(Original publication: October 25, 2006)

TARRYTOWN – The Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center last night honored Sheldon Grebstein, its retiring co-director of education, whom colleagues described as “a gentleman and a scholar.”

Grebstein, 78, joined the new center, then known as the Westchester Holocaust Commission, in 1994, after serving as president of Purchase College, SUNY, from 1981 to 1993.

During his second career, he primarily worked with teachers on how to use lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides in their classrooms. About 1,000 teachers received training from the center during his tenure.

“He supported and encouraged teachers to expand their thinking and understanding of human rights and the impact of the Holocaust on contemporary events and did so with skill, dedication and extraordinary diplomacy,” said Judy Schwartz, former director of the Scarsdale Teachers Institute and a member of a teachers advisory committee at the education center.

Hundreds came to the center’s annual dinner at Tappan Hill, and many traded stories about working with Grebstein, a literary critic who specializes in 20th-century American fiction.

Beforehand, Grebstein said that he most enjoyed working with teachers to design new programs that would resonate with students.

“It’s been depressing in that the world is no better than it was 60 years ago,” he said. “On the other hand, current events demonstrate that the work we do is essential. Whether or not we can change the world, we want our students to feel they can.”

The center also honored Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Services and a leading advocate for demanding that world leaders stop the genocide in Darfur.

She talked about the 400,000 dead and 2.5 million displaced. About 80 children under age 5 die each day, she said.

“This is our moral test,” she said. “We will be asked by our children and grandchildren what we did to stop the first genocide of the 21st century.”