The Education Ministry announced a comprehensive educational program about the Holocaust to be taught to all students, from kindergarten through high school.
The program, “On the Path of Memory,” set to begin the next academic year, marks the first time a Holocaust curriculum will be implemented in the educational system, and not just as part of studies for the high-school history matriculation exam.
The plan was formulated by a joint committee comprised of Holocaust experts, educational teams, psychologists and educational consultants from the Education Ministry and the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem.
“On Holocaust Remembrance Day kindergarten children are exposed to the atmosphere that accompanies this day – a siren, special broadcasts in the media [including TV, radio and Internet], and through this the children absorb bits of information without the cognitive or emotional ability to understand and draw meaning from it,” an Education Ministry statement said on Wednesday.
“The main role of adults and educators on this day is to help the children organize the information they absorbed while preserving their sense of security,” the ministry said.
Kindergarten teachers will advise and consult with parents on how to best explain to children Holocaust Remembrance Day and the siren that goes off throughout the country. While the ministry leaves much to the decision of the kindergarten teacher, it recommended explaining to the children shortly before and following the siren that it serves to “remind people of a long time ago,” in an effort to prevent anxiety that may accompany the loud sound.
Furthermore, the Education Ministry instructed teachers not to show the children any content with “threatening physical visualizations,” such as photographs, simulations or plays about the Holocaust.
“The aim of the program is to minimize the emotional trauma for the students by providing a trusted figure to talk to them about it, and for kindergarteners and younger children, to talk about the human spirit rather than the Holocaust itself,” Shulamit Imber, pedagogical director of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, told The Jerusalem Post.
“We visited some kindergartens and found that children actually do know a lot more than we thought about the Holocaust. They are just unaware of how to put it into context, and if you don’t talk to them about it their fears can grow,” she said.
According to the Education Ministry, the need for a comprehensive program arose due to the many requests received by principals and teachers who felt it was their moral obligation to teach the Holocaust to younger pupils, despite a lack of tools and an official lesson plan on the subject.
Over the years there have been many instances where teachers have exposed children to events from the Holocaust and shown documentary films and photos, which younger pupils found difficult to understand and absorb, the ministry said.
“The aim is to help the children and instruct the educators to be in tune to children’s emotional needs rather than to expose them to the Holocaust,” Imber explained.
The educational program will revolve around the themes of “the individual, the family, and the community,” whereby each age group will address one or all of these ideas.
First- and second-graders will address “the individual” and will focus on a central figure from the period that could create empathy among them and better explain common terms surrounding the Holocaust in a non-threatening manner.
Those from grades three to six will address “the family.” Third- and fourth-graders will deal with decisions facing a family during a crisis period, as well as universal subjects, such as taking a stand, as in the case of Righteous Among the Nations. In fifth and sixth grades, the teachers will gradually reference the family in a historical context and discuss universal topics such as rescue and mutual support.
Seventh- and eighth-graders will address “the community” and learn about different groups and community life before and during the Holocaust.
At this stage, youngsters have yet to extensively study the Shoah, and as such the ministry recommends that all discussions only allude to relevant historical facts.
At the high-school level, students will continue to study the Holocaust while deepening their historical knowledge through various media and materials, as well as different perspectives.
Students will address the ethical issues and dilemmas that arose regarding Jewish identity and human morality as well as the continuation of Jewish life and character during the Holocaust.
Furthermore, they will be challenged to hold in-depth discussions on the fracture the Holocaust created in the world and its impact on the coming generations.