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Leora SchaefferBy GERRY POSNER A young woman from the north end of Winnipeg has changed the nature of Holocaust education in the province of Ontario in no small way.

She is none other than Leora Schaefer, daughter of Steve and Evelyn Schaefer (formerly Goldstein). The trail has been a long one and it has not gone in the direction originally contemplated, but Leora is thrilled to be on this present path which heads directly to an organization known as “Facing History and Ourselves.”
Leora had her Jewish education at  Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate, which was not too far from the family home. She graduated from there in 1993 and  went on to the University of Winnipeg where she completed a Bachelor of Education degree. Leora had a career as a day school educator in mind - likely at a high level as an administrator if all worked out well. During her third year of university, Leora was a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and it was there she met her future husband. Upon graduation from the University of Winnipeg, Leora moved to Toronto, where she worked as a Grade One teacher at the Toronto Heschel School. Two years later, she applied for and was accepted into a Master of Arts programme at Brandeis University in Boston, studying Jewish Communal Services and Judaic Studies. While she was studying at Brandeis, her husband was at Harvard - not a bad pair.
It was during her studies at Brandeis that Leora entered into an internship in Jewish Education in an organization which was totally unknown to her until that time called “Facing History and Ourselves.” What is “Facing History and Ourselves”? It is, in practical terms, an organization that provides resources and professional development on how to teach about the events that led to the Holocaust. The objective is to make students in high schools learn to choose knowledge over misinformation, compassion over prejudice, and  participation over indifference - a noble cause indeed, and Leora made this cause happen for herself. When Leora graduated from her formal education in 2001-02, she found a way to stay on with “Facing History” and that was the beginning of a career which continues to this day, albeit in a different position and now back in her home  country. (Since 2005, Leora and her husband and now two children have been  living in Toronto.
Fortuitously for Leora,  in her early days working in Boston she made the acquaintance of two women from Toronto who were involved in the “Facing History” programme;  these two women became her mentors. The result was that Leora was invited to partner in the development of a new course called “Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity”, created by the Toronto District School Board. This course was approved by the Ontario Ministry of Education and is now offered in schools across the province. So it came to pass that a new not-for-profit “Facing History” organization was established in Canada separate from the American one. A combination of grants and generous donations supported and continue to support “Facing History” to this day. The programme is well entrenched in the Ontario school system.
More recently, it has also begun to be offered in Manitoba by the Manitoba Department of Education. As well, “Facing History” has offered workshops and seminars in conjunction with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. And - even more lately, “Facing History” released a new resource called “Stolen Lives: The Indigenous Peoples of Canada and the Indian Residential Schools”. What this resource does is to bring to educators the first hand experience, from personal accounts, of the painful period in Canadian history when over 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families, language, culture and traditions.
Leora was primarily responsible for building up this valuable teaching tool. She also has had a large part in raising funds for the advancement of the programme.  Leora Schaefer has been, in no small way, responsible for these achievements. What seems to drive her is the desire to inspire students to come face to face with history and the events that led to the Holocaust, but not just in a textbook approach. She strives to tell the story by way of character exploration, group exercises, and the use of primary source material.
With all of this, Leora Schafer  is quite happy to reconnect with her own past when she comes to visit the family cottage at Winnipeg Beach. That is a facing history that is easy to embrace.