The Bronfman Foundation has been sending small groups of select teens to spend a summer in Israel for 24 years now, and Mercer Island’s Madeline Brown was one of 26 North American young people to be selected for their five-week Youth Fellowship this summer.
Madeline had heard from a friend that the program was “incredible,” and she agrees.
The best part, she explained, was getting to spend time with “kids from all different backgrounds.” Participants represented major Jewish movements, and atheists as well. “You can discuss so much,” she says, from the theological to the political. “We learned a lot of Talmud…a lot of contemporary Jewish thought, poetry…exploring issues, social and political,” in Israel.
Like many visiting groups, they met with “influential figures” and “did a lot of hiking and traveling.”
She singled out a dawn ascent of Masada as a highlight. “It was really cool.” It helped, she explained, that “I’m kind of a history nerd.”
While the incoming senior attends Menachem Mendel Seattle Cheder’s Girls High School for Judaics, Madeline, almost 18, is home schooled in general studies. She also takes college classes online and locally, including Latin at the University of Washington and science at Bellevue College. “I love Latin and Greek,” she said, which she calls “windows to the past,” and enjoys reading ancient poetry in the original.
Madeline and her parents, Michael and Shelly Brown, attend Congregation Shevet Achim on Mercer Island, where she helps out in their kids’ program. She’s also a black belt in karate, for which she is training for her second degree, and has just taken up yoga. When she has time — which is not recently — she likes to make jewelry and other metalwork.
Back home, Bronfman fellows are asked to devise and lead local Jewish community or social action projects.
“We view the summer as something much bigger than just five weeks in Israel,” said program director Rabbi Shimon Felix, calling Bronfman alumni a “talent bank for the Jewish people.” They include Rhodes and Fulbright scholars, Supreme Court clerks and authors, including Daniel Handlin (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) and Jonathan Safran Foer.
There probably isn’t a better spokesperson and cheerleader for the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center than Jo Cripps, a Seattle Public Schools teacher who was a Memorial Library summer fellow at New York’s Holocaust Education Network in July. The City College of New York-sponsored program brings together 25 U.S. educators to improve Holocaust education nationwide.
Jo started teaching the Holocaust about 10 years ago in a local high school with a high rate of bullying, homophobia and racism.
She came to the Holocaust Center on a “cold call,” she said. “I had no information, no curriculum.” The center, she said, “held my hand…loaned me books,” and sent her to numerous seminars, including one with the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.
“They taught me everything I know. They are amazing,” said Jo, now an expert in her own right, sharing what she knows with other local teachers.
She saw the positive effect of her teaching at the school. Bullying went down in the school, hallway behavior improved, and the counseling department saw fewer referrals.
“What really shaped the kids was the speakers bureau,” she said. Hearing six or seven survivors’ personal stories each school year allows students to connect “in a way that a classroom teacher doesn’t.”
Research shows that Holocaust education increases civility in classrooms and hallways. “Kids who identify as underdogs…start to see that any sort of bullying is unacceptable,” Jo said.
WSHERC’s program also connects the Holocaust with other genocides, contemporary and historic. “Our center’s commitment to…genocide prevention is exceptional,” she said.
Ilana Kennedy, the Holocaust Center’s director of education, said she has had the “privilege of working with Jo Cripps for several years.
“She’s outstanding — her creativity, her skill, her ability to connect with her students, and her motivation to always keep learning inspire me,” Ilana says. “Our schools are better because of Jo.”
Jo now teaches the Holocaust in her current 7th and 8th grade classes at Seattle’s Alternative School #1, the last K–8 alternative program in the city. Writing is an important component of her approach, which included the Holocaust Center’s invitation to students to use the center’s blog at www.holocaustcenter.blogspot.com.
The center also put her students in touch with the two Seward Park synagogues that were vandalized last September. The students wrote letters of support and congregants responded. “It helped [students] see that they are part of a community,” Jo said. “The whole point is to activate kids,” to get them past the horror and “to understand that they are global citizens and can make a difference.”
Correction: Many apologies to Rose Yu, one of the Congregation Beth Shalom STP riders profiled in the last issue. Not only is she Jewish, but she is also a member of the synagogue. Also, on day two the CBS team rode with Team Guts, which raises money for Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America’s Camp Oasis. Disproportionate numbers of Jews are affected by Crohn’s and Colitis, so it was significant for both groups.