Dana Kapustin, the Butterfly Project coordinator at south Charlotte’s Levine Jewish Community Center, recently traveled across the world to learn about the future of Holocaust education.
Kapustin participated in the ninth International Conference on Holocaust Education from July 7 to 10 at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem, to bolster her work at the LJCC.
Kapustin has hosted more than 60 schools and civic and religious organizations in interactive workshops about the Holocaust and tolerance in today’s world since she started working with The Butterfly Project in 2011.
“I went to Israel for 10 days, partly for pleasure – to visit family and friends – and partly to continue my education,” Kapustin said. “I have a master’s in education, but I haven’t furthered my education since I was certified.”
More than 400 participants from 50 different countries engaged in an educational, intergenerational and multicultural dialogue on how to preserve the legacy and grapple with the challenges of Holocaust education in the years to come, according to Yad Vashem’s website.
“It was amazing – unbelievable. It was more of a global conference that talked about how we’re going to teach the Holocaust to the world, now that the Holocaust survivors are dying – for second, third and fourth generations,” Kapustin said. “The whole theme to the conference was M’Dor Le’Dor, which in English means ‘from generation to generation.’ A lot of what they talked about was that survivors didn’t always want to talk about the Holocaust, so they didn’t always talk about it to their children, but what they’re finding is that their grandchildren want to know about it.”
The conference featured speakers with personal connections to the Holocaust, including Ivy League professors from around the world and the founders of Yad Vashem. One of the concepts Kapustin found interesting was a discussion about how the Holocaust museum has changed over the years in both its location and how teaching about the Holocaust will evolve in the next few years as there are fewer survivors remaining.
“Since the Holocaust survivors won’t be with us forever, how can we keep hearing those stories and remember what happened after those people aren’t with us anymore?” Kapustin said.
Yad Vashem, along with the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California, worked with the Anti-Defamation League to place testimonies online through a program, IWitness, to preserve personal accounts of the Holocaust.
Kapustin hopes to take what she’s learned to help teachers in Charlotte “understand the lessons of the Holocaust.” She feels full-time teachers have trouble highlighting all necessary information about the Holocaust since it’s such a substantial subject.
“There are so many resources about the Holocaust that it’s impossible to know everything you need to know about it,” Kapustin said. “So, where to begin?”
The LJCC’s Butterfly Project is not a history lesson, but a lesson about what happens when a person or group of people decide they’re better than others and when the community doesn’t stop small instances of prejudices and allows them to grow into bigger issues, Kapustin added.
Kapustin hopes teachers will take the time to invest in teaching the lessons of the Holocaust so that information continues to be passed down through generations.
“Even though the history is important, the facts are important, but teachers have so little time, that they really need to explain the facts and invest in a quality teacher resource training program,” such as Anti-Defamation League’s Echoes and Reflections Training Program, which Kapustin said is instrumental in giving teachers the resources they need.
Kapustin continues to teach area children about the Holocaust and teach lessons she believes all individuals – adults and children – need to hear.
“We hope to continue to spread the word. We’re always looking to improve the program, I’m always tweaking the curriculum to really connect with the students in different and better ways, interactively with today’s generation,” she said.
About 2,000 children have already signed up for the 2014-15 school year, and Kapustin is still booking for the fall. She looks forward to integrating what she learned in Israel to the community.
“At the end of the day, when I thought about my experience, it was almost an internal struggle to think about how I feel and I’m still trying to evaluate my feelings about some of these issues… it really opened my eyes to some new challenges facing Holocaust education,” Kapustin said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to find some of those answers and bring some of those experiences to Charlotte.”
Groups interested in participating in The Butterfly Project should contact Kapustin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-944-6833.