Inspired by his mentor, Cleveland Heights Holocaust educator Leatrice Rabinsky, Rabbi Gary Robuck inaugurated the Face to Face Holocaust education program in 1994. Little did he imagine that today the program would be in its 24th year and welcoming its 50,000th student. On Oct. 31, we reached that milestone when the eighth-grade students from Lee Burneson Middle School in Westlake came through our doors.
At Face to Face, students from public, independent and parochial schools throughout Northeast Ohio make a field trip to Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Beachwood, where the program is housed, to learn about Judaism, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
They also learn where bigotry and hatred can lead if left unchecked. During a Face to Face morning, students receive an overview of Judaism from a rabbi or Jewish educator, talk with volunteer docents in the Face to Face museum, hear firsthand survivor or liberator testimony about an extremely difficult period in Jewish and human history, and get answers to their many thoughtful questions. Frequently, students and their teachers write us to say how much the experience meant to them personally.
About 3,000 students participate in a Face to Face session each year. For many students who attend the three-hour program, it is their first time in a synagogue, and for quite a few, it is the first time they have knowingly met a Jew. The need for the program is becoming more urgent as Holocaust survivors are running out of time to tell their moving stories face-to-face, and as we are seeing an increase in anti-Semitism and violence against people because of their gender, race, religion or ethnicity in the United States and around the world. Students at Face to Face are encouraged not to be bystanders when they experience or see acts of hate or bullying in their own schools and communities.
Face to Face has educated a generation of students thus far. We can be confident that some have been inspired to become teachers, some have fought prejudice in their own lives, and many have already become voters who understand the importance of making the right choices and speaking out against injustices, large and small.
Louise Freilich has been director of the Face to Face Holocaust education program at Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Beachwood for 14 years.