Sara Tomczuk, junior sociology and history major, recently received the prestigious Lipper Internship at Lower Manhattan’s Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. She is one of 16 interns selected this semester who will learn how to teach 20th century Jewish history and the Holocaust to students. Winning competitors came from various states including New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New Jersey. Since the Lipper program began in 1998, interns have worked with over 47,000 students from around the Northeastern United States.
The Lipper Internship involves training graduate and undergraduate students from across the Northeast in New York City for a semester-long internship in museum education. Interns teach students about the Holocaust in local schools in their college communities and on visits to the museum.
As a Lipper Intern, Tomczuk attended an intensive two-week training session at the museum before the spring semester to learn how to teach public middle and high school students about the Holocaust. During the training, she, along with the other winning interns, met with museum staff, heard testimony from three Holocaust survivors and one Rwandan genocide survivor, learned methods for teaching from artifacts in the museum’s collection, and visited other museums including The Jewish Museum, the World Trade Center Tribute Center and the Tolerance Center, which addressed issues of inequality in the world.
Following her initial training, Tomczuk will complete her training by shadowing a tour guide, receiving a school assignment and visiting numerous middle and high schools in the College’s community to give a presentation about Jewish life before, during and after the Holocaust. A guided tour at the museum will follow one week later.
She will then return to the classroom one week after the tour to facilitate a debriefing discussion about the lessons learned during the course of the program. During the teaching experiences, Tomczuk will be partnering with the other winning interns, including ones from Rutgers University, The College of St. Elizabeth and Kean University. She will also receive a stipend and be reimbursed for her travel expenses, including lodging in New York City.
On a personal level, the Lipper Internship has heightened Tomczuk’s interest in museums after giving her the opportunity of “being behind the scenes.” In retrospect, Tomczuk was most struck by the “atmosphere of the museum,” which was dominated by a strong universal conviction held by the employees about the work they and the institution were doing in “looking back but with a purpose for the future.”
She describes her experiences of watching survivors and youth giving tours as “uplifting,” especially since many of the tour guides had donated items to the museum and were actually featured in exhibits. Tomczuk was particularly “blown away” by the widespread optimism throughout the museum resulting from everybody’s strong sense of purpose in their jobs and internships.
Among the numerous artifacts that stand out in her mind are simplistic ones, including a stuffed bunny from a little boy in a ghetto, a trumpet played in a camp band at Auschwitz, and the numerous menorahs, torahs and other artifacts donated by families and showcased on the museum’s first floor, which focuses on Jewish life before the Holocaust.
Tomczuk initially heard about the internship through an e-mail sent to all history majors. She decided to pursue it because of her love for museums, interest in knowing how they are run, the “unique” feeling she experiences whenever visiting a museum and her ongoing curiosity.
She applied for the internship by sub-mitting six essays, a r?sum? and a letter of recommendation from Cynthia Paces, a history professor who taught Tomczuk about Prague and is considered by Tomczuk to be her most influential professor in the history department. She was then e-mailed for a phone interview.
Tomczuk’s qualifications as a French conversation hour leader in her sophomore year and her study abroad experiences in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Krakow, Poland helped her stand out as a competitive applicant. Serving the College community as a conversation leader especially proved that she could work effectively with peers and facilitate discussion.
Prior to the Lipper Internship, Tomczuk had visited the museum in eighth grade and remembered it as being “relatively student-friendly.” As a college student, she is “shocked” whenever she hears that some high school students have not learned about the Holocaust, especially after the focus the time period received in her own middle school. She strongly advocates Holocaust education for today’s generation because of her belief that students should “study the past to learn from it.”
If warning signs can be identified, future genocides may be prevented. Now is all the more crucial, she continues, because there will soon be no surviving witnesses to the historical horror. Tomczuk also emphasizes that the Holocaust teaches people about the “dangers of society” and exposes genocide as a “cultural and societal construction.”