Supporting Dallas high school seniors
By Deb Silverthorn
The Talmud teaches we should “first learn much, and then seek to understand it profoundly.” Akiba Yavneh Academy (AYA)’s senior class participation in the March of the Living (MOTL) allows for just that and, after a three-year hiatus, plans are underway for the 2023 MOTL. It will be the program’s 35th anniversary.
“We absolutely have missed making the trip but the program has remained alive the last three years and we’re ready to go,” said Pam Fine, who oversees AYA’s March of the Living program and who has led the school’s tour for 14 out its 16 trips. “Between two years of the pandemic, and the war in Ukraine, it’s been so hard to miss out. We’re hopeful to bring the Class of 2023 to share in this important milestone of their senior year.”
From April 16 to 23, partnering with the MOTL Southern Region U.S.A., Jewish high school seniors — from AYA and throughout the community — will travel throughout Poland. On Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) they will march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, and then head to Israel to observe Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day). Next year will mark Israel’s 75th anniversary.
“The March and the trip to Israel is such [an important] experience for our seniors and we’re really excited as we plan this year,” said Fine, planning on a student bus of 40 and, with enough interest, hoping to also host a bus of adults. “The seniors this year really become young adults and you can’t really ‘know’ this experience without being on the ground touching it.”
AYA’s program, for its own seniors and those joining them from throughout the community, spends the school year leading up to the MOTL in study sessions of an intense curriculum, speaking with survivors, visiting the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum (DHHRM) and more.
This is the first year without Max Glauben, of blessed memory, who served as an educator and chaperone for 14 years of the MOTL. Still, his voice and passion will be shared through recordings, by means of the holographic “Dimensions in Testimony Theater” interview of him at the DHHRM and through his children and grandchildren — who shared the MOTL with him — offering his testimony.
Assisting student families with the expenses of the MOTL are scholarship opportunities from the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas; the Yavneh Student Scholarship Fund; Max Glauben Holocaust Educational Foundation, created by Max Glauben; and an annual gift by Deanna Kasten in memory of her late husband Jerome “Jerry.”
“Jerry was always a teacher and it upset him when DISD didn’t require any sort of education about the Holocaust. It was ‘recommended,’ but no resources were provided, and he always made it a priority in his classes,” said Deanna. She wants the gift to be a legacy of her and Jerry’s family including their three children and five grandchildren: Andrew (Reyna) and their sons Eli and Samuel; Jennifer (Howard) Cohen and their daughter Coco; and Ruth Kasten Joseph and her sons Harrison and Spencer.
Jerry, a former leader of the color guard of the Dr. Harvey J. Bloom Dallas Post 256 of the Jewish War Veterans, who passed away in 2021, was a lifelong student and educator. His mother, Anna, was from Warsaw; his father, Isaac, from Krakow. Both lost members of their families before coming to the United States, where Jerry was born and raised in New York.
Jerry, who served in the New York National Guard and then as a photographer in the U.S. Army in Korea, later graduated from the University of Texas in Austin, where he and Deanna met. A former park ranger at the Rocky Mountain National and Yellowstone National parks in 1961, he moved to Dallas, where he was a member of the Dallas Police Reserves.
For 30 years, he taught history and government at Hillcrest High School; coached cross-country, track and swimming; and also taught at Dallas College’s El Centro and Richland campuses. Upon his retirement, in 1990, he worked as a freelance photographer and as a columnist for the Texas Jewish Post.
“Jerry wanted students to learn our history, beyond superficial lessons, and I feel sure that this scholarship in his honor, in memory of his grandfather, aunts and uncles who were killed during the Holocaust, will help,” said Kasten, who worked with David Gordon and the Temple Shalom Brotherhood to create the scholarship.
Sabrina Skolnick, who graduated from AYA in May and who is now a freshman at the University of Texas majoring in aerospace engineering, is the first recipient of the Jerry Kasten Award. Because of the cancellation of the trip, Skolnick missed the in-person opportunity to travel, but the honor is not lost on her.
Kasten explained that the scholarship application included an essay about why the applicant was interested and how they would share the experience once they returned. “Sabrina, the young lady we awarded, wanted to honor her family and their history to the Holocaust and I think Jerry would be proud,” she said.
“I think it’s very nice of Mrs. Kasten to offer the award and I only wish our class could have made it to the March. Hopefully there will be another opportunity I can participate in some time,” said Skolnick. While she was awarded the honor, Skolnick missed the March of the Living as AYA did not participate last spring. “This summer I did make it to Israel with Young Judaea and I hope to be there for an internship next year.”
Skolnick added, “Learning about our heritage, about what most of our families went through, is important but being on-site, walking the streets of those before us, I’m sure is an incredible opportunity. I hope the Class of ’23 gets that chance.”
To register, or to make a donation, for the AYA March of the Living program, email email@example.com