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Members of the Phoenix Holocaust Association on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives.

A resolution supporting — but not mandating — education in the state’s schools about the Holocaust and other genocides was passed unanimously by members of the Arizona House of Representatives.

Last week, several members of the Valley’s Jewish community, including survivors, gathered on the House floor as the resolution was read and passed.

“Be it resolved by the House of Representatives of the State of Arizona, the Senate concurring: That the Members of the Legislature express support for educating citizens, particularly this state’s schoolchildren in grades eight through twelve, on the Holocaust and  other  genocides and for ensuring that all educators  are  knowledgeable and trained on  the subject,” the bill stated.

The resolution cited the need for such education as the number of living survivors and servicemen who liberated the camps dwindles, saying, “this loss of live testimonies increases the likelihood that the historical significance of the Holocaust and its relevance to more recent genocidal conflicts will continue to diminish over time …”

 Phoenix Holocaust Association President Sheryl Bronkesh is very much aware that the passing of the survivor generation will create new challenges in educating future generations. Last year, Bronkesh’s organization, the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors Association, voted to change its name to the Phoenix Holocaust Association — Survivors, Generations After & Friends.

Before the reading of the resolution, Bronkesh led the House in the Pledge of Allegiance. Her parents came to the United States in 1947, having survived the Holocaust.

“This was a very meaningful day for me, for the survivors, descendants and educators who witnessed the proceedings,” Bronkesh said. “I felt the elected representatives were ... truly honored that they had the opportunity to meet the survivors present. Many had tears in their eyes.” 

The bill recognized that historical knowledge of the Shoah is waning in the U.S., particularly  among younger generations: Nearly 22 percent of millennials have not heard of the Holocaust and only about 50 percent of them are able to identify the Holocaust as “an attempted extermination of the Jewish people.”

“If we have any hope of preventing genocides like the Holocaust in the future, we need to ensure that children are properly educated on events of the past,” said Republican Rep. Michelle Udall, chair of the House Education Committee. 

Among Udall’s guests on the House floor was Pauline Staman, a survivor of the Auschwitz and Mauthausen concentration camps.

Moshe Bukshpan, executive director of the Red Rocks Music Festival, performed “Hatikvah” on a violin from the Violins of Hope program. 

“As a son of Holocaust survivors, born and raised in Israel, it was an experience I will not forget,” Bukshpan said.

Currently, the Holocaust is not required to be taught in the state’s schools. The bill does not change that, but it does encourage educators to take advantage of the state’s many resources in order to expose their students to the Holocaust and other genocides. Among those resources are the Anti-Defamation League’s “Echoes and Reflections” teacher lessons and trainings; the Phoenix Holocaust Association’s speakers bureau; and the Bureau of Jewish Education’s annual Educators’ Conference on the Holocaust.

Kim Klett, a fellow with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and a teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa, gave a presentation on Holocaust education curricula to the House Education Committee.

The bill will now go to the state Senate.

Reflecting on the event, Bronkesh said the highlight for her was when “Hatikvah” was played and every person on the floor of the House stood up, out of respect. 

“The survivors next to me were quietly singing the words of the Israeli national anthem,” she said. “It sent shivers down my arms.” JN

 

Joel Zolondek is a contributing writer and photographer for the Jewish News.

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