There are many different approaches that the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center (SBHEC) employs to teach Rhode Island students about the Holocaust. As with all educational efforts, the most effective are the ones that engage, and connect with students on a deeply personal level, causing them to ask questions and develop their own answers.
SBHEC’s Annual Sandra and Stanley Abrams Art and Writing Contest is one such effort. Each year the contest poses a question, or topic to address, and gives students the opportunity to find their own answers and express what they learn in a variety of mediums. The topic for the 2018 contest was “The Courage to Resist,” and invited students to explore an area of the Holocaust that is not always given the attention it deserves because it challenges many preconceived notions that people bring to Holocaust studies.
The contest inspires hundreds of middle school students to submit their answers using a full range of artistic impression. Over the years SBHEC has received entries in the form of short stories, poems, paintings, sculptures, video presentations and original music pieces. They are always pleased and honored by the number, and quality, of the entries received.
Often there are so many good entries it can be very difficult for the board of directors to decide who to give awards to. And that was surely the case this year.
Judith Jameison, SBHEC’s most recent past president, presided over the ceremony, offered a welcome message from the board and introduced current President Judge Edward Newman, who greeted the students, their teachers, and families. Board member Lilliane Birch and special guest Betty Jaffe presented the first, second, third place and honorable mention awards in each category and grade level. Ms. Jaffe is “thrilled to have so many students participate. At their age it is very evident that they understand hate and the impact of the Holocaust and Genocide.” She is impressed not only by their talent but how they understand the concept.
In addiion, there are three special awards given each year.
After recounting her family’s Holocaust story Deborah Gastfreund Schuss awarded the Gastfreund Writing Award for the top written entry to Edie Tomka of Mount Saint Charles Academy. Upon receiving the award Ms. Tomka read her deeply moving, and original, short story of two sisters with the courage to resist, which left not a dry eye in the house.
Next, second generation survivor Len Newman presented the Singer Art Award, given each year to the top artistic interpretation of the topic. This year the quality of the entries was so good that the jury could not pick just one, so gave the award to three students. They are: Elie Arcand and Raphel Awa, both students at LaSalle Academy, and Russell Ide of Kingston Hill Academy.
Finally, without committed teachers, the Art and Writing Contest would never be as successful as it is. Each year the Starr Teacher Award is presented to two teachers who exemplify that commitment. This year Bob and Joyce Starr had the honor of awarding Donald Hogue of Mount Saint Charles Academy and Darlene Caroulo from the St. Kevin School.
As SBHEC Executive Director May-Ronny Zeidman stated when the event was winding down, “Once again I am blown away by how many entries we received and the quality of them. We are so pleased that the Art and Writing Contest engages so many Rhode Island students in deep and meaningful learning about the Holocaust and Genocide.”
Lev Poplow is a Communications Consultant writing for the Bornstein Holocaust Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.