Posted by Elyse Rast

“Not being Jewish I wasn’t sure what my place was. I wanted to learn more about the Holocaust and talk to a survivor but, as someone who went to Catholic school, I wasn’t sure how I would be received.”

When Danielle Forte, a social work intern at JF&CS, expressed these thoughts during a meeting, I realized she was the ideal person to help train the 2015-2016 cohort of the Legacies: High School Visits program. This group of diverse 9th-12th graders learn about the Holocaust by meeting with a survivor three times over the course of the year and by creating a meaningful project together. Not only was Danielle getting her Master’s degree in social work but she was expressing similar feelings to many of the students.

The 22 students in this year’s cohort come from all over Massachusetts with varied backgrounds and interests. At our first session of the year, we already had plans to warm up with ice-breakers, discuss emergency preparedness, learn interviewing skills, and practice interactions with Holocaust survivors through role plays. What we did not have on the agenda was someone to help the teens understand what it is like to age and the specific issues related to a Holocaust survivor. I asked Danielle if she would research the topic, attend the training, and take on this subject.

“When planning my talk I thought about what I knew in high school about the topic and, even though I had interest, I had very little knowledge. I knew I wanted to use humor and eliminate any pressure the high schoolers may have been feeling during this first training. In addition, I wanted to give them information on trauma but I didn’t want it to be a lecture.”

Danielle interspersed discussion and YouTube videos in her presentation. She had every student raising his or her hand, shouting out answers, and laughing.

“I wanted to get the teens talking more than anything else…it’s better than talking at them. The kids started out a bit quiet and awkward but by the end of training they seemed transformed. I think we got rid of a lot of their anxieties.”

Danielle was impressed by everyone in the room, especially Dan who talked about his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor who doesn’t share his traumatic past. “It’s such a gift that Dan is giving his grandfather and the survivor with whom he’ll be matched. He’ll learn about ways to talk to his grandfather and to let him know that he’s being supported.” Dan wanted to participate in the program to learn more about what his grandfather had gone through in order to be more empathetic.

Danielle wished she had had an opportunity to participate in a program like Legacies: High School Visits when she was younger. “This is such an incredible program. I didn’t know something like this could exist. I would have loved to do it in high school.”

For more information about the Legacies: High School Visits program, please contact Elyse Rast at erast@jfcsboston.org or 781-693-1201.

Elyse Rast is the Manager of Outreach and Education for Schechter Holocaust Services. For the past 20 years Elyse has taught children ranging in ages from 3-18 and specializes in Holocaust education. Currently, Elyse runs Jewish teenage empowerment classes at Prozdor Hebrew High School and is working on her PhD in Education at Lesley University. Elyse has two kids and two cats and lives in Westwood.

Originally published on the JF&CS blog.