The Pembina Trails School Division, which encompasses an area of south Winnipeg, has responded quickly to an incident of anti-Semitism over the summer that involved students registered at one of its high schools.
Working with the local B’nai Brith office and taking advantage of the presence of Ottawa Holocaust survivor Cantor Moshe Kraus’s presence in the city, the division organized a Holocaust education program at Shaftesbury High School, where some of the students involved in the incident attend classes.
Kraus, 95, who was in Winnipeg to promote his new memoir, Moshele Der Zinger, spoke to an audience of over 600 students, plus staff and some school trustees, at the school on Sept. 12, just five days after the incident in question was reported in the media.
“Moshe was amazing,” says Susan Schmidt, Pembina Trails School Division assistant superintendent. “He seemed to have the energy of someone 40 years younger. He spoke for 40 minutes. The students were enthralled listening to his life story and were impressed by his resilience and positive outlook on life.
“We are glad that he was able to fit us into his schedule here.”
This all stemmed from an incident involving anti-Semitic images that were being shared by about half a dozen Shaftesbury High School students on Snapchat over the summer. Police were called in to investigate after a concerned parent contacted the school in early September about the online messages.
The Jewish boy who was the target of the anti-Semitic campaign was reportedly unaware of what was going on online, until he was notified by police.
Schmidt says that Catherine Birch, the principal of Shaftesbury High, immediately contacted the school division office and reached out to B’nai Brith.
“B’nai Brith stepped up right away and offered to help in whatever way we need,” Schmidt says.
“I believe a swastika was involved in one of the images, but I’m not sure if that was the only image that was shared,” says Ran Ukashi, Manitoba regional director with B’nai Brith Canada.
The police have reportedly spoken to all the students involved, but no charges are being laid. Instead, the school division chose to take an educational approach.
“Our office received a phone call from Pembina Trails School Division Superintendent Ted Fransen about the incident,” Ukashi says. “They wanted to organize an event at the school to address anti-Semitism. We had already brought Moshe Kraus to Winnipeg for a series of appearances. He was enthusiastic about appearing at the school, too. He received a standing ovation. There were a lot of questions and a lot of interest in what he had to say. Students lined up afterward to shake his hand.”
“We already do a lot of education concerning the Holocaust,” Schmidt says, noting the division learned a lot from an anti-Semitic incident at one of its high schools that took place six years ago, in which a male student threatened a female student with a lighter, while uttering anti-Semitic threats.
“We also take our students to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and have ongoing programs in support of human rights. But we have to continue the conversation. Catherine Birch reminded the students that fighting racism is a lifelong challenge.”