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Learning to teach history’s hardest lessons

Date: August 15, 2013
Rivka Malka Swartz will be interning at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan, learning how to teach about the Shoah to public school students.
Rivka Malka Swartz will be interning at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan, learning how to teach about the Shoah to public school students.
Media Contact:

Marla Cohen
Senior Writer
212-463-0400 x5178

Rivka Malka Swartz grew up listening to the stories her maternal grandmother would tell about surviving the “camp-ghetto” Theresienstadt and the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands.

At some point Swartz, a student at Lander College for Women-The Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School (LCW) realized she would be among the last to have a personal connection to those stories. “I felt lucky to have that,” says Swartz, who will be a senior at LCW this fall. “I am the last generation to have first-hand experience of survivors.”

That experience has helped fuel her love of history, which Swartz has parlayed into an internship at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. Sixteen students will be Lipper Interns starting this summer. They were accepted through a highly competitive process that included a grueling six-essay application before moving through the interview process. They begin training in August as Holocaust educators at the museum. In the fall, they will work with New York-area students, many of whom have little or no knowledge of the Shoah.

“They are so much closer in age to the students they are teaching,” says Betsy Aldredge, the public relations manager for the museum. “It helps get the conversation going; they relate more to the people who they are hearing it from, ask questions and have an honest discussion.”

During the intense two-week preparation for the internship, interns will immerse themselves in the museum’s collection, hear testimony and absorb the exhibits.

In the fall, Swartz will be matched with a middle or high school where she will teach about the Holocaust to prepare her students for a visit to the museum. Those students will then visit the museum, where Swartz will serve as docent, teaching about the Holocaust through artifacts in the museum’s collection. She will then return to her assigned school to provide a post-visit lesson to discuss the material and find out how the students felt about the experience, according to Aldredge.

Swartz, who is from Silver Spring, Md. will be gaining valuable experience. She has always loved teaching and Judaic studies. Throw in the history lessons and the internship is tailor-made for her interests.

Teaching is “an incredible responsibility,” says Swartz, who attended the Yeshiva of Greater Washington and Michlalah seminary in Jerusalem. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to start honing my skills.”

She learned of the internship through her history professor Dana Fishkin, who herself had applied for, but did not get, the Lipper Internship when she was a Barnard undergraduate. Swartz will do well articulating the difficult lessons of the Holocaust, Fishkin says.

“She has the sensitivity to introduce the subject in a relatable way, not a frightening way, in a way to open up a student’s eyes and engage them about the past,” she says. “For many, the Holocaust is a chapter in history of which they have little knowledge or experience. And this is a great way to have one of our students share her knowledge while being exposed to the world beyond LCW.”

The Lander College for Women is an undergraduate division of Touro, a student-centered college located in midtown Manhattan where Jewish women follow a rigorous academic program as they pursue their baccalaureate degrees, while continuing and deepening their Torah education and commitment. For more information on the Lander College for Women, please go to