Upper Canada College English teacher Rachel Metalin, who’s led three Holocaust education trips for students, was invited to speak at the International Conference on Holocaust Education this summer.
The event involved 356 educators from 50 different countries and was held at Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem, Israel from June 24 to 28.
Metalin spent the summer of 2013 at the school, completing a Holocaust education program and training to do guide work at Polish Holocaust sites. She made connections with program directors and they were aware of her leading three Holocaust education trips for UCC students to Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria, so they invited her to speak at the conference that’s held every four years.
“I talked about the trips that I lead and why I feel it’s important to lead non-denominational trips,” says Metalin, who related her experience of “teaching a really emotional subject to boys and some of the specific practices that are successful with teenage boys, and some of the problems and pitfalls of being at the actual sites, and what to prepare for.”
Metalin was also able to listen to leading experts who spoke and gave keynote addresses at the conference, including professor Alan Rosen. He specializes in Holocaust literature, which was interesting for her since she teaches English and Holocaust literature.
“There are always new approaches and new pedagogy and, most importantly, new information that’s constantly surfacing,” says Metalin. “I think people tend to think of the Holocaust as a past event, and in some ways it is, but in other ways we’ve only scratched the surface of what happened.”
Metalin says a theme of the conference was tying the current global refugee crisis, racism and anti-Semitism to how they relate to the Holocaust and “how we use what we know from the past to do our best to inform students and educate them about what could possibly happen if you don’t take a stand.”
While Metalin says it may sound trite, she emphasizes that “seeing is believing” when it comes to subjects like Holocaust education.
“It’s important for young students with developing minds to see this stuff. It really creates a sense of empathy, and I think that’s the tool that will be a catalyst and motivator for change.”
Metalin went through Yad Vashem’s archives for the first time and discovered documents that were released by Germany in 2012, which helped her solve a mystery.
“I have a friend whose grandmother is a survivor of Auschwitz, and she never got to find out what happened to her mother,” says Metalin. “So I spent a fair bit of time in the archives researching for her, and we actually got the answers, so that was really powerful.”
Metalin also had the opportunity to visit Palestinian territories in the West Bank, which is under Israeli control where it’s not under joint Israeli-Palestinian Authority control. She went by herself and found the experience “quite eye-opening.” She ended her trip with two days of relaxing in Tel Aviv before returning to Toronto.
Metalin led her last UCC Holocaust education trip during this past school year’s March break and intends to lead another one in March 2020.
“I want to continue the trips and raise enough money to provide opportunities for students who can’t afford it or are on financial assistance,” she says.