In January 2015, the Institute published a new IWitness activity, A Thing of the Past? Anti-Semitism Past and Present. This video editing activity examines anti-Semitism in historical and contemporary settings. Students are asked to engage with primary and secondary sources and construct a short video essay on the nature of contemporary anti-Semitism.
The activity begins with stories of prewar anti-Semitism drawn from the testimonies of Holocaust survivors Peter Braunfeld, Margaret Lambert, H. Henry Sinason, Esther Clifford, and Lea Fanarof. These examples, provided with historical context, help students grapple with anti-Semitism in Europe before and during the Holocaust. This is followed by an introduction to contemporary anti-Semitism. Students then look up cases themselves—developing important digital and information literacies and research skills.
From here, students think critically about two key essential questions: Why does anti-Semitism continue today? And what can be done to end it? Students respond by constructing short video essays, supporting their arguments by incorporating testimony from IWitness and other primary source materials. After building these video responses, all students view two of their classmates’ projects and provide constructive feedback on the work of their peers.
This activity was first piloted at two schools in Philadelphia and Los Angeles as part of a grant from the Seed the Dream Foundation. Through a process of classroom observation, pre/post surveys and focus groups, the USC Shoah Foundation’s Evaluation team found both cognitive and conative gains amongst student participants. Upon completing the activity, one student made the following remark about its personal impact:
The impact I had from participating in the IWitness activity is that now I wanna [sic] be more involve [sic] in my community. Yes this will influence me in the future because I will be more motivated to stop any discrimination.
The pre/post surveys showed that students gained greater understanding of several topics including the importance of anti-Semitism, its relevance, and its effects on their own lives. A series of focus groups demonstrated that the activity provided students a broader understanding of anti-Semitism and prejudice. Following this rigorous program of monitoring and evaluation, the activity was updated to address feedback from both students and teachers.
Funding for this project was generously provided by Seed the Dream Foundation, a family foundation based in Philadelphia that works with schools, organizations and programs to help make a difference through education.