Education/Newsletter/March 2017/Wikishtetl: Commemorating Jewish communities that perished in the Holocaust

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Wikishtetl: Commemorating Jewish communities that perished in the Holocaust


By Keren Shatzman, Academic coordinator, Wikimedia Israel (WMIL)

The Wikishtetl initiative logo

As part of the Wikipedia Education Program, students at a Jerusalem college wrote articles about Shtetls that were destroyed in the Holocaust.

When Tehila Hertz, a lecturer at the Michlalah-Jerusalem College for teachers, was preparing to give the course Holocaust, Roots and Memory, she wanted to find a way to combine learning with meaningful community work. The result: Wikishtetl - an initiative to create Wikipedia articles about perished Jewish communities. Her students research and identify materials relating to the history, culture, and way of life of the Jewish communities from which their own families originated, and supplement it with personal material like photos from family albums, genealogical information, etcetera. Thus, the course participants are encouraged to create a vivid and lively memory of these long-lost Jewish communities. Through this initiative even small communities are commemorated in the public domain. For example, the small Jewish community of Nușfalău in Romania, about which even Yad Vashem had almost no information. Thirteen articles are currently being written in the Wikishtetl project.

Besides teaching her students how to use historical resources and develop strategic thinking regarding those, Hertz says her aim was also to promote her students’ community involvement - not just in their own research for the course assignment, but also as future teachers who could use Wikipedia for teaching in their own classrooms. Hertz’s novel project is even more striking when one learns that she herself has become a Wikipedian just a few months ago, and in this very short time has developed into both an inspiration and an ambassador for Wikipedia.

Parallel to this project, a similar initiative of documenting twelve Jewish towns that were destroyed in the Holocaust was carried out by students of the Ort high school in Modi’in, led by their language teacher Odelia Cohen and history teacher, Galia Adiv. In an interview to the local newspaper[1] Cohen said: “I presented the idea to the students and I saw the enthusiasm in their eyes… as part of the process the students looked for reliable resources… and dealt with language and syntax issues”. Adiv added: “Writing Wikipedia articles for this project is another tool to preserve historical information which is disappearing as time goes by”.

Both initiatives are part of WMIL’s educational program which offers training, instructional materials, and support to teachers and lecturers in schools and higher education institutes who wish to incorporate a Wikipedia assignment in their teachings.

Read more about the Wikipedia Education Program in Israel here.

Tags:Wikipedia in Higher Education, WMIL

  1. Eran Kaminsky, ‘Ironi Dalet Students Commemorate Jewish Towns on Wikipedia’, 17 January 2017 (Hebrew)