Special Tributes

Dade commissioner names Holocaust educator `Woman of Year'
By Hindi Diamond
Article reprinted here with the permission of the Miami Herald Tribune.

She was only 4 years old in May 1941, when her family boarded a ship for America, escaping the Holocaust.

''During February and June of that year, there were only a handful of ships that left Lisbon, Portugal, for America carrying Jews escaping the Holocaust, and we were very fortunate to be aboard one of the last two ships to safety,'' says Dr. Miriam Klein Kassenoff, who has dedicated herself to Holocaust education since 1986.

March 21, she was honored among a group of women as 'Woman of the Year' by Commissioner Barbara Carey in the Metro-Dade Commission chambers as part of Womens History Month, for her dedication and work as the education specialist for Holocaust Studies for Miami-Dade County Public Schools and education director of the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach. Also honored was Dr. Anita Meyer Meinbach, who was named Teacher of the Year for 2002 and is Klein Kassenoff's colleague and co-educator.

''I am very honored, and I dedicate this to the women who died in the massacre while celebrating the first Seder of Passover in Israel last week. I dedicate all the Holocaust work I do to honor the memory of those who died during the Holocaust and now to those in Israel in this latest destruction because of hatred and prejudice,'' Klein Kassenoff said after the presentation.

And she is doing just that.

When she was a small child escaping from Czechoslovakia, she recalls she and her family were sheltered by a network of rescuers for eight months as they made their way across Nazi-occupied Europe to Lisbon, where they boarded the ship that brought them to safety.

The experience left an indelible impression on her, which propelled her into a career that she feels will ensure that the world never forgets those horrifying crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis.


''In 1986, I was selected by the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors to be sent to Israel for training at Yad Vashem and the Ghetto Fighter's House, and was one of the first Holocaust educators of this program in the United States,'' she explains.

Klein Kassenoff later was appointed to the Florida governors Task Force on Holocaust Education, and is responsible for all staff development and teacher training for elementary through high school students in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Recently, she was appointed director for the Holocaust Teachers' Institute at the University of Miami, where she teaches a course on the Holocaust, sponsored by the Sue & Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies. Klein Kassenoff credits its directors, Haim Shaked and Maxine Schwartz, for creating this course in the School of Education.

Klein Kassenoff has reaped many honors for her years of dedication, and as one of the nations handful of full-time coordinators of Holocaust education, Klein Kassenoff said she is now preparing for her busiest time of year. ``Holocaust Remembrance Day starts on April 9 and runs until April 16.''

''Its important that its relevance for each new generation is understood,'' Klein Kassenoff said. ``Although the school district has an ongoing Holocaust Education program, Remembrance Week is a peak period for class discussions, lectures by Holocaust survivors, films and student assignments about the Holocaust.

''All schools have been provided with an extensive instructional packet,'' she adds.


``Together with Avi Mizrachi, director of the Holocaust Memorial, I help plan community observances of Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, and Yom Hashoah, the Day of Remembrance at the memorial. We also have a highly regarded Lecture Series of Scholars that I helped create with our director, Avi, and the board of directors.''

In addition to planning Holocaust education for the schools, Klein Kassenoff has co-authored a book, Memories of the Night: A Study of the Holocaust, with Meinbach. The two teachers have also co-authored A Study-Guide to the Holocaust for Grolier Encyclopedia, and are presently working on a third book on how to teach the Holocaust through various human rights issues.

Last week, Klein Kassenoff was among those making presentations at the 32nd Annual Scholars Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, held at Kean University in Union, N.J., titled ``The Genocidal Mind.''

She says that this conference explored the timely subject of ''how ordinary individuals become implicated in methodical terror.'' Her presentation, ''The Power of Perseverence,'' focused on the child survivor/hidden child.

Klein Kassenoff has been propelled by family traditions throughout her lifetime. ``My work is inspired by my familys flight from the Holocaust, and being raised in a traditional Jewish family. My father, Maurice Klein, a brilliant Talmudic scholar from Munkacs Yeshiva, taught us to learn to love Judaism, the Talmud and the Torah.

``Before he lost his ability to speak, my dad said to me that one day he wishes for me always to do three important things with my life: `to always study and learn more, to teach others, and to give back to the community through service.

``I feel I am doing this through my work in Holocaust education. I also feel that I was saved for a reason, and this must be it. Elie Wiesel has said that `anyone who engages himself in the work of the Holocaust, is a messenger. So I am the messenger, of renewal, survival . . . and hope.''

Dr. Miriam Kassenoff is available to speak at conferences, teacher's institutes, organization meetings, churches and synagogues. 

Her topic is "The Power of Perseverance"- Teaching about The Child Survivor/Hidden Child of The Shoah.

Her  e-mail is Miriamk10@aol.com


© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2002.
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