For Catholic School Teachers, an Emotional Trip to Poland

Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger

For Jennifer Kugler, Poland was a logical stop on a physically and emotionally tiring journey which has taken her from her hometown of Glenside, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C, to Auschwitz. And she prays she will get to go to Israel next year.

Kugler, a social studies teacher for sixth through eighth graders at St. Catherine of Sienna school in Horsham, Pa., is one of 130 Catholic school teachers who attended the March of the Living. Kugler was accepted to and completed a five-day Anti-Defamation League (ADL) – sponsored program in Washington, D.C. entitled “Bearing Witness.”

The program features both Catholic and Jewish theologians and teachers and is jointly sponsored by the National Catholic Educators Association, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the ADL.

“This program completely tears you apart and puts you back together again,” reports Kugler, as she described an intense week in Washington last July.

“On the first day, we learned the history of anti-Judaism, how it evolved into anti-Semitism, and what the Church did to promote and encourage it,” she explained. “We then learned how the Nuremberg Laws have striking parallels to the Edicts of the Popes from 400 years earlier. Then, they tear you down further by showing you examples of anti-Judaism in the New Testament. Now, you are really in pain.”

Kugler described the rest of the week, which included two trips to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, addresses by Holocaust survivors, a visit to a local synagogue, and a “mock” Shabbat dinner — on Monday.

“Finally, we learned about modern-day anti-Semitism, and the importance of Israel to Jewish people,” she said. “At this point, we feel we wanted and needed to do something. On the last day, we addressed anti-bias education.”

Barbara B. Balser, ADL National Chair, noted that Kugler and other participants in the March of the Living and the “Bearing Witness” program “will be emotionally moved when witnessing firsthand accounts of the Holocaust. [Their experience will] allow them to pass on the memories of this tragedy since the survivors are dying.”

Kugler said she and her classmates feel the “Bearing Witness” Program has been truly transformative. And after experiencing the March of the Living, Kugler said she is eager to return to her students at the St. Catherine of Siena school. “When I was at Birkenau and Majdanek, I felt so helpless and enraged. Where were all the people? I will continue showing my students where hatred can lead. We are all responsible for each other.”

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