History Major Facilitates Interfaith Learning in Lower Manhattan

Courtney Slack ’14, a 2013 intern at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, spent a semester teaching 20th century Jewish history and the Holocaust to New York City youth.

A little encouragement from a fellow Jasper led Courtney Slack ’14 to become an interfaith leader in the heart of downtown Manhattan. This fall, she was one of only 14 applicants chosen to make religion a bridge and not a barrier as part of the prestigious Lipper Internship Program at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (MJH) — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Lower Manhattan.

Entering her senior year, Slack, a major in history with a minor in urban affairs and education, felt unsure about her professional goals. The internship with MJH, teaching 20th century Jewish history and the Holocaust to New York City youth, proved to be a chance to test a variety of skills and environments toward a potential career path.

“This internship gave me the opportunity to teach in a real classroom while also furthering my knowledge about the Holocaust,” Slack says. “This is a subject that should never be forgotten.”

Slack learned about the internship during her freshman year, thanks in part to a member of Manhattan’s alumni network. She met Michael Gentils ’10, scheduling coordinator at MJH, while taking History 357: Nazi Germany, with Jeff Horn, Ph.D., professor and chair of the history department. As an invited speaker, Gentils mentioned the unique opportunity.

“I was really interested in applying, yet I did not have the time to pursue it until this past year,” Slack says. “When I was accepted, I was shocked that I was able to have this opportunity because it is such a competitive program.”

Throughout the summer, Slack attended a nine-day training program in downtown Manhattan. Put up at the Doubletree Hilton, all expenses paid, she received a crash course on how to give tours to middle and high school students by studying the museum’s exhibitions, hearing testimony from Holocaust survivors and attending seminars led by MJH scholars.

After successfully completing the educational intensive, she was prepared to bring groups of middle and high school students to the museum, where lessons are complemented by tours of the core exhibition. She and a fellow intern later returned to the schools to continue the dialog by encouraging students to share reactions and insights.

“The students I work with come from all different backgrounds and for most of them this is their first time learning about Judaism or the Holocaust,” Slack says, adding that this is a topic that hits close to home. “Many of these students are minorities and have experienced some type of persecution and prejudice in their own lives. The goal of this lesson is to teach children what happens when the prejudice goes too far so hopefully we never have to relive another atrocity as great as the Holocaust.”

Navigating a hectic senior schedule while coordinating school visits and museum tours has certainly been a challenge, however she says the biggest challenge was actually rote memorization.

“Even though I excel at public speaking, having to remember everything about the tour and the lessons was tough in the beginning,” Slack says. “Once you get into the swing of I, you realize you know more than you think.”

Although she eventually wants to teach history, she isn’t quite ready to stop exploring other fields. In fact, it was after leading a Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience (L.O.V.E.) trip to San Francisco in spring 2012 that she realized her knack for fundraising. She is applying for spring internships in the hopes of trying her hand at development for a nonprofit company.

“When I graduate I want to try and save the world in a small way,” she says.

 

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