Friday, November 30, 2012

Holocaust Survivors' video testimony project will help Rwandan children heal: Canadian history professor

By Ellin Bessner

In the near future, having a living Holocaust survivor pay a visit to Canadian schools in person, will no longer be possible. But now, seventy four years after Kristallnacht heralded the beginning of the Nazi annihilation of European Jews, a new online website supported by Stephen Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation is working to bring the students to meet the survivors, via the Internet. 
Once Voice at a Time
IWitness is the name of the new online Holocaust education project. 

It gives students aged 13-18 and their teachers, access to over 1,300 videotaped testimonies of survivors and witnesses culled from the foundation’s extensive archives housed at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.  These include eight web pages of materiel based on interviews done here in Canada during the 1990s with Holocaust survivors, camp liberators, and political prisoners.  Testimonies include interviews with well known Toronto speakers Max Eisen and Pinchas Gutter.

According to the program director Kori Street, IWitness is designed to engage today’s web-savvy students.
“We have to do it in the present, in their digital world,” Street said Sunday during a lecture at Beit Rayim’s annual Holocaust Education Week event with the Town of Richmond Hill, at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. Street feels educators have to “meet [students] where they are, in a mobile, digital space.”

While IWitness is still in development, the beta website is up and running, and has already been used by inner city students in several U.S. locations, as well as in Australia. It will be tested in Rwanda in January 2013, as that country copes with the aftermath of the 1993 Tutsi genocide.

“Our colleagues in Rwanda are…looking for hope,” Street explained, saying the compelling stories of elderly Holocaust survivors “transform” Rwandan students who hear these testimonies, especially when the survivors talk about having grandchildren.

Aside from the complete long interviews, students can search for specific topics in shorter clips inside IWitness, using keywords. They can also find out more information from provided links to databases at American Holocaust museums and at Yad Vashem in Israel.

Possibly the most exciting feature of IWitness is its ability to allow users to record and create their own videos, using their own personal reactions to the survivor testimonies, and make mash ups and multimedia projects using the provided clips. 

“For students in this day and age, building something, as opposed to writing something down, is an incredibly powerful activity,” Street explained. Currently, the classroom activities, including the students’ video responses, are confined to the IWitness website, and supervised by their teachers and the project administrators, to protect the integrity of the material. 

The main goal, according to Street, a Canadian, is to use the video testimonies of the survivors to create a generation of empathetic, globally conscious, responsible young people.

“Forgetting comes with a lot of dangers,” Street warned.

Rabbi Chezi Zionce, Beit Rayim’s spiritual leader, also spoke briefly at the event, and echoed her message.
He described his first visit to Auschwitz years ago, saying he went to try to figure out why the Holocaust happened, but discovered the question was and is, “impossible to answer.”
In his view, referring to Holocaust deniers such as the leader of Iran and countless academics, “the real question now, is, how we, 67 years after the closing of the last death camp, respond. How we treat other people.”

Educators or community leaders who wish to register for IWitness, should email 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Journalism school prof says Thank you Rob Ford

Rob Ford's first council meeting after judge's decision Nov 2012

Toronto-Nov 27, 2012-- by Ellin Bessner.
I owe a big thank you to embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, and not just for this semester, but ever since he was elected to office in 2010.
Because of him, teaching municipal reporting to my journalism students has never been so easy.
Until Ford came into office, you couldn't count the number of eye rolls and yawns in my class when we got to the unit mid-November about why it is important to cover civic politics.  Usually there might be one or two students out of a class of thirty who even knew where city hall is located  (hint: it will be on the quiz) and probably only three or four students who cared anything about local politics. This was especially true under the David Miller administration.
Enter Rob Ford, the colourful, shoot from the hip, controversial mayor, with his conflict of interest trial, his libel suit, his astounding use of a TTC bus for his Don Bosco football team, his driving while reading infraction, and so on.
The result?
Now, not only do my students jump at the chance to go down to cover city council meetings, but some even dress up for the outing.
They are engaged, and eager, and they all turned up for today's (November 27) council meeting, the first one since Ontario Superior Court judge Charles Hackland ruled Monday that Ford violated provincial conflict of interest rules and should be removed from his position.
And what a spectacle they witnessed.
The public gallery was as packed as I've ever seen it. EMS workers were there in their yellow emergency jackets to lobby for more new hires. Two workers turned up from the west end cookie factory that is about to be closed and turned into condos (they wore t-shirts that read: Don't let condos eat my job).  And there were more reporters and journalists and members of the media then I've ever seen there, even more then when Rob Ford was sworn in two years ago and Don Cherry wore his pink jacket for the occasion and called Ford's opponents Lefty Pinkos.
The benefits of having such high drama play out in a forum that is open to the public, where anyone can watch it in person, including my journalism class, is something worth all the homework and essays and Canadian Press style quizzes that they also have to learn during their training at Centennial College.
When the journalists from CP24 and CITY TV and the others scrummed councillor Giorgio Mammoliti today, a close Ford ally, my students were right in there with their tape recorders and note pads.
It got so noisy that the speaker, Frances Nunziata, kept threatening to kick the media out, and even scolded the councillors for disrupting the proceedings when they headed up the stairs to the back of the council chamber to give their 30 second sound bytes to the press corps.
With at least 14 camera crews on hand, plus tables full of reporters from every media outlet imaginable present in the council chamber today, it was certainly a memorable event.  Usually, the city hall press corps stays downstairs in their offices on the first floor when council meets, and comes upstairs only when something particularly interesting is being debated, like the plastic bag ban, or more ice time for girls' hockey in Leaside.
Today, with everyone there waiting to see who would say what after the legal ruling that could kick Ford out of his job in 14 days, the excitement in the air was palpable. One of my shiest students participated in four scrums today with outspoken councillors including Mammoliti, and Adam Vaughan, and was emboldened enough to tell me he wanted to nab the mayor's brother, Doug Ford, too. A second student who is a foreign trained journalist now back at school to gain Canadian credentials, was the only one to clinch an exclusive interview with one of the most respected politicians in the city, former councillor Mike Feldman, who is in his 80's, who was in the public gallery today. And if that wasn't enough excitement, the Grey Cup was in the building too, as the Argonauts victory Parade and rally was held just outside the front doors and the football players were carrying the cup in the lobby of city hall.  Three of my students (who I know want to be sports reporters), didn't hesitate to get their quotes and photos in and around the rally at Nathan Phillips Square.
Want to get journalism students excited about their chosen profession?
Here's the formula:  Rob Ford + the Grey Cup + Argos cheerleaders + rubbing shoulders with Christie Blatchford.  Mix together, and you've got  a winning recipe for journalism education. So thank you, Rob Ford.
SeYoung Park, Tamar Atik, JoieAnn Merana of Centennial Journalism

Mark Cadiz, Aaron Niles and Centennial Journalism reporting students at Toronto City Hall
Argos rally outside Toronto City Hall

The Grey Cup

The Grey Cup

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Don't revictimize the victim when interviewing survivors of trauma: journalism panel

In case you missed last night's thought-provoking Canadian Association of Journalists' panel discussion on Journalism and Remembrance: Interviewing survivors of trauma, in Toronto, here is the link to the live blog done by Scribblelive and others at the Oakham House at Ryerson University where the event was held.

Click here:

More to come in the coming days.