Shoah lessons drive curriculum

The Holocaust will play a major role in educating teens at a new Green Dot charter school in Exposition Park. The entire staff of the Animo Jackie Robinson High School — seven teachers and two principals — has been trained to teach a curriculum by Facing History and Ourselves, a Boston-based organization that uses the Holocaust to help kids understand the impact of moral choices they make daily.

“In making our school a Facing History high school, we are saying ‘what if we could really shape all the curricular components with this vision? What would happen with kids from the inner city who are really struggling with moral choices, and who often have no idea what it means to have remorse for your actions?'” said assistant principal Kristen Botello.

The school has written a four-year curriculum that integrates the Facing History approach through several disciplines, including English, history, science, art and community service. Animo Jackie Robinson is the first school in Los Angeles to adopt Facing History as an underlying educational philosophy.

The school opened this year with 147 kids in ninth grade; 18 of them are African American and the rest are Latino. Grades will be added over the next three years until there are 600 ninth- to 12th-graders, and all teachers hired will be trained by Facing History.

“I believe the thought processes that result from Facing History affect the kids not only in terms of learning the content of the Holocaust, but in looking at human behavior and the specific, personal events where individuals had to make choices, and how individual choices impact history,” Botello said.

Botello taught English at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights for 14 years, 11 of them using the Facing History curriculum. She says she can always spot kids who had Facing History teachers.

“You can just see it in the way they behave, the way they treat each other and the tolerance levels they have for people who are different, not just in terms of race or ethnicity, but in terms of disabilities or challenges,” she said.
The Jackie Robinson educators were among 30 LAUSD teachers who participated in Facing History’s five-day September institute called “Holocaust and Human Behavior,” held at Mount St. Mary’s College Doheny Campus.

Around 1,500 teachers in Los Angeles have been trained by Facing History.
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A helping foot
As they have been for the past 14 years, about 250 kids and families will lend their feet to AIDS Walk Los Angeles Oct. 15 as part of Kids Who Care, a team made up of kids from more than a dozen schools, including Stephen S. Wise Day School and Milken Community High School.
Last year, Kids Who Care raised $65,000, placing it fifth among the top AIDS Walk fundraisers, most of them corporations.

The team was founded with 25 walkers in 1992 by then-8-year-old Leo Beckerman, a Stephen S. Wise member. Since then, Stephen S. Wise families have raised more than $500,000 for AIDS Walk Los Angeles, now in its 22nd year.
The money funds direct services, prevention education and advocacy on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles County.
There are approximately 55,000 people living with HIV in Los Angeles County, and there are 1,500-2,000 new infections each year.

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Family dinners = better grades + better behavior
First ladies Maria Shriver and Corina Villaraigosa helped kick off Family Day at Thomas Starr King Middle School near Griffith Park Sept. 25. The Safeway Foundation launched a $2 million public service campaign to encourage families to eat dinner together.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University founded Family Day in 2001 — and this year 600 cities participated. A CASA study found that compared to kids who have fewer than three family dinners per week, children and teens who have frequent family dinners are at 70 percent lower risk for substance abuse; half as likely to try cigarettes or marijuana; one-third less likely to try alcohol; and almost 40 percent likelier to say future drug use will never happen. The report also found that teens who have frequent family dinners are likelier to get better grades in school.

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The next step for girls: Israel
The Orthodox Union’s (OU) Machon Maayan one-year program in Israel opened with its first class of 39 women, many of whom have scant Judaic studies background.
The post high-school seminary in Beit Shemesh — a half hour from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem — attracts girls who graduate from the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the OU’s outreach youth movement, and want to continue in their Jewish studies.
“Where we stop, programs like Machon Maayan continue,” said Rabbi Steven Burg, National Director of NCSY, who was formerly the movement’s West Coast director.
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Burden of Leadership

After 22 years of separation, believing his beloved son dead, Jacob was startled to hear that Joseph was not only alive but that he ruled the land of Egypt. Yet, the Torah tells us that this news was not enough: When he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob, their father, revived. (Genesis 46:5)

What was it about the wagons that brought Jacob back to life?

The Midrash examines a curious wordplay. The wagons sent by Joseph are called agalot, the singular of which is a homonym with eglah (calf). The rabbis explain that Jacob was revived because the last Torah study he engaged in with his beloved Joseph before they were separated was the law of the Eglah Arufah (broken calf), found at the end of our parsha. (Deuteronomy 21:1-21:9)

The Torah mandates that if a murdered corpse is found in a rural area, the elders of the closest city perform a ceremony that includes the proclamation: “Our hands did not spill this blood nor did we see.” Our rabbis were bothered by this formula and explained that it cuts much deeper than a declaration of innocence of murder: “The man found dead did not come to us for help and we dismissed him, we did not see him and let him go (i.e., he did not come to us for help, that we dismissed him without supplying him with food, we did not see him and let him go without escort).” (Sota 38a)

In other words, the community leaders must testify that they did everything within their power to make this wayfarer feel welcome in their town. Imagine any contemporary political leader making such a declaration. Can we picture the members of the L.A. City Council accepting responsibility for every traveler who comes through our fair town?

Yet, that is the standard the Torah demands of our leaders. This declaration admits of a great responsibility not only toward visitors, but, ultimately, toward their townsfolk. The level of hospitality and kindness that is the norm in their town rests on their shoulders — if they can make this declaration, then they are indeed fulfilling their job. This means that the power invested in them by Torah law has not separated them from their “constituents” (as so often happens in any power position); rather, they have maintained a close relationship with the people and continue to keep their finger on the pulse of their community, which they are leading toward a full commitment to the ideals embodied in Torah.

Jacob’s spirit was revived when he saw the wagons and was reminded of his last lesson with his son. But why?

When the brothers told Jacob that Joseph was now the governor of Egypt, he didn’t believe them. What didn’t he believe? That Joseph was alive, or that Joseph was indeed the leader of Egypt? Consider this: What motivation would the brothers have to lie about such a matter? If Joseph really was dead, what did they stand to gain by generating a rumor about his being alive?

Perhaps what Jacob didn’t believe was that Joseph ruled in Egypt. In other words, Jacob may have been willing to grant that his son had somehow survived whatever terrors the past 22 years held for him, and had, through his brilliance, insight and charm, risen to a position of power in Egypt. As hard as this may have been to accept, it paled in significance next to the incredulous report that this governor of Egypt was still Joseph.

Whoever heard of the vizier of a major world power maintaining his youthful idealism and tender righteousness? When the brothers reported: “Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt,” Jacob did not believe them. When he saw the wagons, a reminder of their last discussion of Torah standards, he realized that Joseph had never relinquished the values taught by his father.

Leadership carries with it the burden of responsibility for all members of the community — their physical welfare as well as the nurturing of moral growth and ethical conscience. This is the lesson of the Eglah Arufah — a lesson Joseph never forgot.