History of the Center

A short history of the Center and the Symposium: How it all began...

A short while ago, there were only two courses on the Holocaust at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. Dr. Rennie Brantz taught "The Road to Hitler" in the History Department. Dr. Zohara Boyd taught "Literature of the Holocaust" in the English Department. Because the two courses saw a good deal of overlap, not just in content but also in student enrollment, the professors decided to merge their courses into one class taught under the auspices of the Honors Department.

As the new course, "History and Literature of the Holocaust," was gaining in popularity and enrollment, Drs. Brantz and Boyd discovered that most of their students had taken classes on the topic in their high schools from teachers who, according to the students, had truly scant knowledge of the historical background and of Judaism in general. One day after class, the two professors sat over coffee in the Student Union and discussed some
"pie in the sky" ideas to remedy this situation.

On a coffee-stained napkin, the only paper available, they jotted down some dreams and wishes, none of which seemed very likely to come true. They had heard of a Florida educator, Dr. Miriam Klein Kassenoff, herself a Holocaust survivor, who traveled around the country presenting seminars on the topic to public school teachers. Drs. Brantz and Boyd got in touch with Dr. Kassenoff, who was willing to come to Appalachian State for a very nominal fee. The problem the professors now faced was that, even at the small sum Dr. Kassenoff was willing to accept, no funding was available through any of the university resources to bring her to campus.

The Drs. Brantz and Boyd were unwilling to give up their dream, however, and having found a facilitator who could make "pie in the sky" come to earth, they approached ASU Chancellor Dr. Frank Borkowski with their idea. They were happily surprised when Dr. Borkowski, instead of commiserating over the impossibility of the project, picked up the phone and called Martin z"l, and Doris Rosen, donors who had previously been most generous to the university. Amazingly, the Rosens almost immediately agreed to fund the project for one summer.

Hastily organized around Dr. Kassenoff's busy schedule, in 2002 the three-day event was advertised only locally to teachers at Appalachian and in the Boone area. Attendance at that first symposium was sparse but very enthusiastic. The Rosens, however, saw the promise of this small beginning and agreed to fund the symposium again, with a larger donation that would fund scholarships to teachers from all over the state to come to Boone, stay in the dorms, get meals, and receive educational material and four continuing education credits from the NC Board of Education.

Over the following decade, the Rosen Symposium grew into a week-long event and attendance swelled from year to year until waiting lists had to be established to accommodate prospective participants. Teachers from other states and even from Eastern Europe began to apply through the US State Department, turning the Martin and Doris Rosen Summer Symposium: Remembering the Holocaust, into an international event. World-renowned professors and authors came to present lectures and to teach seminars. It continues today.

Dr. Kassenoff's leadership brought to the Symposium its distinguished presenters, and Dr. Kassenoff herself was inspirational to hundreds of students for ten years. Several years ago, Lee Holder, a North Carolina teacher, member of the NC Council on the Holocaust, winner of the Irena Sendler Award for Best Holocaust Educator in the US, and graduate of the Rosen Symposium, took over the role of facilitator and has remained with the program ever since. In the mid-2000's, the Symposium extended its curriculum when Stan z"l, and Ruth Etkin instituted a program called Judaism 101, which has been extremely popular with the teachers, filling the gap that the undergraduate students in that first "History and Literature of the Holocaust" class had pointed out to Drs. Brantz and Boyd so many years earlier.

Almost simultaneously with the beginning of the symposium in 2002, a number of the members of the Boone Jewish Community, now the Temple of the High Country, attended some of these classes and in August, 2002, invited the professors to make a presentation to the Havurah group. After their presentation, Bernice Setnor z"l, rose and asked, "How can we help?", and the rest is history. A stunning sum of approximately $1,000 was raised at that Havurah meeting. A local retired high school teacher, Nanci Tolbert Nance, volunteered to enter membership information into a computer data base in the History Department, and a list of Friends was created. By early 2003, plans were underway to create the Office of Judaic Studies, Holocaust Education and Studies in Non-Violence.

At first, this Office was a floating enterprise housed in the departmental offices of Drs. Boyd and Brantz. One of the Friends, Meliné Markarian, approached Dr. Borkowski with a plan to turn this somewhat nebulous entity into an official university center. Dr. Borkowski again proved to be a staunch supporter of Holocaust and Judaic studies by shepherding the transition from a floating entity to an official Office. Edelma Huntley, Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, provided invaluable assistance with the paperwork necessary to accomplish the transition. Members of the Office created a faculty advisory board and a Commuity Advisory Board studded with familiar names, including, among others, Markarian, Grad, Etkin, Gaynor, Ramo, Fogel, Aibel, Zahorian, Ruthfield, Quatrano, Margolis, Rawicz, and Nemerson, to support it financially and academically. Drs. Brantz and Boyd and others worked to incorporate courses that already existed across campus to create a minor in Holocaust, Judaic, and Peace Studies, turning the program into an interdepartmental academic degree. Dr. Kenneth Peacock, who succeeded Dr. Borkowski as chancellor, was an equally gracious and avid supporter of the Office, and with his support, in 2005 it was designated as an official Center for Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies by the University of North Carolina system. Until his retirement in 2014, Dr. Peacock hosted annual dinners for the Friends at the Chancellor's Residence. Meliné Markarian, a tireless worker for the Center and gourmet chef, created the menus for these occasions.

For a number of years, a triumvirate of professors led the Center, including Drs. Brantz and Boyd, and Dr. Rosemary Horowitz, an English professor and second-generation survivor. Dr. Horowitz proved an invaluable member of this troika, as her skills at grant-writing won the Center several sources of funding, most notably a sizable grant for additional Symposium funding from the Holocaust Reparations Office.

While the program was growing and gaining in vigor, it became necessary for The Center to hire a permanent, full time director.

Fortunately, about three years ago, the Leon Levine Foundation of Charlotte, NC, offered the Center a matching grant of $466,000. Along with a state grant and private donations, these funds would net the Center one million dollars for an endowed professorship, the Levine Chair of Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies. The Friends took up the challenge. With the dedicated assistance of David Taylor, Associate Vice Chancellor for University Development, and the enthusiastic leadership of Havurah president Jack Lubin and many others, the Friends began the arduous twoyear task of raising this large sum of money to enable the Center to hire a director. Dr. Simon Sibelman served as the first director and Leon Levine Distinguished Professor of Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies from until 2013 until 2015..

Shortly before he passed away, Martin Rosen, ever the generous patron of Holocaust education, dedicated a sizable donation for the continued support of the Symposium, which celebrates its thirteenth anniversary even as it mourns the passing of the man who created this enduring legacy. The Symposium will continue to bear the name of the Rosens for as long as the program exists. With the continued support of the Center's Friends and the University in their fundraising efforts and membership campaigns, we trust that the Symposium and Center will flourish for a long time to come.

Remembered and written with love: July 2014

Zohara Boyd Molle Grad Nanci Tolbert Nance