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Funding secured to save FAU Holocaust Education Center

May 28, 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Funding secured to save Fau Holocaust Education Center, by Ian Squires.

In the wake of widespread state budget cuts, the Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education at Florida Atlantic University saw its funding slashed and center officials were prepared to shut its doors at the end of June.

But the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County wouldn't let that happen.

The federation found enough money to ensure that the center, led by director Rosanna Gatens, keeps teaching students and teachers about the dark history of the Holocaust, genocide and the uncertain future for human rights.

Since being founded in 1996, the center has become a premier resource for teachers, students and groups interested in the Holocaust or human rights, and has trained hundreds of teachers on Holocaust curriculum each year.

Previously, the League for Educational Awareness of the Holocaust paid for half of the center's expenses, and the university the other half.

But when FAU announced it was pulling $100,000 in funding, a full 50 percent of the center's annual operating costs, the center's future was in serious doubt.

The Pechter Foundation and Meryl and Ron Gallatin, in conjunction with the Federation and its Jewish Community Foundation, combined to pledge enough money to fund the center for the next two years.

"We consider Holocaust education a very, very high priority for this community," said Federation President and CEO Bill Bernstein. "Because of the important work that is done in public and private schools because of that center we wanted to make certain that the program continued."

Gatens said as soon as word of the center's impending close got out, the news was met with anger and frustration, but she worried that outrage alone wouldn't be enough to save the center.

She said she was hopeful the Jewish community would come through, but said in the current economic climate she was far from confident.

For now the center is safe; and not only does this mean South Florida children will continue to reap the benefits of the center, but the other end of the age spectrum is comforted as well.

"I felt most relieved for the sake of all of the Holocaust survivors who see the center as the most important means to educate, to prevent a Holocaust from ever happening again," Gatens said.

Bernstein also said he was happy, but admitted he couldn't be all that surprised they were able to find the money.

"I knew that our community is a very caring and responsible community and I thought there would be people in our community who would be very responsive," he said. "Once I made the appeal to our donors, there was a very quick and immediate reaction."

The money pledged is enough to guarantee these two more years of funding, but Gatens said the center is already thinking about the third year.

"There are a number of people in the community who recognize that we need to raise an endowment to run the center in perpetuity and we are going to use these two years to make that happen," she said.

For more information about the center, call Rosanna Gatens at 561-297-2929.

Ian Squires can be reached at isquires@tribune.com or 954-596-5643.

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