Search This Blog

Monday, July 30, 2012

New Trailer For JPEF's Upcoming Documentary, "The Reunion"

Last November, The Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation honored 55 Jewish partisans and their families in New York City at a series of special events. Two film crews were on location to document the occasion. The footage will be used in JPEF's newest documentary film, "The Reunion".

"The Reunion" features candid conversations about the responsibilities of being one of the last Holocaust survivors, and celebrates moments of joy as former resistance fighters see each other for the first time in over 65 years. "The Reunion" commemorates the stories of forging lifelong bonds, and reveals a unique legacy that connects people across decades and generations.

Watch the new trailer:

In 2013, the film will be used in classrooms and synagogues as part of JPEF's educational programs.

To take part in one of the premieres, or for more information on obtaining a copy of the film, please email

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

New JPEF Curricula, Film and E-Learning 2.0 for 2012-2013

Here’s a sneak peak at just some of what JPEF has planned for the coming school year in 2012-2013:

  • New Curricula – including Tactics of Resistance and a new How-To series, starting with Strengthening Jewish Pride
  • E-Learning 2.0 – Improved interface, professional development units and new courses
  • New FilmThe Reunion: Jewish partisans from around the world gather and share their stories – including two friends who reunite for the first time in 65 years
  • New Workshops and Pilot Programs

New Curricula
Tactics of Resistance

When is violence is an appropriate response to Aggression (if ever)? Was non-violence effective during the Holocaust? Expand your students’ vocabulary and creative/critical thinking around the spectrum of violent and non-violent resistance to aggression today (globally and in our own lives) through the lens of Jews who fought back against the Holocaust. Includes an overview of Jewish armed and unarmed resistance during the Holocaust.

Painting on the right by Mieczyslaw Watorski, courtesy of the Holocaust Library & Resource Center at Albright College.

How to Use JPEF Materials to…

JPEF is launching a new series of educator’s guides on how to use our materials for specific subjects and contexts such as Language Arts, Tolerance and Civics classes. Our first module, Strengthening Jewish Identity includes discussion questions to go with our films, tips for increasing Jewish pride, and an index of materials best suited to day schools, summer camps, supplementary programs, youth groups and more.

Workshops and Pilot Programs

E-Learning 2.0

Draft screenshot of our new E-Learning interfaceOver 89% of educators who have take a JPEF E-Learning course said they would take another and 97% would recommend it to a colleague. Now the State of New Jersey Holocaust Commission is offering professional development units for each course, and we’re working on more certifications. We’re also developing new courses for our upcoming curricula and other projects.

The Reunion

In November 2011, JPEF honored more than 55 surviving Jewish partisans in a series of events in New York City. JPEF’s newest documentary, "The Reunion," features candid conversations about the responsibilities of being one of the last Holocaust survivors, and moments of joy as former resistance fighters see each other for the first time in over 65 years. "The Reunion" tells the story of lifelong bonds and a unique legacy that connects people across decades and generations.

  • The Reunion premieres in New York, San Francisco and Miami with an additional screening in Dallas, and will eventually be featured on our website
  • For more information about the film, please visit our Reunion page.

Allen and Leon at the JPEF Partisan Tribute Dinner

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Educator Guest Blog: Jaclyn Guzman Zarrella - Partisans, Parallel History, and Teaching with the Youth Writing Contest

"Teaching a partisan unit is not teaching an 'instead of' history of the Holocaust ... it is learning about a parallel story. An incredible story of strength, courage, and - above all - humanity."

Jaclyn Guzman Zarrella, who recently received the 2012 Hellen Diller Award for excellence in Jewish Education, is a Bay Area educator whose students have been winners in JPEF’s Youth Writing Contest for two years in a row - in 2011 and 2012. Jaclyn shares insights about teaching the Holocaust through the Jewish partisans and Jewish resistance.

“Close your eyes, everyone. I want you to close your eyes and focus on the darkness. Drop away all your thoughts and focus on the quiet in the room and the blankness in front of your closed eyes. I am going to say some words and I want you to remember what you see when you hear these words. Again, I am going to repeat some words and you need to take a mental picture of the visual that pops up into your head.” The students are silent and from the low yet warm tone in my voice they know that this is a serious exercise and they do not try to deviate from the task.

I start the words. “Holocaust (pause), Holocaust (pause), Shoah (pause), 6 million (pause), Holocaust.” Even with an extended pause at the end of the words the students do not open their eyes yet. “I want you to open your eyes. On your worksheets you have a space to write a description of what you saw or to draw a picture. Feel free to take advantage of either medium and show me what you saw.” The students maintain their silence as they diligently get to work. There are no side conversations, no giggles, and no telepathic stares across the room to friends. After a few minutes some are eager to discuss, others sit back and prepare to listen instead. For some students, this topic is extremely delicate. I teach in a Jewish high school and this is not an unfamiliar story for many students: it is the history of their family.

“Alright, let’s see what you saw," I start, “but first, let’s see how similar the image may have been. Raise your hand if what you saw was in black and white or grayish in color.” Almost all hands went up. “And how many of you saw children in your mind?” Again, a large showing of hands from the students. “And lastly, raise your hand if in your mental picture the people you saw were wearing striped clothing with a yellow star?” Every single hand went up. At this point students were able to individually share what they saw in their mind. There were similarities in several aspects and differences throughout. But one similarity rang loud and clear: it was a concentration camp story. We discussed where they had previously learned about the Holocaust: museums, classes, parents, movies, and they agreed that they mostly/only knew the perspective from the camps and ghettos.

In my senior year of college, I took a course on resistance in the Holocaust. This was a graduate level course and I was only able to get in due to low enrollment from graduate students, and by arguing my way in with the professor. It was a difficult class and it inspired in me a personal passion for learning about the resistance movement during the war. How could I not know about this? I was a Jewish Studies minor and I only discovered this history in my senior year?! I knew I was going to be a teacher and it was very important to me to integrate this important movement into any Holocaust unit in the future. The partisan story felt overlooked for a history so intense with emotion, especially for the teenage mind.

After the mental picture exercise I give a full introduction into the partisan movement. As a Jewish school, the students are most definitely aware of the horrors of the Holocaust. Many of them have visited the US Holocaust Museum in DC and even Yad Vashem in Israel. They have gone to Jewish day schools that had specific units for the Holocaust. Teaching a partisan unit is not teaching an “instead of” history of the Holocaust, I tell them, it is learning about a parallel story. An incredible story of strength, courage, and - above all - humanity. At this point, the students are rapt with attention. They themselves did not know that there was something they actually didn’t know about the Holocaust. They are curious. As a history teacher it is important to seize the moments when your students are curious, because that’s when there is serious potential for self-directed learning.

I schedule this unit to coincide with Yom HaShoah and the end of the JPEF Writing Contest (the essay is my assessment for the unit), which is generally toward the tail end of the year. By this time in our writing curriculum they have advanced in their persuasive writing and it is time to introduce formalized research writing. Fully seizing the opportunity of their curiosity, the students are required to ask questions about the partisans and research the answers. To help fuel these questions, we start out with some basics on the partisans. It is at this point that JPEF’s website is invaluable. We start with the Introduction to the Partisans film. While the students watch the film they record various questions they have and lines that stick out to them. Their homework is to answer their questions using the JPEF website, as well as several other websites including,, and

While the students research the facts and figures outside the classroom, my unit lessons involve something much deeper: emotion. Teens can be desensitized to the level of violence, pain, and sorrow that was felt during this time period. They can find it difficult to empathize with the stories that they read on the website. It can feel so far removed. To try to bridge this gap, we look at what it means to be dehumanized. How the scars of tragedy and war are not only physical, but also emotional. And we look at how, in the darkest of times, people can band together in unity and maintain hope. In order to explore these highly emotional topics I utilize a safe simulation of emotional scarring, song analysis of partisan lyrics and music, and of course, the movie Defiance. The students take all of the informal and formal education regarding the experience of the partisans and all of it evolves to a personal essay reflecting on what they learned.

Each year I use the JPEF writing contest to dictate the focus of this unit. I was so pleased this year that the focus was on women. It brought out a whole new set of challenges in the story and the girls in my classes were particularly interested in the new role models they had in front of them. Then, one of the largest surprises this year happened as I was walking down the hall. One of our Hebrew teachers, Mrs. Raz, noticed the JPEF shirt I was wearing on the day I started my unit. She commented that she liked the shirt and I told her about the unit I was beginning in my class. She smiled and said “It is very good that you are teaching them about the partisans. My mother was a partisan.” I was shocked! I have known her for 5 years and she never told me this! So I asked Mrs. Raz to come to class and tell us about her mother’s experience. Mrs. Raz shared the story that she pieced together from memories of her mother’s tales and a book that her eldest brother wrote about his experiences in the partisans when he was 5 years old. The students were enthralled with her story as the history they were learning was so deeply connected to one of their favorite teachers.

I do not see this same level of interest in students during the French Revolution unit, the Renaissance, or the Asian Empires. This unit is special. This contest is special. And they know it is special. I can see it in their eyes when I say one particular sentence when explaining them the rules of the writing contest: “Your essay will be reviewed by a panel that includes partisans.” There it is. The connection that they crave in learning. The students understand that they are the last generation to interact with and hear stories from individuals who experienced the war, who felt the emotions, who, as survivors, are the ultimate revenge. This unit is successful because the students feel it. They don’t just memorize it for a test and forget about it next week. When they close their eyes they can see the history through the eyes and heart of another. That’s what it takes to have history mean something. History is not meant to be a timeline; an endless list of names, dates, and events. History has to have a soul.

Jaclyn Guzman Zarrella has been an instructor at Kehillah Jewish High School since 2008 where she integrates Jewish history and values into her history classes. She was pivotal in the creation of Kehillah’s History of Zionism and Israel class. Jaclyn holds a BA in American History with a minor in Jewish Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She also holds a Master of Arts in Education with single-subject credentials in Social Studies and English, also obtained at UC Santa Cruz. Jaclyn credits her amazing professors, especially Bruce Thompson, with fostering her interest in Jewish History. Mrs. Zarrella was the 2012 recipient of the Helen Diller Award for Excellence in Jewish Education in the Day School category. Jaclyn currently lives in Fremont, CA with her husband and adorable cat.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Youth Writing Contest Profile: Micaela Shulman and her teacher, Rabbi Sanford Akselrad

To continue our JPEF Youth Writing Contest winner profile series, this week we spotlight 3rd place lower division winner Micaela Shulman and her teacher, Rabbi Sanford Akselrad of Congregation Ner Tamid in Nevada. (To see last week’s post, click here.)

Micaela’s essay contemplates our capacity and will for survival, also touching upon themes of camaraderie and gender integration. “War cannot belong to one gender,” she writes, positing that part of the reason for the partisans’ ultimate success in surviving was their willingness to fight and live alongside women. In her essay, Micaela attempts to straddle the divide between individualism and humankind’s more collectivist impulses, such as love:

"The story of the women partisans was a different one compared to others I've been taught before. Somehow, the lessons in school failed to convey the bleak humanity reflected in the video that served as an inspiration for the contest. It has taught me that one is really alone in the world, and that it's up to them to save themselves and the people they love. It's this dichotomy of love and independence that helped me to better understand life."

A gifted writer like Micaela could have found no better mentor than Rabbi Sanford Akselrad, the accomplished leader of Congregation Ner Tamid in Henderson, Nevada for almost two and a half decades. Since he took up the position, the temple has grown from just over 60 families to be the largest Reform congregation in Nevada. For him, the Youth Writing Contest is an excellent tool for connecting students to the history of the Holocaust:

"Entering JPEF's Youth Writing Contest allows students to connect with greater depth and understanding to the reality of the Holocaust. It shows them that there were Jews that fought back against the Nazis and other aggressors. Too often we focus only upon the Jews as victims and become mired in the question ‘why didn't they fight back?’ - a complex question that requires a great deal of consideration. Learning about the Jewish partisans provides teens with a different insight and the Youth Writing Contest allows them to celebrate these remarkable Jewish heroes."

Thanks again to Micaela, Rabbi Akselrad, and Congregation Ner Tamid for participating, and we look forward to reading their students’ essays next year!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Simon Trakinski, American Revolutionaries and the Jewish Resistance

“It’s the same to Jews as is to Americans to study the revolutionary war and its heroes right? People put their chest in front of English muskets to build a country, we put our chest in front of German muskets to defend ourselves from annihilation and maybe to prevent the deaths of other Jews.”

—Simon Trakinski

Simon Trakinski fought the Germans during the Vilna Ghetto uprising, escaping afterwards to fight in the all-Jewish Markov partisan brigade. Simon and his brother Bill also worked as spies and saboteurs, gathering information about troop and supply movements, mining roads, and blowing up bridges.

On this July 4th, Simon’s story reminds us that the fight for liberty can take many forms, including espionage, escape, and simply surviving another day. Simon’s story also points out that resistors, revolutionaries and rebels have to deal with unexpected adversaries — including rival partisan groups who, in theory, should have been their allies.

  • Simon’s group sometimes fought partisan groups from different countries for control of territory that would be divided up after the war
  • The Markov brigade and other Jewish partisans often had to fight antisemitic soldiers who – like the Germans they fought – also saw the war as an opportunity to exterminate Jews
  • After the Holocaust, surviving Jews still faced violence from murderously antisemitic locals
  • Western countries including the United States set quotas, refusing to help many Jews escape both the continued violence and new forms of anti-Jewish oppression as the Soviet “Iron Curtain” descended on Eastern Europe.

This time, Simon resisted by escaping through Poland to Austria, finally being allowed to immigrate to the United States in 1948. Simon Trakinski passed away on January 2, 2009 surrounded by his loving family at his home in New York.

You can read Simon’s full bio and see him tell more of his story by going to (The quote above is from the video titled "Fighting to prevent annihilation", which can be found on his videos page.)

Bill Trakinski, Simon’s brother and fellow partisan. Vilna, 1945.

Family photo, Passover weekend. From left to right, Simon Trakinski, Simon's father Moses, mother Esther, uncle Zev, brother Bill and in the center Simon's grandmother Chaja. Smorgon, Belarus, 1931.