With an upcoming art exhibition, multimedia contest for students and plans for a virtual play this summer, the newly formed East Bay Holocaust Education Center (EBHEC) in Pleasanton is using creative programs and outlets to teach Tri-Valley residents about the history and lessons from the Holocaust, as well as honor its victims.
"It's meant to share the lessons of the Holocaust, and there are a lot of lessons to be learned with regard to not just genocide of the Jewish people but also other genocides," EBHEC founder and president Larry Lagin told the Weekly.
A retired scientist turned recreational painter residing in Livermore, Lagin took up art at UC Berkeley about seven years ago. As part of the program, Lagin had to assemble a portfolio and based his on the Holocaust. Starting with two paintings, the series eventually grew to around 20 pieces, which he subsequently showed at Berkeley, followed by a Holocaust survivor event at the Chabad Center of the Tri-Valley in 2018.
Simultaneously, Lagin also founded the EBHEC with Chabad Center's Rabbi Raleigh Resnick after "we decided the East Bay needs a Holocaust center," Lagin said.
In a statement, Resnick said, "We are committed to preserving the memory of this horrific event by providing educational programs for the region. We view EBHEC as a vehicle to educate people of all backgrounds about the Holocaust and speak for the six million who cannot speak for themselves."
Wanting to enhance his exhibit with multimedia, Lagin reached out to the USC Shoah Foundation in Southern California and received seven video clips to use. With support from Resnick, Lagin began taking the exhibit to local high schools including Amador Valley and Granada, as well as the California School for the Deaf in Fremont.
There were originally plans to also visit Foothill, Dublin, Livermore and Dougherty Valley high schools. "Basically we were trying to cover a lot of the high schools in the Tri-Valley, but then the pandemic struck," Lagin said.
The pandemic forced EBHEC to shift gears but the center has adjusted and has been preparing for an online training session this week, in advance of EBHEC's Holocaust Memorial Exhibit debuting online next month. The exhibit features artwork by Lagin and video recorded survivor testimonies provided by the Shoah Foundation.
"One of the things that I learned developing this art series, and it was very difficult to do emotionally, was that out of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, 1.5 million were children," Lagin said.
Headquartered for now at the Chabad Center in Pleasanton, Lagin said EBHEC's current space is a squeeze but that he has a vision for how the center might grow over time.
"We'll be establishing the beginning of next year, a library there and a resource center, and we will also try to have a training center for some of the programs that we're going to be doing," Lagin said. "We had talked about possibly having another room that was devoted to an exhibit there but we're still talking about that."
The center wants to develop its programs during the next four to five years, as well as partner with Holocaust centers around the world to bring some of their programs to the East Bay. Eventually they plan on developing a five-year campaign to build a home of their own, but "the most important thing right now is getting the programs up and running," Lagin added.
At the moment, EBHEC is sticking to its online format with the Holocaust Memorial Exhibit, as well as streaming two "student-friendly" films in partnership with the East Bay International Jewish Film Festival in April.
They are also partnering with Livermore Shakespeare Festival to present a Holocaust-based play this summer, and plan to eventually produce live shows each year.
In an effort to "really get this off the ground," the Holocaust Art, Writing and Video Contest, which includes $3,000 in prizes, will open for entries next week. From Monday through April 1, all high school students in the East Bay can submit entries in any of the three categories (art, writing, and video) that addresses the question: "Why is it important to remember the Holocaust?"
Lagin had his own answer: "By learning the lessons of the holocaust, you can impress upon people that genocide can happen at any time, at any place and to anyone, and so we want to teach the lessons so that other events like this can be prevented."
"Also, I would say that it's very important now ... the Holocaust survivors, they're dwindling, they're dying off. And I would think that within the next 10, 15 years, there might not be any left," Lagin said. "Now is a very important time to get their voices out, to allow them to tell their stories."
To learn more about the East Bay Holocaust Education Center, including the exhibit and contest, visit www.ebhec.org. For more information about the East Bay Jewish Film Festival, visit www.eastbayjewishfilm.org.