April Slabosheski says schoolkids react one of two ways upon entering Congregation Beth Israel, the historic synagogue in Northwest Portland.
“Some are like, ‘Whoa! This place is awesome!’” she says. “Or they’re just stunned into silence. A lot of students, especially the younger ones, have never met a Jewish person, or been in a synagogue, or seen a Jewish object. It’s so satisfying to see their reactions, but also to get their questions—to just talk about Jewish life.”
Since joining the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education in 2014, the 28-year-old Wisconsin native—she converted to Judaism during college—has developed curriculum, organized school visits, booked speakers, trained docents, and arranged tours of the Oregon Holocaust Memorial. When OJMCHE moved to a much larger space in the Pearl District this year, Slabosheski was promoted to manage the museum and its Holocaust education program. She curates one of the museum’s three permanent exhibits, a look at Holocaust survivors who came to Oregon.
Since the 2016 election, OJMCHE has noticed an uptick in schools requesting help addressing anti-Semitism, such as students self-identifying as Nazis. In response, Slabosheski dispatches speakers—including local Holocaust survivors—and conducts workshops.
“As an institution, our role isn’t to be out in the streets,” she says, “but it’s definitely to get people to think about justice, discrimination, atrocity, and resistance.”