Home June 2023 "Never Again" Not Just A Slogan

“Never Again” Not Just A Slogan

Dan Rozett with high school students from Monmouth and Greater Middlesex counties

NJ Moves to Improve Holocaust Education

    A New Jersey mandate to teach Holocaust and genocide studies in high school is rarely (if ever) implemented. But thanks to the efforts of Dan Rozett and members of the Jewish Community Relations Council, the mandate will be treated differently moving forward.
    Rozett is the director of Community Relations and Israel Engagement for the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey and has devoted countless hours to this cause.
    The New Jersey Holocaust education mandate compels public school districts to include lessons on the Holocaust and genocide in their curriculum. Yet the reality for many is that it is offered as an elective and only to a small portion of the student population.
    Last year when Rozett attended his daughter Liyah’s high school orientation he noticed this firsthand.
    “Later in the year, I asked my daughter if there was any mention of the Holocaust and she said it was ‘mentioned’ as part of the World War II unit,” he said. “This frustrated me, so I reached out to a few educator friends of mine and learned that this is common state-wide.”
    He added that there are no set curricula, no uniform guidelines, and no accountability. Complying with the mandate ranges from assigning a book, offering an elective course, or teaching as part of the World War II history unit.
    Rozett noted that any teacher will tell you that education is key to combating hate, and teaching about the consequences of hate is critical. Since the schools were not enforcing the mandate in its current form, Rozett brought the issue to the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), and together they decided to make change happen.
    “Once we got the ball rolling, two events happened simultaneously which propelled our momentum,” he said. “New York state passed legislation that initiated a survey to examine how public schools were teaching Holocaust and genocide education. And we had a productive meeting with the Senate Education chair, Senator Vin Gopal.”
    Rozett converged a team of JCRC members and Federation leaders with teaching experience who could provide vital input.
    “Two of these folks were educators and one of them had already created a Holocaust curriculum,” he said. “We briefed the senator on the Federation’s work addressing antisemitism, including ways to improve the current New Jersey Holocaust education mandate.”

Liyah Rozett and Lynda Levy, and Federation board member Liran Kapoano

    Senator Gopal was on board and legislation was drafted in both the Senate and the Assembly. The bill “requires the Commissioner of Education to distribute a survey to school districts to gather information about current instruction on the Holocaust and other genocides,” a first step toward improving the curriculum.
    At a hearing, members of the Federation testified in support of the bill along with two students who have been directly affected by antisemitism in high school.
    “When I was in 11th grade, somebody I used to call a friend wrote an antisemitic essay,” said Lynda Levy. “He didn’t realize how hurtful his words were and, when he was approached about it by the diversity board of our school, he doubled down on his words.” 
    In just under one year the bill passed unanimously in both houses and was signed into law on the eve of Yom HaShoah, April 17.
      “‘Never Again’ is not a slogan,” said Susan Antman, executive director of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ. “It is a call to action to prevent genocide, and education is a critical tool in the fight against hate. The signing of this law took place on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazi regime. I cannot think of a better way to honor the victims than working to ensure future generations are educated on the consequences of hate.”
    “Education is a critical component of our efforts to combat the troubling rise in antisemitism and hatred, and this law will strengthen an essential piece of that education,” Senator Gopal said. “I’m grateful for the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey for their partnership and advocacy on this legislation and look forward to building on this new law.”
    Rozett is proud of the work and hopeful about the outcome.
    “The most important thing is that we are taking steps to improve Holocaust and genocide education in the state, a critical tool in fighting antisemitism and all hate, which will hopefully have an impact on future generations,” he said.
    The work continues with the next phase, working with the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education to draft the survey, analyze the data and set the curriculum.  

Gena Ansell-Lande is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.


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