Participants urge friends and peers to enroll in Asper Foundation Human Rights and Holocaust Studies
Friday, 09 September 2011 20:49


(Asper Foundation Human Rights and Holocaust Studies Program participants from Calgary Academy, Calgary Jewish Academy, Elboya School, Calgary French & International School, Strathmore High School and Westmount Charter School on the steps of the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. on May 11, 2011.  The embassy visit, one of many Washington highlights, was arranged by Justin Meyers, a graduate of Calgary Jewish Academy and former Canadian Embassy staffer.)


“…I learned that remembering was one of the biggest parts of this trip. I realized this at the Vietnam War Memorial. Our job is to remember people who are dead, like Lincoln and Jefferson. And our job is to remember wars, mistakes, like Vietnam and Korea. Our job is to remember Darfur, the Holocaust, and Rwanda. Our job is to remember,” said Rebecca Silver, now a grade nine student at Calgary Jewish Academy.


And remember they did as more than 150 teens, parents and siblings gathered on June 16 for the Asper Foundation Human Rights and Holocaust Studies Program memorandum signing ceremony.  Also on hand were their teachers and chaperones as well as Jeffrey Morry, Senior Program Manager, Asper Foundation, and Drew Staffenberg, Executive Director, Calgary Jewish Federation.


The ceremony was the culmination of a remarkable experience that took 72 junior high students on a journey of discovery including study of human rights issues and the Holocaust, 16 hours of community service and a trip to Washington D.C. where the students and their 14 chaperones visited The Holocaust Museum as well as other museums and monuments devoted to human rights. 


The purpose of the memorandum signing is to encourage Asper participants to continue to bear witness to the events of the Holocaust, to take personal responsibility for ensuring the protection of human rights and, most of all, to avoid passivity in the face of human misery as summed up by Avraham Bauer, professor of Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, whose stirring words inform the memorandum:


“Thy shall not be a victim. Thy shall not be a perpetrator. But above all thy shall not be a bystander.”


Calgary Jewish Federation coordinates the Asper Program in Calgary and arranged the participation in 2011 of students from Calgary Academy, Calgary Jewish Academy, Elboya School, Calgary French & International School, Strathmore High School and Westmount Charter School. 


Prior to the trip, students volunteered at  food banks, churches, community centres and community-based programs like PJ Library, a requirement intended to bring Asper participants closer to their communities and their neighbors.


Students returning from the Asper trip often refer to the experience as life-changing.  At the memorandum signing ceremony, they had the opportunity to share their highlights.


 “The thing that sticks out the most in my mind has to be the Holocaust Museum,” said Calgary Jewish Academy participant Daniel Likver.


“It showed how Hitler came to power, how he persuaded the Germans to vote for him. It showed all the horrors of the Holocaust, how the Jews were dragged from their homes, with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a suitcase. How they were dehumanized in every sense of the word.


“From the elevators that resembled gas chambers, to the REAL cattle cars that were used in the Holocaust, this museum brought the Holocaust to life. After learning about the Holocaust for years in school, this is just what we needed. I cannot express enough how grateful I am towards everyone who made this trip possible, and I can’t believe I got the chance to experience this”.


Grade nine students and their families are welcome to attend an information session for the 2012 Asper Foundation Human Rights and Holocaust Studies Program, which will be held at the Calgary JCC on Monday, October 3 at 7:00pm. The trip to Washington takes place April 29 – May 4.  For more information, please contact Efrat Shemesh Idelson, Holocaust and Human Rights Education Coordinator, Calgary Jewish Federation at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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