"Anyone can go to the Holocaust museum [in Washington DC] but not everyone gets this experience." ~A. Speitel (student, 17)
The Jewish Identity Center's Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, America's first Holocaust museum, is 45 years young. Yaakov Riz, the museum's founder, was a Holocaust survivor who lost 83 members of his family in Hitler's death camps. Riz vowed that if he survived he would dedicate his life to establishing a museum that would memorialize the millions of Jews and Non-Jews who perished at the hands of Nazi barbarism. Initially, the museum was housed in the basement of Riz's home. The museum's genesis, its growth and its struggle against intolerance are the realization of his dream, his courage and his commitment.
In the five-county area that we serve, the museum's educational and community outreach is ecumenical and comprises a population that ranges from elementary school school (grade 5) to senior citizens. Many of the students we work with come from disadvantaged homes. Some of our students are newcomers who have fled countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Serbia.
During the last 45 years, tens of thousands of students have visited the museum. We, in turn, have presented thousands of Holocaust programs in schools and to community groups and organizations. Our efforts are designed to emphasize the message that racial, ethnic, and religious hatred are the social poisons that weaken the American democracy.
During the last 45 years, thousands of students and adults have participated in museum programs. Many students and their teachers have visited the museum, and the museum has hosted many adult community groups as well. The museum staff takes its outreach programs into public, archdiocesan, and private schools. Home-schooled students and their parents have also visited the museum.
Students and teachers have listened to the life experiences of Holocaust survivors, liberators -- American GIs -- who liberated the concentration camps, and Kindertransport (children whom the Nazis ransomed allowing them to leave for England -- most never saw their parents again). Because many of our speakers are into their 70's and 80's, we are currently videotaping their stories.
Over the last 45 years, the museum staff presented more than 100 programs to elementary, middle, high school, and college students. Our outreach program has taken us to federal installations, senior citizen retirement communities, nursing homes, and universities in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A brief sampling of our constituencies include: Swenson Arts and Technology High School; Rutgers University; Mayfair Elementary School; Rush Middle School; North Penn High School; St. Maximillian Kolbe Elementary School; U.S. Defense Supply Center; Temple University; and St. Joseph's Manor (Holy Redeemer Hospital).
During the 2003/2004 school year, the museum sponsored several live performances by professional actors of an abridged version of "The Diary of Anne Frank" to audiences at Baldi Middle School (600 students), George Washington High School (500 students), St. Francis de Sales Elementary School (200 students), and Northeast High School (600 students).
For some students, the play, a vehicle for teaching the lessons of the Holocaust, was their first exposure to live theater. The play is an excellent venue for discussing the dangers of prejudice, bigotry, and racism. The museum is excited once again to offer this program as the Anne Frank Theater Project
After viewing the production, students have an opportunity to ask questions and discuss its relevance and the issues it raises for us today. One student commented, "The play made me think about things I had never thought about before. Anyone of us can become a victim no matter what your background is."
During the 2009/2010 school year, our Educational Programs reached more than 6,000 people in more than 100 schools, organizations, and businesses.