunity to learn more about Judaism from Rabbi Sarah Reines, followed by a Shabbat service at Temple Shaaray Tefila.  After, the teachers returned to the library for a Shabbat dinner led by cantor Sam Rosen.

The following afternoon, Alexandra Zapruder discussed her book Salvaged Pages: Young Writers Diaries’ of the Holocaust.  She shared her challenges and what she learned while putting the book together before leading a close reading of select entries.  

On Monday, we welcomed Dr. Ellen Kennedy, Executive Director of World Without Genocide, who left the teachers with the message, “Knowledge is not power.  Knowledge plus action is power.”

In a fitting end to a week of reflecting on identity, humanity and atrocity, each participant read a personal piece they’d been writing and revising throughout the past 11 days.  Many reflected on what they’d learned over the course of the seminar while others made connections between the powerful lessons of the Holocaust and their own lives. 

In the end, it was impossible not to acknowledge the challenge and value of what teachers do every day in the classroom.  As Ivy Schamis of Parkland, Florida said in her essay, “You can immerse yourself in amazing collaborations, like TOLI, where you get to chat with Survivors Extraordinaire Irving Roth & William Bernheim. You can take a selfie with Alexandra Zapruder, whose book really moved me years ago when I started this adventure.   But the true connections come with the other heroes in the room – the teachers.”



For more information about The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights (TOLI), please contact info@tolinstitute.org

TOLI is located at 58 East 79th Street in Manhattan. (get directions)