Students hold art exhibit and see Holocaust in a new perspective

History was made on June 1 when students from history teacher Brent Abelson’s fifth period class curated and presented an exhibit on Holocaust survivor David Labkovsky.

“We started giving tours this afternoon, and everyone was sort of shaky at first, but tonight was so much more smooth and I feel like (the students) really brought their A game,” Abelson said.

The event took place in the MPR and started at 6:30 p.m. Guests were introduced to the exhibit with a warm welcome by students, who then proceeded to retell the life of Labkovsky in chronological order.

The students used copies of Labkovsky’s paintings as well as historical background to grab guests’ attention. Guests rotated through the exhibit sections while listening to the history behind the paintings and Labkovsky’s life.

The last part of the exhibit featured both student-made replicas of Labkovsky’s paintings and student-written poems that connected to their art. Executive director Leora Raikin worked with these students throughout their entire learning process.

“There’s something about introducing a concept using art,” said Raikin. “Students of all academic levels are able to interact with the art and are not afraid to articulate their feelings and emotions that the art evokes in them. We taught the students how to read the art to look for the clues…then, from their perspective, how it made them feel.”

It was just like a literature class. The students were exposed to the primary source material and were able to withdraw from the deeper connections within the art and interpret it in their own creative way.

“In most of the areas, it’s a primary source,” said Director of education Stephanie Wolfson, who also guided students throughout their project. “He experienced the gulag, and he experienced life in Israel post-Holocaust….We look at the history first through the art and then through other primary source material…When you put all of that together, you get the complete story of what happened.”

The exhibit was followed by a presentation on the grove, opened by Wolfson further explaining the purpose of the project. After Wolfson’s speech, freshman Olivia Bullock played “Odessa Bulgarish” on the violin.

Principal Smith then presented Abelson, Raikin and Wolfson with certificates of recognition from the California Legislature assembly. They were also awarded with a certificate of recognition from the Los Angeles Board of Education.

Following Smith’s speech, Dr. Judea Pearl gave a heartwarming recollection of his firsthand experience with European-Jewish refugees. After Dr. Pearl’s speech, Abelson recalled the journey of the making of the project as well as the first time he heard about it.

Then, sophomore Amanda Jimenez thanked Wolfson and Raikin for their hard work with the students and thanked all the guests present.

Lastly, Raikin inspired the audience with a speech about Labkovsky and how the present generation of students are the ones to be finally willing to learn about the hardships of the Holocaust. The exhibit then continued for guests who hadn’t seen it before.

Both Raikin and Dr. Pearl’s speeches included elements that will inspire further generations of students to keep looking into works such as Labkovsky’s and to genuinely understand the importance of art, history and hope.

“The Jews that were sent on the trains to the gas chambers never lost hope. They sang a song that said ‘Even though He is late, eventually He will come and He is the Messiah, and He will redeem the world from evil,” said Dr. Pearl. “Danny, before he was killed, had the same message…man is not a predator of other men, but a brother; a kindred spirit. You are the hope of humanity and its future.”