This summer, in a five-part series to launch YU’s Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, its director, Shay Pilnik, PhD, will host live Thursday afternoon webcasts, open to the public beginning July 7 (See the Jewish Link ad on next page.) The webcasts will feature interviews with leading Holocaust museum and program directors in North America, geared toward building a national understanding, or state of affairs, of Holocaust education and genocide studies. The conversations will highlight this rapidly growing and increasingly relevant field of study, with an eye toward understanding its relationship to the present moment at times of civil unrest and social tension.
Dr. Pilnik, the first director of the newly launched center at Yeshiva University, which will begin offering courses in the fall, is also in the process of developing both a master’s degree and certificate program in Holocaust and genocide studies that will be available both in a face-to-face format and through online/distance learning.
“The vision of the Fish Center is to offer a Holocaust and genocide studies program at Yeshiva University that is steeped in the experiences of Jews during the Holocaust,” Pilnik explained. “In general, the current trend in Holocaust education and research is to look at the Holocaust from a universal perspective and as a general blueprint for evil. As I agree that the Holocaust can be seen as a nadir of humanity in the modern period, it is nevertheless very important to study the Holocaust by focusing on specific experiences of both individuals and communties.
“As a grandson of three Holocaust survivors and as a Holocaust educator and scholar, I believe that studying the experiences of the victims is the most appropriate way to honor their memory.”
Pilnik added that historically, the field of Holocaust studies had a tendency to study the Holocaust from the perspectives and experiences of others, particularly from the experiences of the perpetrators, the Nazis. “YU is a perfect place to reverse that trend and put the spotlight on our people,” he said.
The Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center will offer an interdisciplinary program featuring courses and scholars from multiple angles and from many fields where the subject has already been taught at YU, including the disciplines of history, theology, philosophy, social work and law. “The vision is to bring this all under one umbrella through the generous gift made by the Fish family,” said Pilnik.
“The ultimate goal of the center is to train teachers across the United States and help them to teach—what I believe—is one of the most complex historical subjects that a social studies or ELA teacher might face in his or her career. It’s an incredibly complicated subject. We want to become a resource for teachers and we would like to build the next generation of professional and lay leaders in the field who would be able to grow, expand and consolidate the existing study and serve as a resource for the museums across North America.”
Dr. Pilnik began his role at YU this past February, leaving a post heading the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center in Milwaukee, where he has worked for the past five years. During his tenure, the Pelz Center doubled the number of students and adults engaged in its programming and expanded both its geographic outreach and development capacity. Under his leadership, the Pelz Center attracted dozens of new volunteers, donors and partnering organizations, helping to highlight the grave need to bring “Never Again” to as many schools, classrooms, libraries, religious institutions and community organizations as possible.
Earning his bachelor’s degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dr. Pilnik majored in comparative literature and Jewish thought; he received an MA in Jewish studies from McGill University; and earned a doctoral degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary in modern Jewish studies in 2013. His PhD dissertation dealt with the commemoration of the Babi Yar massacre in Soviet Russian and Yiddish literature. From 2008 to 2014, he was an adjunct instructor at the Universities of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Oshkosh, lecturing on a variety of topics, including the Holocaust, modern Jewish history and culture, Judaism, Hebrew Bible and the religions of the world.
Emil Fish, a Holocaust survivor and the generous benefactor who has made the Fish Center possible, said he believes that it is important to provide educators with the resources and programs needed to impart the relevancy of the Holocaust to a new generation of students who know less and less about this catastrophic period in contemporary history. By doing so, the Fish Center will play an integral role in the Jewish future by promoting a deeper understanding of the past.
“After we survivors are gone, all that will be left are monuments, museums and books. To make sure ‘Never Again’ is really never again, we need to remain committed to educating the world about what happened—and in order to educate the world, we need educators. Yeshiva University, as the most respected Jewish educational institution in America, is well positioned to lead the way,” Fish said.
The webcasts, which will be open to both educators and everyone who cares about Holocaust education, will feature live conversations with Dr. Pilnik and Holocaust program directors from locations across the country, to learn about the current state of the field.
“We will speak about the challenges that Holocaust educators face. We will talk about the work they do in the field, the challenges they encounter and the cutting-edge approaches to communicating the importance of the subject.”
Beginning July 7 and for the following consecutive four Thursdays at 3 p.m., Dr. Pilnik will hold conversations with leading Holocaust educators from major centers in Milwaukee, Skokie, Manhattan, Seattle and St. Petersburg, Florida. Tune in live: bit.ly/31oFbpr
By Elizabeth Kratz