Mt. Lebanon students bring ‘LIGHT’ — and hope — to community
Fighting antisemitismHolocaust education

Mt. Lebanon students bring ‘LIGHT’ — and hope — to community

"We find hope in the students. That's where the hope lies.” — Nick Haberman

Pittsburgh synagogue shooting survivor Dan Leger addresses Mt. Lebanon eighth-grader Eden Cheng at a community event on May 21 at Mt. Lebanon High School. Andrea Wedner, a survivor of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, is on his right. (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)
Pittsburgh synagogue shooting survivor Dan Leger addresses Mt. Lebanon eighth-grader Eden Cheng at a community event on May 21 at Mt. Lebanon High School. Andrea Wedner, a survivor of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, is on his right. (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)

Nick Haberman recognizes that the lessons of the Holocaust are just as applicable in 2024 as they were in 1945. But even as hate continues to proliferate throughout the world, the Holocaust educator and founder of the LIGHT Education Initiative is hopeful for a better future.

“The younger generations are absolutely amazing,” Haberman said. “And they are doing incredibly inspiring work to make the world a better place. We find hope in the students. That’s where the hope lies.”

His comments came following a May 21 community presentation by Mt. Lebanon students in the high school’s Fine Arts Theatre, where they showcased the work they’ve been doing on what it means to be a good neighbor.

The program, sponsored by Lebo United and Eradicate Hate Global Summit, included a screening of the documentary “Repairing the World: Stories from the Tree of Life” and a panel discussion with survivors and family members of the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, community advocates and LIGHT students. The panel was moderated by Maggie Feinstein, executive director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership.

Haberman launched LIGHT (an acronym that stands for “Leadership through Innovation in Genocide and Human rights Teaching”) in 2017 to help school districts provide safe and supportive educational environments for students and staff. The initiative is fiscally sponsored by the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and Tree of Life, Inc.

He was inspired to create LIGHT based on his experiences teaching in the Shaler Area School District, where he routinely brought Holocaust survivors into his classroom.

“I realized the power of students meeting someone with a lived experience of the topics they were learning about in their textbooks,” Haberman said. “And I realized that if you introduce students to a human being who has a lived experience in the content that you’re learning about, then what happens is the students become more inspired to act and to care, and their teachers can help make them be more prepared to do something with the information they’re learning about.”

The students thereby feel empowered, he said, which can lead to positive action.

LIGHT was launched to “help place students into leadership roles in genocide, human rights teaching,” he said.

While the foundation of the program “has always been Holocaust remembrance,” Haberman said, LIGHT also has “always been about transforming Holocaust remembrance into advocacy and action for all victims of contemporary identity-based violence and hate — so transforming Holocaust remembrance into action for any individual or group that experiences any type of identity-based hate.”

Haberman and his team work with more than 50 teachers trained in this philosophy and 17 school districts, mostly in southwestern Pennsylvania. Mt. Lebanon High School has been affiliated with LIGHT for three years; the district’s two middle schools joined the LIGHT community this year.

At the May 21 event, Mt. Lebanon students reported on their LIGHT work, including the Butterfly Project, where all eighth-grade students read Elie Wiesel’s “Night” then created and glazed clay butterflies, each in honor of a specific child killed during the Holocaust. The butterflies will be incorporated into large murals at each middle school.

High school LIGHT students talked about attending the Eradicate Hate student conference last fall, which led to students in ninth through 12th grade watching and discussing the film “Repairing the World: Stories From Tree of Life.”

They also joined with middle school LIGHT students to teach seventh graders “the importance of kindness,” Ava Smith, a Mt. Lebanon senior, said. In April, the LIGHT students “taught all Mt. Lebanon seventh graders about how their words and actions matter and provided ways for them to be a practicing upstander, someone who sees what happens in a bullying situation and intervenes, interrupts or seeks to stop the bullying.”

A panel of Mt. Lebanon students, Pittsburgh synagogue shooting survivors and family members of victims and community activist Tim Smith, founder of Center of Life (second from right) at Mt. Lebanon High School on May 21 (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)
Standing up for others can be difficult, especially in middle school. Following the screening of the film, a panel discussion ensued where survivors and family members of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting — Dan Leger, Andrea Wedner, Jodi Kart and Amy Mallinger — offered advice to the young leaders, who sometimes face challenges when talking to their peers about racism and antisemitism.

For Kart, the answer is “small acts of kindness.”

“I just try to be as friendly as possible,” said Kart, whose father, Mel Wax, was killed on Oct. 27, 2018. “When I’m out in public, I try to strike up a little conversation with the person in front of me in line if I’m shopping. You know — if you’re at a four-way stop sign, let the other person go first. Just really small things to just be a good human and a good neighbor.”

Wedner, who was shot and seriously injured on Oct. 27, and whose mother, Rose Mallinger, was killed in the attack, advised the students to “focus on the positive.”

“I am grateful for life and I cherish every day,” she said. “I look for the good in people. I look for the good in everything. And to me, my glass is always half full and I try to send that through to other people. It’s very gratifying when people see how grateful I am and it makes them grateful and it makes them happy.”

Amy Mallinger, whose grandmother Rose Mallinger was killed on Oct. 27, encouraged the students to stay focused on their goals and not be deterred by outside influences.

“It’s really easy to look at the world and be scared and be worried about all of the things that are happening,” she said, “but it kind of deters you from achieving things that you would like to do. So you have to just keep going, keep facing it.”

Leger, who also was shot and seriously wounded on Oct. 27, said that the students and their work gave him hope.

“You know, we’re really giving you a terrible world,” he told the student LIGHT leaders. “It’s really a messy place. But when I looked at you folks and I see the energy that you have to bring good into the messes that need repairing that we have left to you, I feel so optimistic. I feel so hopeful.”

Leger acknowledged that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, which occurred five-and-a-half years ago, “is almost like history” to the teens.

“I’m much more interested in you than I hope you are in me,” he said, “because I think if our story informs you in any way to keep that message going that you brought to the podium today, that’s really what we need.” PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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