New York, NY, November 24, 2008 … After a four-day mission to our nation's capital -- where they explored issues of hatred, racism and discrimination, and heard from Holocaust survivors, diplomats and veterans – more than 100 high school students from across the country are ready to make a positive impact in their communities.
The students were part of the 11th annual ADL Grosfeld Family National Youth Leadership Mission to Washington D.C. The program uses historic and contemporary examples of moral courage in an effort to motivate students to fight prejudice and become positive agents for change.
Selected for their leadership potential and demonstrated interest in issues of diversity, the students hailed from Chicago, Detroit, Florida, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
"This year's mission was one of our most successful ever," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor. "These dedicated students learned a great deal not only from the speakers and guests, but also from one another. They are excited to return home to make a difference in their communities. As one student said, 'actions may speak louder than words, but inaction speaks loudest.' "
The centerpiece of the mission was time spent at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, where the students learned not only about what transpired during World War II, but also explored contemporary issues of extremism and bigotry.
Students shared personal experiences with hatred and discrimination with their peers, in sessions conducted by ADL's A World of Difference® Institute facilitators. They discussed drawing on the lessons of the Holocaust to make a difference in today's fight against genocide, in places such as Darfur. A recurring theme reiterated by the students is that no change is too small, and making even a small difference can be significant.
The students heard from Dr. Leon Bass, a retired high school principal and World War II veteran who helped liberate the concentration camp of Buchenwald in April 1945. He talked about discovering first-hand what can happen when hatred goes unchecked, like at Buchenwald, where prisoners were "denied everything that made life livable."
Masha Leon, a Holocaust survivor born in Lithuania, also shared her story of being one of thousands saved from the Nazis by Chiune Sugihara, Japanese Consul to Lithuania in 1939 and 1940. Japan's current Ambassador the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki, spoke to the students about the courage of Sugihara and the importance for an individual to act when something important is at stake.
The students also attended the 14th Annual ADL In Concert Against Hate at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, featuring the National Symphony Orchestra, where they heard the compelling stories of three people who acted in extraordinary ways when confronted by injustice and terrorism.
A central message of the mission was articulated by Nesse Godin, a Holocaust survivor who shared her story with the group. She reminded: "when you look around, don't see a race and don't see a religion, see a human being."
Founded in 1996 by ADL's Greater Chicago/Upper Midwest Regional Office, the Mission became a national program in 1998, building on the success of previous programs in preparing students as role models against bigotry, prejudice and hate. It is generously sponsored by The Grosfeld Family Foundation.