Oamaru teacher Sonya Hull has returned from a three-week trip to Israel, bringing back invaluable knowledge she plans to pass on to her pupils.
In December, the Waitaki Girls’ High School history, social studies and tourism teacher travelled to the Middle Eastern country on a scholarship. It was awarded through the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand in Wellington to further her professional development at the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the International School of Holocaust Studies.
During her time in the country she visited several sites of historical and religious significance, such as the Damascus Gate, Sea of Galilee and the Wailing Wall.
She also attended lectures by academics from the University of Tel Aviv, Yad Vashem and the United States, and met people who lived through persecution at the hands of the Nazis during World War 2.
Ms Hull said she felt “privileged and humbled” by the experience.
“It was life-changing in many ways. We had 115 hours of lectures in three weeks, so most days were 16-hour days. But, every day was exciting and I learned so much .. but I still fell like I’ve only scratched the surface – it’s a massive field.”
Her most moving experience was when she spent time with a Holocaust survivor saved by Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist, spy and Nazi Party member who is credited with saving the lives of 1200 Jews by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories.
“We met her at his grave. We had two hours with her, we sat in a room with her and listened to her story. That was probably the most harrowing day. We had half a day with two other survivors, too. It was very, very hard to hear their stories. What I came out from that with was their love and pride for Israel, and also their resilience.”
In addition to being educational, Ms Hull found her time in Jerusalem changed how she viewed Israel’s capital city, especially religion, where the three main denominations are Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
“The things you hear in the media are probably not how I perceived Jerusalem. They really do live among one another. It’s the fundamentalists and extremists you hear about on the news that’s the issue. I found it a vibrant and cohesive city, really – I felt very safe there and I had no concerns. You get used to seeing men and women with AK47s on their hips.”
Hull purchased educational material available only at the school to use in the classroom.
“I’m going to teach the Holocaust in year 13 history and some of the early stuff, like the removal of human rights in the early stages (of the Nazi regime) and the placing of Jews in ghettos, that could easily be slipped into a year 10 social studies class.”
Ms Hull planned to return to Israel in the future.
“I’d go back tomorrow.”