407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org

Since I started working at the Maitland Campus, I always enjoyed my many opportunities to experience the Holocaust Center’s varied exhibits. Exhibits that focus not just on teaching us about the history and impact of the Holocaust; but also as their mission states “to build a just and caring community free of antisemitism and all forms of prejudice and bigotry.”

Founded in 1981 by Tess Wise, a local Holocaust Survivor from Poland, the Holocaust Center opened the doors to its current location in 1986, several years before the US Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in Washington, DC. The Center provides area schools access to its Holocaust education programs and field trips free of charge. Teachers participate in the Center’s ongoing professional development programs to learn how to appropriately and respectfully teach this difficult subject. Students participating in its Upstanders: Stand up Against Bullying initiative start the program with a field trip to the Center. They are introduced to Holocaust history and discover the ultimate cost of prejudice, discrimination, and social isolation. And they are inspired by the true stories of rescuers who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors.

The Center’s latest exhibit Uprooting Prejudice: Faces of Change, is a series of 45 black-and-white photographs of people sharing their emotions and thoughts about prejudice. Each image is paired with a quote responding to photographer John Noltner’s question, “What do you want to say?” Some responses are understandably angry while others are hopeful. I had the opportunity to view the exhibit albeit separately from Dr. Stephen Smith, the Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation (founded by Steven Spielberg). Dr. Smith, who founded the United Kingdom’s first Holocaust center, wrote an interesting article that makes the core point that the exhibit is about how to come together as human beings in the face of racism. It asks questions and addresses current society. He notes that it is doing what temporary exhibits are meant to do: exposing people to new and challenging perspectives. I encourage you to read Dr. Smith’s article to learn more about how our Holocaust Center is viewed by one of the leaders in this field.

Some have raised concerns after reading news articles that contained inaccurate characterizations of the exhibit. I spoke with Michelle Feinberg, President of the Holocaust Center Board of Directors, who told me that “With the rise of antisemitism, racism and so many other expressions of hate, the Center sees this as an opportunity to reaffirm a goal Tess established almost 40 years ago. “The Center is a crusade against prejudice, a part of the struggle to keep history from repeating itself.”

I encourage our community members to take the time to visit the Center and see the exhibit for yourself.  As with many museums, reservations are required in order to ensure social distancing. To make a reservation click here or call 407.628.0555.

This is an opportunity for us all to learn and explore the power of prejudice and bigotry.  As Jews, we have faced prejudice and bigotry throughout our history.  Viewing this exhibit has led me to look deeper into the power of hatred and bigotry and the risks to our community if we do not take action to stop it.  I would love to hear your thoughts after you view the exhibit.  Please email me or feel free to give me a call.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah