Archbishop Chapelle High School teacher Beth Hook spent five days in Washington, D.C. this summer at Anti-Defamation League's Bearing Witness Institute, an intensive professional development program designed to provide Catholic school educators with the training and resources needed to teach their students about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. (Jessie Lingenfelter/ NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
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Archbishop Chapelle High School teacher Beth Hook spent five days in Washington, D.C. this summer at Anti-Defamation League’s Bearing Witness Institute, an intensive professional development program designed to provide Catholic school educators with the training and resources needed to teach their students about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. (Jessie Lingenfelter/ NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Beth Hook, an English I teacher at Archbishop Chapelle High School in Metairie, hopes to confront the issues of racism and prejudice that her students experience with the knowledge that she gained attending this summer’s Eileen Ludwig National Bearing Witness Institute, hosted by the Anti-Defamation League in Washington, D.C.

Bearing Witness summer institute is a five-day intensive professional development program designed to provide Catholic school educators with the training and resources needed to teach their students about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. It specifically highlights Catholic teachings on Jewish people and Judaism, issues of prejudice in contemporary society and practical strategies for teaching students.

“Through teaching about the Holocaust and one example of hate and prejudice, I want to get my students to think about other forms of hate and race,” Hook said. “My goal is to get kids to think about their role in stopping prejudices instead of turning a blind eye and not helping. I want them to consider things like where they stand on issues, what they want to do about it, and what they are going to do to help.”

Hook said that Bearing Witness educated her and other teachers how to teach the Holocaust more thoroughly and to include more information on the history and give a broader picture, including the church’s role during the Holocaust. The institute started with lectures on the history of anti-Semitism, going back through centuries of hatred toward Jewish people, and brought up recent events surrounding Vatican II and the Catholic faith.

“Bearing Witness focused on the Catholic Church’s decision to heal the wounds between the Catholic Church and the Jewish faith by acknowledging that Jewish people can no longer be blamed for the death of Christ and recognizing Jewish people as our big brothers in faith and the chosen ones,” Hook said.

For the past few years, Hook has instructed her eighth and ninth grade students with the book “Night” by Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who lived through concentration camps toward the end of World War II, but says that her experience this summer has changed how she will teach the book in the future.

“I don’t want to just read the book, talk about it and move on; I want to give a broad background on what the Holocaust actually was and its impact on the world,” Hook said. “I am going to teach the Holocaust and use the book as one small aspect of the events now instead of just teaching the Holocaust because of the book. My ultimate goal is to teach a call to action to get the students thinking about what their role is and where they stand as far as prejudice, racism and hate.”

Since its inception in 1996, Bearing Witness has trained more than 1,700 Catholic school educators across the United States, including 40 teachers from 24 states this summer. Bearing Witness has been cited by the Holy See as among the most important initiatives designed to improve Catholic-Jewish relations. It has also been recognized by the National Catholic Educational Association as a Selected Program for Improving Catholic Education, a designation conferred upon a handful of exemplary programs each year, and was given the association’s President’s Award in 2008.

As a partnership between the league, the Catholic education association, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and local dioceses, Bearing Witness gave participants the chance to visit sites throughout Washington, D.C. including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Embassy of Israel, Georgetown University and a synagogue, where they learned from experts in the fields of Jewish studies, Holocaust studies and Catholic-Jewish relations.

“It was an unbelievably intense, challenging, emotional, draining and rewarding experience,” Hook said. “It gave teachers a sense of responsibility to keep going and take a step to do something in our schools with the faculty and students.”

Hook has already spoken with the principal at Archbishop Chapelle about starting a lecture course next year completely about the Holocaust and the Catholic Church’s teachings surrounding it.

“Most of my students have spent their entire lives in Catholic school and have little to no exposure to the Jewish faith or anti-Semitism,” Hook said. “So I think that even though we do not have a lot of anti-Semitic comments, we do have racism, and while the two can’t really be compared, it makes students more aware of hate, bigotry and racism. By teaching a huge, important part of history, the students are forced to search their own souls and figure out what they can do as a Catholic against hate as they grow up.”