English Department Chair Ari Zito has received an award from the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater for “outstanding work...promoting the values and tenets embedded in Holocaust education."
The award recognizes the high educational caliber of a junior-senior course that Mr. Zito developed, Self/Service: The Edges of Obligation in Literature, that centers around a question: “What is our obligation to serve the society we inhabit, and what should be the limits of that obligation?" The course includes one of the first memoirs to be written about the Holocaust, Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, which was first published in Italian in 1947 under the (translated) title, If This Is a Man.
Students in the course also read Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day, a work of historical fiction, which reveals the Nazi collaboration of the English nobleman Lord Darlington, as told from the perspective of his butler Mr. Stevens, who comes to regret his unthinking loyalty to a man he had assumed was working to ensure peace. Like Levi's memoir, the novel offers profound moral lessons for students to internalize as they determine where their own obligations lie.
In a letter notifying Mr. Zito of the honor, officers of the Holocaust Commission wrote that the course “helps students to see that we all have choices to make based on our own values, and that those choices have consequences, which in times of war and crisis become even more charged. Teaching the works of Primo Levi exposes students to deep philosophical thinking as well as literature, and shows your commitment to the ideals of the Holocaust Commission."
The Esther Goldman Educators' Award, which Mr. Zito received, includes a cash prize and the opportunity to participate in further education for teachers at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond or the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
The award is named for an Auschwitz survivor who spoke to thousands of students in an effort to teach the lessons that can be learned from the Holocaust, also referred to as The Shoah, about combating hate and injustice. Auschwitz was a complex of 40 concentration and extermination camps operated by the Nazis in occupied Poland during World War II where an estimated 1.5 million people, mainly Jews, were forced to work in barbaric conditions or were killed.
Historians estimate that more than 6 million European Jews were killed during the Holocaust, not only in extermination camps, but also by execution squads that carried out mass executions and burials in mass graves.
Mr. Zito's submission for the award included a poem that he had written, inspired by Levi's memoir. Many of his students, as well as students in other English classes at NA, also submitted poetry and artwork for the Holocaust Commission's annual student competitions. This year, four Norfolk Academy students won prizes and 11 were finalists (Read more about student winners).
The awards are typically presented in a formal ceremony on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which includes a guest speaker. Because of the pandemic, this year's ceremony on April 8 will be done as a webinar.