Israel Holocaust education to begin in preschool

Education Ministry says curriculum is meant to combat inappropriate teaching methods that distress children

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

A first grader raises his hand in a classroom in Nitzan, southern Israel. (Edi Israel/Flash90/File)
A first grader raises his hand in a classroom in Nitzan, southern Israel. (Edi Israel/Flash90/File)

Ahead of the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day next Sunday evening, the Education Ministry on Thursday unveiled a new curriculum that would broach the topic of the Nazis’ atrocities against the Jews as early as the daycare years and extending through high school.

The program, which is set to be implemented next year, will mark the first time Holocaust studies will be formally integrated into the national curriculum beyond the high school history matriculation exam.

The curriculum, drafted by a joint committee of the Education Ministry and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, was dubbed “On the Paths of Memory.”

It was designed to guide teachers in their introduction of the Holocaust, in response to a large number of cases where educators — untrained in teaching the subject — exposed their students to evidence of the tragic events in a way that proved unsuitable to the age group, the Education Ministry said in a statement.

To combat this, the curriculum aims to teach the difficult subject “in accordance with the emotional and cognitive abilities of the children to grapple with the topic and its significance.”

“For years there were many incidents where teachers exposed their students to events from the Holocaust and to documented sources they found difficult to absorb. In the past, there were cases where young students watched documentaries with their teachers on the annihilation and struggled to deal with the images,” the statement said.

According to the new plan, children in daycare will be taught the subject only on three days of the year — the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day preceding it and the day following it.

The rationale behind the decision, the ministry explained, is that children become aware of information about the Holocaust on that date, through the memorial siren, TV and radio, and lack a coherent framework to make sense of it. Their teachers must broadly inform the children about the events while maintaining their sense of safety, it said.

Daycare educators will abstain from showing any images or describing the atrocities in ways that are liable to frighten the children, will stress that the events occurred far away and a long time ago, and emphasize the heroism of Jews and non-Jews during that period.

In its curriculum, the Education Ministry leaves much to the discretion of the individual preschool teachers based on their experience with the class. It also appeals to teachers to adjust their lessons according to the ages of the children, as there is a dramatic developmental difference between three-year-olds and four- and five-year-olds.

The curriculum through high school is cumulative, the ministry wrote, with the gradual introduction of the Holocaust moving from the individual to the family to the community, and concluding with the broader historical implications.

The ministry explained that as ever increasing number of Holocaust survivors pass away, “this situation presses us” to “commemorate the memory of the Holocaust in an appropriate and meaningful way.”

Education Minister Shai Piron initially announced the new plan during an official visit to Poland last October, but said then that the curriculum would begin in first grade.

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