The Holocaust: It’s not just Jewish history. It’s the history of humanity.
So says Ryan Murray, social studies teacher at , whose specialty is Advanced Placement Holocaust & Genocide Studies. Murray’s dedication to the subject is so intense and so effective that it has been recognized as being “an outstanding accomplishment,” and, as such, is the recipient of the annual Jack Zaifman Humanitarian Award.
The $1,000 award, sponsored by the family of Holocaust survivor Jack Zaifman, will be presented at the upcoming Yom Ha Shoah observance (Holocaust Commemoration), to be held on April 22 at the Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville. The recipient is to use it “toward furthering the promotion of tolerance and/or Holocaust education.”
Murray has been deeply involved in this area of study. When he took over the Holocaust & Genocide course at Watchung Hills in 2010, there was one section, with 14 students; this year, there are six sections with nearly 200 enrollees. The honors course is a pilot program with Kean University (ID 1800) that allows students to receive three college credits that are accepted at any college in New Jersey.
The course, says Murray, often brings up more questions than answers, as it focuses on awareness, and the realization that there are people behind the numbers, people in nations around the globe, people of every color, religion or political belief. Students get to learn about them and the circumstances that cause them to be persecuted.
Classroom discussion is enriched by outside-of-school experiences, such as the visit to the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Jewish Heritage at Battery Park, New York City.
Murray’s concern for promoting genocide awareness is not confined to specific Holocaust classroom experiences, however. It is of school-wide concern. Last November, for example, the school library was the locus of a traveling display on “Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust,” courtesy of the Jewish Foundation of the Righteous. Also in November, Murray arranged for a school-wide assembly presentation by Jacqueline Murekatate, a human rights activist who miraculously survived the Rwandan genocide. (Students were so moved by her presentations that they raised $3,400 for her organization, “Miracle Corners of the World,” a community center in Rwanda.)
On March 13, Warren resident Edward Ganz, also a Holocaust survivor, came to speak to the Holocaust & Genocide classes.
It’s important for students to understand the issues of hate and intolerance. They are not confined to one place, or to one period –holocausts are still occurring today. Students come to understand that holocaust victims, wherever they may be, are not statistics, but human beings like themselves, says Murray. Actually, students have gotten that message. “I’m very proud of them; they inspire me,” Murray says.
Murray is completing his master’s degree in Holocaust & Genocide studies at Kean University. A “local boy,” he grew up in nearby Middlesex, where his eighth-grade teacher introduced him to Ann Frank, an unforgettable experience which, even as an adolescent, made him become aware of “the extremes of human capabilities—the worst and the best,” Murray says.
Later, while a mature student at the University of Limerick (Ireland), he backpacked through Europe and was able to see for himself such places as concentration camps, for example, the extremes of human capabilities—the worst and the best.