Crossing Lines: Tools for Teaching Tough Topics: First TOLI Online Seminar, California


Pam Bodnar and Gail Desler, leaders of the TOLI California seminar, shifted plans after COVID made it clear they couldn’t hold an in-person seminar as planned. Gail has served as her district’s Technology Coach, so this team was able to quickly pull together TOLI’s first full seminar held completely online. Instead of its usual week-long format, the seminar ran from May 28th-July 13th. Speakers who presented via Zoom included: Holocaust survivors and scholars, a speaker from the Sousa Mendes Foundation; a panel comprised of children of survivors; a presentation on the Rwandan genocide and the Secret War in Laos, the Hmong American community, Japanese internment, and refugees and immigration. Sixteen educators gathered from California, Idaho, Delaware, New Jersey, and North Carolina to participate in the six-week-long seminar.

One participant, Tanya Pastor from New Jersey, wrote: This seminar was so beautifully organized, conducted, and chronicled! Every session I learned something new that I look forward to using in my own teaching. Some of the main take-aways are:

  1. “Endangering one group means endangering all of us.” –Olga Lengyel
  2. “Replace judgment with curiosity.” –Carl Wilkens
  3. One of the greatest tools in our toolbox as teachers and people is the power of the story and interpersonal communication. –Carl Wilkens
  4. Show empathy to the new/foreign students in our schools. A little bit of kindness can go a long way.
  5. The choices we each make have (both good and bad) consequences far beyond what we may think/know.
  6. When we see injustice, it is our duty as global citizens to speak up.


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

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