Holocaust center’s new director planning more outreach, new programs

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PROVIDENCE – The Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center is looking forward to its next chapter, with Wendy Joering as the new executive director.

Joering comes to the SBHEC with new ideas, as well as plans to continue the work started by longtime director May-Ronny Zeidman, who retired in October 2021.

Joering’s plans include expanding the center’s reach to raise awareness about hate and antisemitism in a new generation of Rhode Islanders.

“The heart of this center is Holocaust education,” she said. “We need to teach Holocaust education and genocide education, and we need to be a resource center to help eradicate hate and bigotry, and to be a resource for education.

“I want every teacher in the state to know that if they are teaching Holocaust education, we can be a resource.”

Joering spent more than 13 years at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, most recently as director of membership and community security. During this time, she spent many hours working in the community.

Now, she said she’s looking forward to working with her team at the SBHEC, which includes Kelly Alpert Vest, the new director of programs and community engagement, and Paula Olivieri, the longtime education coordinator.

Together, they are planning programs for all ages, as well as teachers, students and Holocaust survivors.

“We want people to know we are here,” Joering said. “The Holocaust is not an all-Jewish issue.”

In addition to the existing speakers bureau, an important part of the center, there will be new programs in the next year, as well as creative changes to existing programs.

The annual Arts and Writing contest for schoolchildren will focus on “Heroes of the Holocaust,” Joering said. Participants in middle and high school will be asked to create a two-dimensional work of visual art or a poem highlighting everyday people who acted heroically. The contest deadline is May 1.

Focusing on heroes is a nice entry point to learn more about the Holocaust center, Joering said.

“When you talk about heroes, you make people smile, and it’s less intimidating,” she said. “Human nature is a beautiful thing.”

Next fall, there will be a diverse, interfaith program for teens called LIFT (Leadership Institute For Teens), facilitated by Brown University students, to learn about and from the Holocaust. Plans are to meet once a month from October 2022 to April 2023.

“The goal is to inspire students to become leaders to stand up for marginalized students,” Joering said.

Another program, which started at the end of January, is for educators to learn from Holocaust and genocide based texts.

“There are people who are passionate about teaching about the Holocaust, that are teaching to make sure that it never happens again,” Joering said.

The workshop will meet three times a year. Teachers will read a text, discuss it and then share ideas for incorporating it into classroom lessons and materials. Teachers can get 6 PLU credits. The fees are nominal, and teachers can use the SBHEC’s resources.

Joering said she is also looking forward to connecting with community members and Holocaust survivors.

“I would love to know if there are more survivors around. They can inspire people and teach history,” she said. “Building relationships is what I love to do.”

FRAN OSTENDORF (fostendorf@jewishallianceri.org) is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.