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Social justice symposium to tackle anti-Semitism, conversos

International journalists Dagmar and Peter Schroeder will share their experience in addressing hate, discrimination and intolerance Jan. 7 as part of a two-day symposium hosted by the Ruth and Irving Olson Center for Jewish Life in the Northwest. (Courtesy Dagmar and Peter Schroeder)

Anti-Semitism past and present will be the focus of a two-day symposium hosted by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Ruth and Irving Olson Center for Jewish Life in the Northwest next month.

“Anti-Semitism from the Spanish Inquisition On: Educating for Social Justice,” which will be held Jan. 6-7 at the Buttes at Reflections, will feature distinguished local and international speakers along with a film screening and a panel discussion, “What Can We Do to Help?” The headline lecturers will be Dagmar and Peter Schroeder, collaborators on the award-winning documentary, “Paper Clips,” about a project by middle school students in rural Tennessee to memorialize the Holocaust.

David Graizbord, Ph.D.

David Graizbord, Ph.D., will open the symposium on Sunday, Jan. 6, focusing on the history of conversos (New Christians) and their persecution during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. “The goal will be to clarify how the historical experience of that group both sheds light on and clouds our understanding of anti-Jewish sentiment in history, as well as of Jewish identity and culture itself,” he says. Graizbord is an associate professor of Judaic studies at the University of Arizona and a historian of both early and modern Jews.

A film screening of “Disobedience: The Sousa Mendez Story,” which chronicles the life-saving action of the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, France, during World War II, will follow the lecture and lunch. The screening will be held at Saddlebrooke’s Desert View Performing Arts Center.

Gil Ribak, Ph.D.
Bryan Davis

The Monday, Jan. 7 agenda, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., features speakers Gil Ribak, Ph.D., Bryan Davis, and the Schroeders; a panel discussion; and a video presentation from Tucson Hebrew Academy students. Registration includes lunch at the Buttes both days and a pass to the Jewish History Museum and Holocaust History Center.

The Schroeders will explore how middle school students in the small town of Whitwell, Tennessee, started The Paper Clips Project in 1998 as a way to comprehend the magnitude of the Holocaust. Their initial aim was to collect six million paper clips, each one representing a human life lost in the Nazis’ slaughter of Jews during World War II.

Evolving and gaining worldwide attention, the project’s more than 30 million paper clips led to the creation of the Children’s Holocaust Memorial in Whitwell. The Schroeders are cofounding donors of the memorial and are featured in “Paper Clips,” released in 2004 by Miramax Films.

The Schroeders are German-born Canadian citizens who spent their careers as journalists in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, including Israel, and were White House correspondents for 23 years. They have authored books on homeless and disadvantaged children,
U.S.-European relations, biographies of Holocaust survivors and about tolerance and intolerance, including the Paper Clip Project. They have lectured around the world and to more than 30,000 Jewish community members in Ontario, Canada, alone.

“As German-born we feel a responsibility to heed the creed, ‘never again,’” says Peter. “We try to foster awareness of every form of hate, discrimination, and intolerance because it can mushroom from verbal and physical harm to individuals to catastrophic forms, including genocide.” In their writing and lecturing for more than three decades, they purposely direct their efforts to the younger generation. “Simply because they are the ones shaping the future, a future we hope with less hate, discrimination, and intolerance,” he adds.

Gil Ribak, Ph.D., will focus on recent Jewish history in Portugal, detailing where Jews first settled in the 5th century, and where a hidden community of Jews remained after the Inquisition. In 2015, Portugal passed legislation that allows Jews of Portuguese origin to claim Portuguese citizenship, provided they can prove themselves descendants of that country’s Jewish community. Since then, Jewish life in Portugal seemed to bloom, he says.

A UA assistant professor of Judaic studies, Ribak is a member of the American Jewish Historical Society’s Academic Council.

Bryan Davis, director of Tucson’s Jewish History Museum and Holocaust History Center, will address the ways that the museum helps students to understand anti-Semitism as a potent force in the world historically and today. “The reaction of students to the education program at the Holocaust History Center has changed markedly since the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in October,” he notes. Davis also serves as the advocacy and education coordinator for the Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council and is an instructor at the UA.

Registration is $50. RSVP at The Buttes at Reflections is located at 9800 N. Oracle Road. The Saddlebrooke Desert View Performing Arts Center is at 39900 S. Clubhouse Drive. Along with the Olson Center, the event is co-sponsored by the Jewish History Museum and Holocaust History Center, the Tucson Jewish Community Center and the Tucson International Jewish Film Festival.