Students in sixth and seventh grade of Hillel Community Day School left for separate field trips May 6.
The sixth-graders embarked on a five-day trip to Alabama, specifically Selma, Birmingham and Montgomery. The students had the opportunity to meet with historical figures who participated in the civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the visionary individuals they met with was the Rev. Gwendolyn Webb and Jann Bland. Webb marked in what is known as the Children’s March in the spring of 1963 in Birmingham. She was among 4,000 other school children to march against segregation, despite being attacked by fire hoses and police dogs.
Bland shared her experience in the Voting Rights March across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, which drove President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign and pass the Voting Rights Act. Bland’s shared life experiences inspired the students discussion on how young people can be empowered agents of social justice and heroic catalysts for positive social change.
This trip also included visiting sites such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, Rosa Parks Museum, Ell Legacy Museum, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
Students in Hillel School’s seventh-grade class took a trip to Washington, D.C., to gain lessons as they grow into leaders of tomorrow. This trip, after the student’s trip in 2017 to Alabama, helped to deepen the students’ understanding of history and of the American political system.
The seventh-grade students embarked on an “Essential D.C. through a Jewish Lens” tour with tour guide, educator and Hillel School alumnus Steve Kerbel. This tour included stops and discussions at the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Albert Einstein Statue, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, MLK Jr. Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. Kerbel, spoke to the students about how these monuments are relevant to the history of American Jewish history and how the group can see themselves as Jewish Americans today and in the future.
The next day, the seventh-graders met with political leaders and lobbyists at the Anti-Defamation League National Leadership Summit and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee where they met Jonathan Greenblatt, national director and CEO of the ADL, and Evan Bernstein, the New York state regional director of the ADL. At AIPAC, the students met with the New York Political Director Jason Koppen and spoke in depth with Michel Freesman, campus political engagement coordinator, about how AIPAC develops relationships with politicians and political entities to ensure that Israel and America remain allies. The students were able to ask questions about lobbying, how relationships are formed and what the goals are of these relationships.
On the last day of the trip, the seventh-graders visited two museums: The National Museum of African American History & Culture and The National Holocaust Museum.
At the National Museum of African American History & Culture, students were able to make a connection to their Jewish history and what they were learning. They reflected on their shared history of marginalization, discrimination, but also the resilience and cultural richness that has emerged from their peoplehoods. As the purpose of this trip was to show the students how social justice initiatives can be achieved through human drive, tenacity, empathy, moral purpose and perseverance, the NMAAHC allowed the students as Jews to understand their imperative to be conscious of actions today. Students learned first-hand that they must work hard to not repeat the wrongs of the past, and they must stand up and support others to achieve a socially just world, on local and global levels.
At the Holocaust Museum, the students experienced a moving experience through the history of the Holocaust, filled with a deepened understanding of the history of resilience and survival of the Jews. One of the exhibits that moved students lists and features the individuals who risked their lives to hide, house and protect Jews. Here, the students understood the bravery it takes to stand up for others, which is the essence of social justice.
The school’s mission is to to ensure that its children and their children’s children remember and learn from the past.
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again,” said Maya Angelou.
As a capstone to the experiences, the school will be writing a letter to their future selves based on six-word stories created after visiting each different site throughout the trip. This text, then compiled into a book, will be given to the Rochester Area Community Foundation and the Gertrude Wyner Fund for Jewish Education that allowed this trip to happen for the students. The school will continue this year learning and talking about how it can be empowered through the knowledge, understanding and experience gained through the summits in Alabama, Washington D.C., and in 2019, Israel.