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St. Louis educators attend Holocaust teaching conference; Ramot Amoona cookbook; fashionable fundraiser at UH

Studying dark days to enlighten

Under the heading, “highlights of my summer vacation,” teachers Ellie DesPrez and Jill Donovan say their time spent at the Belfer Conference in Washington, D.C. about tops the list.

English teachers at John Burroughs School, the two were among 260 educators nationwide who attended one of two three-day conferences sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum last month. The purpose was to equip educators with the knowledge and skills to effectively bring Holocaust education into their classrooms, with one conference geared toward English teachers and the other to social studies teachers.

“What I experienced at this conference, designed to help middle and high school teachers understand and practice the museum’s pedagogical approach to teaching about the Holocaust, will impact not only my curricular choices going forward, but my willingness to lean into and help my students wrestle with one of the darkest events in human history,” said Donovan, a veteran teacher who has been at Burroughs for about 10 years.

Donovan heard about the conference after fellow English teacher DesPrez had attended the National Council of Teachers in English (NCTE) convention last November in Houston. DesPrez said she was looking for a NCTE session about Holocaust education, and found one sponsored by the Holocaust museum and TOLI (The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights). At that session, she picked up a flyer about the Belfer Conference.

“I brought it back to Burroughs and recruited a buddy (Donovan) because I think it’s better to have someone to talk to and process with. Then, if you want to implement some changes in your curriculum, you have an accountability partner,” said DesPrez. “I haven’t happened to teach ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ or ‘Night,’ (by Elie Wiesel), which are the two big books in Holocaust literature curriculum, and was looking for support and resources around that.”

Both teachers said they found a whole lot of support, not only from Burroughs, which paid their travel and lodging expenses, but also at the conference, which was offered at no cost. There they participated in interactive sessions with Holocaust scholars and fellow teachers, toured the museum with curators and heard from Holocaust survivors. DesPrez said she especially enjoyed exploring the museum’s latest exhibition, “Americans and the Holocaust,” which examines American society in the 1930s and ’40s and the factors that shaped Americans’ responses to Nazism.

“We not only spent several hours touring the museum’s permanent exhibit, we discussed what we were absorbing with fellow teachers from around the country, we heard from university professors and museum experts, we practiced and debriefed classroom activities and approaches, and we were gifted books, resources and teaching tools whose impact will be ongoing,” said Donovan.

DesPrez, who is a member of Congregation Shaare Emeth, said she was highly motivated to integrate Holocaust literature into her classes’ curriculum after the Tree of Life synagogue tragedy last October.

“It was the shooting in Pittsburgh combined with the general sense that our socio-political climate has really shifted in an ugly way,” explained DesPrez, who has taught at Burroughs for 21 years. 

She said she and Donovan are now discussing how to integrate what they learned into their curriculum, and will be working on that over the next year. 

For more information about the Belfer Conference and other resources provided by the national Holocaust museum to educators free of charge, go to www.ushmm.org.

Betsy: the coolest in beeshul

If you or your children attended Camp Ramot Amoona from 1987 to 2015, chances are you remember Betsy Enger. She was in charge of food service at the summer camp run by Congregation B’nai Amoona for youngsters from roughly ages 5 to 14. 

In addition to preparing meals, Enger taught campers how to cook. Her popular cooking classes were known as beeshul (Hebrew for cooking), though a lot of the kids referred to them as Beeshul-BeCool, because cooking with Enger was lots of fun and very cool.

“Kids wanted their parents to sign them up for camp on the weeks when we were making their favorite recipes like potato knishes, watermelon cookies and pretzels,” said Enger, who retired from Camp Ramot in 2015.

Over her 29 years at camp, Enger amassed scores of recipes that not only delighted campers in beeshul but many others, too. So she figured why not put them into some kind of cookbook to raise scholarship money so that more children can enjoy camp. The hope was to have the cookbook ready for the 36th (double chai) anniversary Ramot Amoona reunion in 2018, but massive construction at B’nai Amoona pre-empted that plan. Hopefully, the reunion will now take place in June 2020.

Nevertheless, Enger did her part handwriting and then assembling hundreds of favorite recipes into a spiral soft-covered cookbook called “Beeshul BeCool.” Each cookbook costs $18, plus any shipping or handling costs. They can be purchased at www.bnaiamoona.com or by calling 314-576-9990, ext. 126 and asking for Gail Armstrong.

It’s fashionable to help the community

United Hebrew Congregation will host the Many Faces of Fashion Show and Tea sponsored by My Diversity Circle at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18. Senior Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg teamed up with Rev. Sheila Bouie Sledge, founder of local nonprofit My Diversity Circle, to celebrate diversity in the community by showcasing local young designers and models.

This year’s featured designer, Madison Marks, comes from a long line of UH members. At 15 years old, Madison’s unique designs are repurposed from clothing found in resale stores such as the one run by the National Council of Jewish Women. 

Tickets are at $50 for the fashion show, and tea can be purchased online at http://bit.ly/uhfashion. Proceeds will directly benefit My Diversity Circle. Please note that this is a family event geared toward youngsters ages 9 through 19 (so no toddlers, please).

News and Schmooze is a weekly column by Editor Ellen Futterman. Email Ellen at: efutterman@thejewishlight.com.