Emily Loeb, the director of programs and education at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, joined 27 other educators in Newark, New Jersey, in June for the 2023 Jewish Foundation for the Righteous’ Alfred Lerner Summer Institute for Holocaust Educators.
Loeb was the only Pennsylvania educator attending.
The Summer Institute is an academic seminar where middle and high school teachers or Holocaust Center educators like Loeb attend daily lectures from noted scholars and discuss how to best teach the material to students.
Loeb, a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, worked with the Holocaust Center for five years as a volunteer generations speaker. After working as the donor relations manager for a few months, she joined as director of programs and education in May.
“As the granddaughter of survivors,” Loeb said, “I feel that it is critical that people know what can happen when we don’t address identity-based hate and build a more civil and humane society.”
The intensive five-day seminar, which ran from June 24 to June 28, kept Loeb busy. Seminar days started at 8 a.m. and ran as late as 7 p.m. Holocaust scholars presented three to four lectures each day, diving into topics like the construction of Auschwitz or how to teach the Holocaust through artifacts.
Educators were given a 900-page book, additional readings and films to watch before the seminar. Months of preparation went into those five days, Loeb said.
But Loeb came to the discussion with more than just an academic’s perspective.
When Holocaust scholar and Northwestern University professor Peter Hayes discussed the “five I’s” of the Holocaust — indifference to Jews’ suffering; personal interest; intimidation; indoctrination; and intoxication with power — Loeb connected the discussions to her grandparents’ experience.
“I thought about how my grandparents’ neighbors were buying meat for my grandmother’s family and the Nazis realized [it]. They would say, ‘We know that you’re buying meat for someone; you need to stop.’ And I’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s that example of intimidation,’ and I could see how those theoretical concepts that Peter Hayes identified were 100% applicable to my own family’s situation,” Loeb said.
After a lecture, the educators discussed how the content could be taught to students. Loeb listened intently to ascertain what teachers needed from the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.
“All of those conversations are going to be really helpful for the Holocaust Center,” Loeb said. “I’m really excited that we’re going to be able to provide resources to our local teachers that are easily implementable into the classroom.”
An upcoming training for educators about teaching the Holocaust through the humanities at Chatham University is an example of how the center hopes to provide those resources to local teachers.
The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous provides financial support to people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. The JFR’s summer seminar is named after Alfred Lerner, the founding chairman of MBNA Corp., who advised JFR and supported its programming.
The seminar has three main goals: giving teachers a graduate-level education on the Holocaust; creating connections between teachers to learn best practices; and providing them with additional resources for teaching, according to JFR Executive Vice President Stanlee Stahl.
Loeb said that conversations among the educators about parts of Holocaust history they had to omit helped her get a better understanding of what teachers are unable to teach because of time constraints.
As for how this will change Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s programming, Loeb said the priority is the teachers and students.
“I think it’ll help us reconnect to serving the teachers the best we can,” she said. “And listening to and learning what the teachers and students need to orient our center’s education to those needs while providing really high-quality programming.” PJC
Abigail Hakas can be reached at email@example.com.