Donation from Mark and Gail Appel supports programs that counter antisemitism, racism

Kalman Weiser, Mark Appel, Gail Appel and David Koffman

York University has announced a new donation of $750,000 from long-time benefactors Mark and Gail Appel to support programs that foster deeper understandings of Jewish history and life, combat antisemitism and deter other forms of racism.

Their gift will support important collaborations between the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies (CJS) and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), and contribute to the advancement of decolonization, equity, diversity and inclusion (DEDI) at the University.

The funding supports two key programs. The first is the biennial Summer Institute on Teaching About Antisemitism – led by Kalman Weiser, associate professor of history and humanities, in conjunction with colleagues at the University of Toronto and Tel Aviv University. The program brings graduate students and faculty members from around the world to York to discuss pedagogies in teaching about antisemitism.

The second program is the Mark and Gail Appel Program in Holocaust and Antiracism Education, a study-abroad, experiential education and cultural exchange course to be held in Germany, Poland and Canada, taught by Sara Horowitz, professor in the Departments of Humanities and Languages, Literatures & Linguistics. The Mark and Gail Appel Program is a re-launched version of the Teach For The Future program which the couple funded several years ago at the University.

“York has a very diverse student population and some of our students come from places where oppression and discrimination are very real and dangerous forces. Those students understand that the Holocaust is something important to learn about more deeply. Students who have participated in this program in the past have told us, ‘This program was life changing,’” said Horowitz.

Group photo featuring (from left to right): David Koffman, Maggie Quirt, Allan Weinbaum, Mark Appel, Gail Appel, Kalman Weiser and Sara Horowitz
From left to right: David Koffman, Maggie Quirt, Allan Weinbaum, Mark Appel, Gail Appel, Kalman Weiser and Sara Horowitz

The positive impact of this new funding will be seen in new approaches and methods to be developed and refined on the teaching of antisemitism, and in the transformed perspectives of students who participate in the study-abroad course.

David Koffman, associate professor of history and acting director at CJS, said “Programs like these demonstrate that leaders like Mark and Gail… understand what our centre stands for: excellence in scholarship, inspired teaching, and the true importance of scholarly effort and insight out there in the world, helping shape minds and hearts, institutions, and policies for the common good. Gifts like these help make York the thoughtful and welcoming place for all it can be.”

The Appels recently met with representatives from CJS and the LA&PS dean’s office to celebrate this important donation. At that meeting, a video by York alumna Anna Veprinska – now an assistant professor of literature at Cape Breton University – who participated in the earlier iteration of the Mark and Gail Appel Program in Holocaust and Antiracism Education, was presented. “This program changed the trajectory of my life,” Veprinska said.

“The program teaches about antiracism, with antisemitism as an avatar of racist ways of thinking,” Mark explained. “Our societies seem to be in a re-run. Attitudes we had hoped were behind us in the 1960s and 1970s are showing up again. There have been recent setbacks. Too many people are trapped by uninformed opinions. Gail and I looked at each other, thought of our previous involvement with York, and said, ‘We need to do something again.’”

“People can acquire racist attitudes in childhood or as they grow older,” added Gail. “We’ve seen the transforming power of these programs in the past. We have seen people learn to set those attitudes aside.”

Mark and Gail Appel with Maggie Quirt, Associate Dean Programs, LA&PS and David Koffman, Director, Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies
Mark and Gail Appel with Maggie Quirt, associate dean, programs, LA&PS and David Koffman, director, CJS

“We are so grateful to Gail and Mark for this delightful contribution,” said J.J. McMurtry, LA&PS dean. “Now, another generation of diverse students can participate in this impactful study-abroad course in Poland and Germany with Professor Horowitz, and Professor Weiser’s work with the pedagogy of teaching about antisemitism can grow and expand. We could not be more grateful. The Appels are true partners.”