Hebrew Congregation-sponsored D.C. trip for Holocaust education program in local schools continues to grow

Leigh-Anne Hendrick speaks at the Hebrew Congregation’s Shirley Lazarus Speaker Series presentation on Aug. 6 in Smith Wilkes Hall. HG Biggs/Staff Photographer

Zoe Kolenovsky
Staff writer

Ninety-six students from seven schools in the Chautauqua area traveled to Washington D.C. in March to visit museums and historical sites as part of the Holocaust and Social Justice Education Program, sponsored by the Hebrew Congregation of Chautauqua.

Local teachers Leah-Anne Hendrick and Emily Dorman helped launch the program 17 years ago. Hendrick said they wanted to introduce students to important histories not included in the general curriculum, while also imparting values of empathy and acceptance.

“We have just remarkable teachers in our county who are so dedicated to this task of raising students who have respect, empathy, that want to be inclusive, and we work together to advance those goals in the county,” she said.

Throughout the year, speakers focused on the Holocaust and social justice initiatives give presentations to teachers and students from schools in Chautauqua and Erie counties. The program culminates in a three-day trip to Washington, D.C.

While the program has generated entire classes dedicated to the topic, Dorman and Hendrick said they also provide training and materials for teachers to incorporate Holocaust and social justice education into pre-existing classes.

“(It’s so) everybody can get exposure, regardless of what school they’re going to or what specific courses are being offered, so that that education becomes more widespread,” Dorman said.

Kennedy Northup, a recent Chautauqua Lake Central School graduate, said because 20th-century history isn’t discussed until eighth grade, she appreciated the program’s ability to broaden students’ perspectives.

“It definitely opens up our eyes to see the world, since we’re in such a privileged community,” she said.

The program recently recognized Northrup as this year’s recipient of the Anne Frank Humanitarian Award, given to “an exceptional, deserving upstander … who is making an extra effort to better the world.”

Dorman said the award allows teachers to name students who have made a difference or used their voice in a way to spread compassion or empathy or activism.

“ … Kennedy has certainly done (that) at Chautauqua Lake,” said Dorman. “That’s something she’s always been passionate about, and I think now she’s got a focus for that voice.”

Northrup was a member of the group of students who traveled to Washington, D.C. in the spring, an event made possible by the Hebrew Congregation of Chautauqua’s sponsorship. 

This year’s group had around 75% of the cost fully covered by the Hebrew Congregation, making the experience much more attainable for the students, Dorman said.

The group visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, then the National Mall and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and other sites.

“It’s just an unbelievably packed trip,” said Larry Cohen, education committee chairperson of the Hebrew Congregation.

Several of the students had never traveled outside of Chautauqua County, Dorman said.

“Just the exposure to that level of perspective, in a new city and being able to travel with students from other schools … is really powerful,” she said.

Northup said she appreciated learning about the sites and related historic events in class, and then experiencing some of that history in-person through the museums.

“Going into the Holocaust Museum after learning for nine months, intensely, about it and why it happened and how it happened, you’re just baffled,” she said. “It’s just breathtaking.”

The two groups connected six years ago, when the Holocaust and Social Justice Education Program gave a presentation about their efforts in Chautauqua schools. Now, every year, teachers and students share their experiences during a presentation for the Hebrew Congregation’s Shirley Lazarus Speaker Series. This year, Hendrick spoke on Aug. 6 in Smith Wilkes Hall for the series.

“People on our board in the Hebrew Congregation were so impressed that they came up with the idea of, ‘Why don’t we take these students to Washington?’ ” said Hebrew Congregation  President Esther Northman.

She said the organization is thrilled to support such a transformative program for the Chautauqua community. Their support has allowed the D.C. trip to steadily expand, with larger numbers each year providing more students with the opportunity to be impacted by the program’s historical, social, and cultural insights.

“We hope that we can continue to expand,” she said. “We really support the program through donors on the grounds … so we do a lot of fundraising to be able to give this to the students.”

Dorman said she is grateful to the Hebrew Congregation for providing such an opportunity for the students.

“For a lot of our kids, it’s the first time having an experience like that,” she said. “It’s incredibly emotional. It is overwhelming, but it’s amazing. You have those moments of uplifting and compassion … and those moments are incredible.”


The author Zoe Kolenovsky