The East Bay Holocaust Education Center (EBHEC) hosted an awards ceremony for its first art, writing and video contest on May 26.
The contest included $3,500 in prize money awarded to 15 students from eight schools in the Tri-Valley and surrounding areas. The theme — “Why is it important to remember the Holocaust?” — inspired dozens of entries from local youth in a variety of forms and interpretations.
Raleigh Resnick, a rabbi at Chabad of the Tri-Valley in Pleasanton, served as one of the founding members of EBHEC. He was instrumental in organizing the contest and said the theme is an important one for today’s young people to consider.
“This is an important idea,” Resnick said. “I think for everyone to understand, to know, to realize, that everyone single human being has God-given rights no one can take away . . . no matter our gender, our race, our creed, we have all been endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, and when you recognize that and you raise a generation that way, then you can ensure these unspeakable acts won’t be perpetuated.”
The art portion of the contest was judged by Anne Giancola, professional artist and Visual Arts Manager for Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center. Deborah Grossman — professional writer and journalist, and 2009-11 Pleasanton Poet Laureate — judged the written portion. Both women said they found the submissions intuitive and thoughtful.
“I was very impressed with the writing — it was generally very high caliber,” Grossman said. “I had to really sit and think about the ranking . . . For the most part, these high schoolers put their hearts and minds into this contest . . . they put a lot of intensity into the words and in terms of why you should remember the Holocaust.”
Giancola was likewise impressed with the submissions she judged. She said she was proud to be part of EBHEC’s project and the significance it brings to today’s society.
“I feel like it’s so valuable,” she said of the theme. “It’s difficult enough for my generation — and my father fought in World War II — let alone this next generation to see this huge significance and relate it to history. A couple of pieces related it to modern day issues . . . I thought everyone had very thoughtful interpretations.”
Amber Belk, a freshman at Livermore High School, was awarded first place for her prose poetry piece, “Family Legacy.” The piece recalls a story from her family history of escape from Nazi Germany.
“I am honored that my great-aunt passed down this amazing, true family history about her great-uncle’s escape and unexpected reunion with his young daughter while fleeing Nazi Germany,” 15-year-old Amber said. “I tried to connect the lessons from the past with my hopes for the future.”
The EBHEC was founded in January of this year by Resnick and Larry Lagin, who is Jewish. Lagin had created an exhibit of 20 paintings based on photographs from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He began offering the exhibit to area high schools as part of their 10th-grade world history curriculum. The exhibit received positive responses and had a full calendar when the pandemic brought its progress to a halt. Now, the exhibit is available on EBHEC’s website for viewing, along with educational information.
“I’m Jewish, and the Holocaust is part of my history,” Lagin said. “The exhibit started out when I created this series, because I came upon the Holocaust Memorial in San Francisco and got really interested in sculpting and painting, and I decided to go on and create this series.”
EBHEC’s mission is to create a center for Holocaust education for people of all faiths in the East Bay and to honor the victims of the Holocaust. The organization is sponsoring a dozen programs and events this year — a majority of them free and geared to high school students and teachers. Resnick said the timing of these events is important, because there are not many survivors left to share their stories.
“The fact is the generation of the Holocaust survivors is dwindling,” said Resnick. “We are in a unique time period where these are the last few years, we will be able to have firsthand accounts. In five years, we may not be able to. This is a window of opportunity right now to bring survivors to the community and offer a firsthand account. The kids who see this are going to grow up and say, ‘I saw someone from the Holocaust.’ What we are doing now has an impact on the generations to come.”