The six-month apprenticeship has been running continuously for 15 years, and Bonnie Unger, a museum educator, explained that one of the key goals of the program is to educate a diverse group of students about Jewish Heritage so that they can in turn apply their knowledge to discover their own heritage.
“We take students from all backgrounds,” Unger said. “A lot of the students are applying to this program because they’re interested in history or museums, and some of them really want just to learn and get that behind-the-scenes experience.”
Vennel Simmons, a recent high school graduate who is participating in the apprenticeship, said he heard about the program through a friend. And while the current crop of apprentices still has several weeks left of learning and experience gathering, Simmons said his biggest takeaway from the museum so far is that the Holocaust is no longer the only thing he knows about Jewish history.
“I think about the Torah, which is a really important scroll in the Jewish heritage. I think about the holidays, children, I don’t think about the Holocaust,” Simmons said. “Before, if someone were to mention the Jewish people, the first thing that would come to my head would be the Holocaust. And that’s not something you want a group of people to be known by, so this really has changed my view.”
“I actually want to be a lawyer, and I’ve done an internship at the Queens DA’s office. I learned that if you want to be a lawyer you’re going to have to talk to people,” Tenzin Choeyang, a junior at Flushing International High School said. “I learned that in the first week working in the shop. I learned to talk to different people different ways. And I’ll be in visitor services next week, so I’ll be learning more about speaking with different kinds of people.”
Edie Hecht, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and a soon-to-be junior at Bard High School Early College who lives in Park Slope, said that while she is familiar with Jewish heritage, she is learning about the heritage of her co-apprentices through the program.
“Interacting with the other apprentices, I’ve learned a lot about other cultures,” Hecht said. “Jewish heritage is something I’m familiar with, but there are kids from all other cultures in the program. I think the whole idea behind the apprenticeship is that we are all trying to learn about other cultures.”
*Correction: An earlier version of this article identified the Torah as the Tor.