Gov. Gavin Newsom named nine people to the state’s Holocaust and Genocide Education Committee, including two from the Jewish community in Northern California.
The plan, which was established in October 2021, aims to ensure that the best institutions for genocide education are established and to promote better education on the subject in schools. The new appointees were announced on Oct. 31.
“As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles, it is vital that we find ways to preserve and honor history, especially in an environment of rising extremism and antisemitism,” said Seth Brysk, SF-based regional director for Anti-Defamation, in an email to J.
Also named to the council was Joyce Newstat, former chair of the Child Survivors Council at the JFCS Holocaust Center (a SF-based program of Jewish Family and Children’s Services).
The new agencies mark the expansion of the policy to outside experts.
In the first year, the council was composed primarily of politicians, including Anita Friedman, the San Francisco-based executive director of JFCS.
Friedman is one of four congressmen, along with state Sen. Henry Stern, Attorney General Rob Bonta and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.
Most of the new organizations are educators, researchers or advocates “representing organizations that represent diverse groups impacted by the Holocaust and genocide throughout history,” according to the president’s release.
“The design partners bring a depth of knowledge, experience and expertise, and I look forward to working with them,” Thurmond said in a release. “We know that comprehensive Holocaust Education in all schools is an essential part of our efforts to combat antisemitism and all forms of hatred.”
Other experts from Northern California include Brian Fong, program director at the SF Office of Facing History and Ourselves, a civic education nonprofit; Roxanne Makasdjian, executive director of the SF-based Genocide Education Project (which assists educators in teaching about the Armenian genocide); and Taylor Pennewell, executive director of the Redbud Resource Group (a Native advocacy group based in Sonoma County).
Also on the new board are Beth Kean, CEO of the LA Holocaust Museum; Kori Street, deputy executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation; Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles; and Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute, which explores the ethical and religious consequences of the Holocaust at American University in Los Angeles.
Jewish politician Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, a member of the district that includes Lamorinda and the Tri-Valley, and state Sen. Scott Wiener, whose district includes San Francisco and southern counties, has been on the board from the start.
“National surveys have indicated an alarming decline in awareness among young people about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide,” Newsom said when announcing the congressional mission in 2021.
The plan received $1.4 million in the 2022-23 state budget.
Part of Bryski’s expertise comes from his own family history: his father is a Holocaust refugee, his late aunt lived in the ghetto “where 80% of the population was murdered in one day” and later survived in the woods with supporters, and his grandfather was an army lieutenant as part of an operation that killed more than a thousand Holocaust victims. He transported refugees to the United States.
He said he hoped the power of Congress would make positive change in a time of rising antisemitism.
“The Council has the possibility to play a critical role in suggesting new educational modules, raising the potential of social media and reducing how online tools are abused,” he said.