With the inaugural visit by 100 Grade 10 students from the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Winnipeg-based Asper Foundation has taken its first step toward fulfilling one of the central goals of the late Israel Asper when he conceived of a human rights museum in Winnipeg more than 15 years ago.
“Since 1997, the Asper Foundation has paid to send more than 14,000 students from over 200 schools across Canada to the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. Now we are going to be bringing those students to Winnipeg instead,” said Jeff Morry, senior programmer for the foundation.
This first visit by the students from TanenbaumCHAT’s north campus was a pilot project, Morry said.
“We will take some time now to determine how we proceed based on the feedback from this group. Then, in the spring, we plan to start bringing about 1,000 students a year from across Canada to Winnipeg to experience the museum [which has been open for just over a year]. We want to educate and inspire young people.”
For the TanenbaumCHAT students, the visit to the museum and presentations from French-born Holocaust survivors (and sisters) Rochelle Fink and Regine Frankel, Yazidi community leader Nafiya Naso, and two refugees from Sierra Leone were eye-opening.
“I never realized before how many other peoples [in addition to Jews] were murdered in the Holocaust,” said student Hallie Rodney. “The museum gave me a new understanding of the importance of the Holocaust.”
Cedric Attias said it’s important for young people to learn the stories the museum is presenting so they can try to prevent future genocides. “I was impressed by the sheer size of the building,” he said. “It’s largely interactive, which helps in connecting with our generation, who are so into technology.”
Kayla Saul was impressed by the museum’s architectural design. “It’s amazing how you go from light to darkness,” she said. “The design was obviously well thought out to create the greatest impact. It makes you appreciate the freedoms we have in Canada.”
One of the most important goals of the museum is to encourage visitors to action. Kayla said the trip would spur her to help raise money for refugees, while Cedric said he went home with greater sympathy for people struggling for freedom. “I hope to come back here some time,” he said.
The student’s trip also included tours of the Manitoba Museum (formerly the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature), the Manitoba legislature, the new polar bear exhibit at the Winnipeg Zoo, and the Asper Campus and Gray Academy of Jewish Education.
A couple of weeks before the TanenbaumCHAT students came, nine members of Toronto’s Temple Emanu-El also travelled to Winnipeg to tour the museum.
Like the high schoolers, they were quite impressed with the museum. For Holocaust survivor Judy Weissenberg Cohen, the visit had special meaning, because she was able to see and listen to her own testimony for the first time.
“It was a very moving moment, particularly for our young tour guide,” she said. “He said that that was the first time he had ever met someone whose words were part of the exhibit.”
While in Winnipeg, the temple members were hosted by Temple Shalom, Winnipeg’s Reform congregation, with whom they shared Friday night supper and attended services. The visitors also enjoyed a jazz concert at Temple Shalom, and on Sunday morning before their departure were provided with an overview of Winnipeg Jewish history by life-long Winnipegger David Cohen.