New Holocaust education director returns to Oklahoma
By BILL SHERMAN
Jan. 22, 2018
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The new director of Holocaust education for the Jewish Federation of Tulsa feels like he is back at home after spending many years on the East Coast.
Jesse Ulrich, 36, was born and raised in the Tulsa area.
In early grade school, he was one of three white students at Burroughs Elementary School in north Tulsa.
He graduated in 2000 from Broken Arrow High School, where he was one of two Jews out of some 2,000 students.
Those were important experiences for him, he told the Tulsa World .
"I think it helped train me for the fact that for the rest of my school time after that, I was going to be different from everybody else, in a multitude of ways.
"Being proud of my Judaism required me to make sure that as the one representative these kids might meet, I dispelled stereotypes that they had."
Ulrich got his bachelor's degree in history from the University of Oklahoma in 2004 and his master's degree in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University in Boston in 2007.
For the next 10 years, he worked in the Boston area in a variety of positions in the Jewish community.
He worked in development for Hebrew College in Newton, Massachusetts, and was the manager of content for Jewishboston.com, serving as the liaison between the website and the Jewish community.
Living in Boston, he said, he was often asked, "How did you survive (as a Jew) in the middle of the Bible Belt, with all those Christians? How did you handle that?"
He said he told them, "You learn to talk to people as people first because, generally, people are decent. Their political beliefs, their religious beliefs come out later.
"I want people to know me as a person and then as a Jew.
"I developed that skill naturally, just growing up here.
"People in larger (Jewish) communities, who can wall themselves off ... don't know how to talk to people of other faiths as well as the Jewish community here does."
Because of their ties to Tulsa, Ulrich said, he and his wife, Michelle Franchini, also a Tulsan, came back often to visit.
"We noticed that amazing things were happening here," he said, citing downtown revitalization and the Gathering Place.
"I was putting my heart and soul into a job that was designed to help the Boston Jewish community, and that was great. But that's not my Jewish community. My Jewish community is here.
"If we were going to put our energy into helping a community, we should want to help the community we grew up in.
"Boston is too big. No matter what we did, it didn't feel like it mattered.
"We saw people making a difference here, and we wanted to be a part of that."
So on Aug. 1, they moved back to Tulsa.
Franchini is now with Reading Partners, a nonprofit that pairs literacy volunteers with students who have reading difficulties.
In September, Ulrich was offered a job as director of Holocaust education and community relations for the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, replacing Cassie Nodine, who stepped down.
"I was so excited," he said. "To work in the building that was like a second home to me growing up was too good to turn down."
He said he had spent a lot of time in the Jewish Community Center to attend youth activities and to be with his father, Edward Ulrich, editor for 20 years of the Tulsa Jewish Review.
In his new position, Ulrich will be responsible for several major events each year, including the Kristallnacht commemoration, the Yom Hashoah Holocaust commemoration and a summer institute for teachers.
Holocaust education is important, he said, because no one should ever forget what happened to the Jewish people and other minorities under the Nazi regime during World War II.
"Hatred can take any form," he said, "but government-instituted hatred can have devastatingly terrible consequences. State-sponsored hate leads to the death of people."
Ulrich said he did not see a contradiction between the idea of remembering the history of Holocaust and the recent removal of Civil War monuments, which detractors say is an effort to erase history.
"I'm OK with communities deciding to take those statues down," he said. "They are not monuments to freed slaves, they are monuments to Confederate generals, mostly," he said.
"That's not the way the Civil War should be remembered."
He said he thought the removal of the statues was more "the balancing of history" than "the erasing of history."
He said Jewish people stand with persecuted minorities because "it could easily become us."
Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com