Little Rock teen recognized for Holocaust education advocacy

David Ronnel stands beside then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson in April 2021 as he signed legislation requiring Holocaust education within the state’s public schools. Ronnel, a 2022 graduate of Little Rock’s Central High School, has received a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award, and a $36,000 prize, from the San Francisco-based Helen Diller Family Foundation.
(Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)
David Ronnel stands beside then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson in April 2021 as he signed legislation requiring Holocaust education within the state’s public schools. Ronnel, a 2022 graduate of Little Rock’s Central High School, has received a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award, and a $36,000 prize, from the San Francisco-based Helen Diller Family Foundation. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

A Little Rock advocate for Holocaust education was one of 15 young people this year to receive a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award from the San Francisco-based Helen Diller Family Foundation.

David Ronnel, a 2022 Central High School graduate, is giving his $36,000 in prize money to the Arkansas Holocaust Education Award Donation Fund, an organization he founded in 2021 to help educators "who display excellence and creativity in the classroom and have a demonstrated need for resources to further their Holocaust education efforts."

In Hebrew, "Tikkun Olam" means to fix or repair the world.

Ronnel, the son of Steve and Jennifer Ronnel, is a member of Congregation B'nai Israel and served on the board of the temple youth group. In addition, he was religious and cultural vice president for the Southern region of NFTY (also known as the North American Federation of Temple Youth).

Nearly eight decades after the end of World War II, anti-semitism remains a problem, Ronnel said.

"Growing up in Little Rock, it was not uncommon for me to receive hate speech or hate against me because of my religion. It happened in and outside of public schools. After growing up with that around me all my life, I decided that there's got to be a way to make a change in our state, and help people like me, who struggle with intolerance," he said.

During his junior year, Ronnel lobbied members of the state Legislature to pass Senate Bill 160, which mandated the teaching of Holocaust education in all of the state's public schools.

He testified at a legislative committee, urging lawmakers to support the legislation, and he also wrote an editorial for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette urging passage of the measure.

Ronnel's efforts impressed then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson; he invited the teenager to stand by his side on Holocaust Remembrance Day as he signed the bill into law.

Act 611 of 2021 took effect at the start of the 2022-23 school year.

It requires the state Department of Education to "develop and distribute curricula, standards, materials, and units relating to Holocaust education for grade-appropriate grades five through twelve (5-12) instruction in all public schools."

Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany engaged in "the systemic, state-sponsored persecution and attempted annihilation of Jews and other groups," murdering approximately 6 million Jews and roughly 5 million other individuals, the law states.

State officials want to help students understand the "causes, course, and effects of the Holocaust" and the "ramifications of bullying, bigotry, stereotyping, and discrimination." Ultimately, the law seeks to encourage "tolerance of diversity and reverence for human dignity for all citizens in a pluralistic society."

Currently an incoming freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ronnel has now raised more than $60,000, including a $15,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation, to promote Holocaust education.

Information about the awards is available at theaheadfund.com.

Congregation B'nai Israel Rabbi Barry Block, who nominated Ronnel for the award, praised the teenager's commitment.

"He's continuing a family tradition -- stretching back, at least, to his grandparents and including his parents -- of activism in the community for the betterment of Central Arkansas, the Jewish community and the world," Block said.

Sue Weinstein, a former president of the Jewish Federation of Arkansas, had encouraged Block to submit Ronnel's name and was pleased to see him selected.

"He's a remarkable young man," she said. "He comes from a family of big achievers. They work hard. They follow through. They're really a credit not just to our religion but to America, to our culture."