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NJ's First-in-Nation Holocaust Education Mandate Celebrates 30th Anniversary

originally published: 04/19/2024

NJ

At right, Irvin Moreno-Rodriguez, the interim executive director of the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center at Stockton University, gives a group a tour of the center. At left, Mickey Ronan-Grosshtern, Leo Ullman, Henry and Barbara Roth, Maud Dahme, Mike Kleidermacher and Cary Booker. Photo by Vernon Ogrodnek/Stockton University

(GALLOWAY, NJ) -- Without a crucial meeting at Stockton University, the Holocaust and Genocide Education Mandate in New Jersey may not be in place today.

That’s according to Irvin Moreno-Rodriguez, the interim executive director of the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center. He was one of several people who spoke to an audience Monday, April 15, 2024 at Stockton’s Campus Center Event Room to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the mandate.

Moreno-Rodriguez said that early in the 1990s, members of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education met at Stockton, and they weren’t convinced about advocating for the mandate that would require all K-12 public schools in the state to provide instruction on the Holocaust and other genocides.

“There was one member, Holocaust survivor Margit Feldman, who stood up at the meeting,” Moreno-Rodriguez said. “Margit told the members, ‘If you do not seek a Holocaust education mandate in New Jersey, you will be murdering my family twice.’”



 
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The commission then voted unanimously to seek the legislation, which was eventually signed into law in 1994 by then Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. Whitman and Gov. Phil Murphy sent recorded messages praising the success of the mandate in educating New Jersey’s youth about the atrocities of the Holocaust and other genocides for the past three decades.

Moreno-Rodriguez, who is also a member of the state Commission on Holocaust Education that sponsored the event, reminded everyone that passing the mandate was not easy. There were several delays, including threats from the Turkish government and concerns from school administrators and educators, that almost railroaded the legislation.

But since it became the first of its kind in the country, the mandate has been an unquestioned success.

“The core mission of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education is to promote Holocaust and genocide education in the State of New Jersey for all students,” said Doug Cervi, the executive director of the commission and a 2002 Stockton graduate. “As Elie Wiesel said, when you hear a witness you become a witness, which is why educating our students about the Holocaust and genocide is so important.”

Stockton University has been one of its strongest supporters through its Holocaust Resource Center, led by former director Gail Rosenthal, who died last year, and continued by Moreno-Rodriguez. The center was one of the first to be hosted by a public college when it opened in 1990.

“The Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center became more than just a place of learning; it is a beacon of hope, reminding us of the enduring power of human resilience and righteousness, and the importance of education in paving a pathway for a peaceful future,” he said.

Stockton President Joe Bertolino, who highlighted that Stockton has more classes in Holocaust and Genocide Studies than any other university in the world, said these types of classes continue to be important as incidents of antisemitism are on the rise.



 
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“We have a moral responsibility to shine a light on these atrocities and to develop our students into inclusive and understanding leaders who will continue to face challenges head-on, and with an understanding of history,” Bertolino said.

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Michael Berenbaum, photo by Vernon Ogrodnek/Stockton University

Keynote speaker and Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum reminded the audience, which included Holocaust survivors, educators and students, that Holocaust and Genocide Studies teaching is as critical now as it was when it was first established.

“This field is one of the most powerful means by which we teach values,” said the professor of Jewish Studies at American Jewish University. “Compassion, decency and the need to have a civil society. The need to accept a multiplicity of human beings and the enormous preciousness of every human life.”

Berenbaum was the Stockton Ida E. King Distinguished Visiting Professor of Holocaust Studies at Stockton from 1999-2000. He reiterated that Holocaust and Genocide Studies help teach against hate.

“We can not let hate pervade our society. We have to teach the importance of democracy and the real urgency of having human decency triumph,” he said.

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Maud Dahme, photo by Vernon Ogrodnek/Stockton University

Holocaust survivor Maud Dahme said she first shared her story publicly with a group of Stockton students in 1982. She was a member of the state Advisory Council on Holocaust Education, which was established that same year, and is a charter member of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.

“I’m proud of what the commission has done and continues to do because it’s so very important,” she said. “When I look at the world today, it’s so disrespectful. I hope by us speaking and the (second- and third-generation survivors) speaking that we will instill some kindness and respect in our youth.”

Stockton University is ranked among the top public universities in the nation. Our more than 9,000 students can choose to live and learn on the 1,600-acre wooded main campus in the Pinelands National Reserve in South Jersey and at our coastal residential campus just steps from the beach and Boardwalk in Atlantic City. The university offers more than 160 undergraduate and graduate programs.



 
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