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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Witness Theater 2014 - Yom Hashoah 5774

To commemorate Yom Hashoah, Yeshivah of Flatbush in conjunction with SelfHelp celebrated the resilience of the human spirit through a special presentation of Witness Theater. This was the culmination of months of heartfelt collaboration between our high school students and Holocaust survivors. The program which ran on Sunday night and Monday morning in the HS and on Monday afternoon in the JCC of Manhattan was a beautiful and moving experience for all in attendance. Here is a reflection from one of the student participants:

Just last year, I was sitting in the audience of the school’s auditorium just like you. I was very excited to see what this new program- “Witness Theater” was all about. For me, watching it was a new experience that I have never encountered, and I was very moved by the survivors, the actors, and the stories. It was so powerful, full of true emotion, and I knew from then on that I wanted to be part of it as well.
Witness Theater is a program which was brought from Israel to the US just last year and Yeshivah of Flatbush was the first school in America to try out this program. It is a program in which our school’s seniors and a few Holocaust survivors meet every Wednesday night throughout the year. Our first sessions were all about getting to know each other and getting comfortable being in thegroup. Our goal was to get to know each and every one of the survivors. As the sessions progressed, we started hearing and writing down their stories- each unique and different. As we heard them speak we sometimes cried, but we were always grateful, and we showed that by saying “thank you for telling”, to which they replied "thank you for witnessing".
After many intense sessions we started rehearsing, and finally, the night of the performance arrived. We all prepared for one of the biggest moments, filled with emotion and seriousness. For me, being on stage was so amazing. I did other plays before, but nothing came close to what I felt at the performances. The energy in the room was intense. In the play, I portrayed Editha, a survivor who was born in the Ghetto in Hungary, and I couldn’t be more honored to be able to do so. These moments were so special and precious, that I couldn’t hold back my tears. I was also honored to be able to write a song (which originally started out as a poem) with the help of Mr. Gelfand, who wrote the music to my lyrics for the performance. The song was inspired by the survivors and their stories, as well as their present lives. Being able to perform the play was very important to us. Through our show we were able to bring memories back and most importantly, we remembered those who are gone, and honor those who are with us. It was from this play that I realized that there is probably no better way to understand the Holocaust than to act the stories out.
Being in Witness Theater has shown me a new perspective of life. The survivors gave me so much strength that I feel like I can accomplish and overcome anything. This also has taught me to appreciate everything in life and to live life to the fullest. These survivors are so happy even though they have immense pain in their hearts. I truly look up to them as they are my role models, mentors, and grandparents. The cast was amazing as well. We all set aside our differences for a good cause and became closer than ever before. The bonds that were created between us all are unbreakable- we are a family. I am so thankful that I had this opportunity as I learned many life lessons from the people who know about life the most. ~Eden Malka
We would like to thank all those involved in this amazing production. Especially, Sally Shatzkes (director/ drama therapist), Joey Mandil (assistant director/ props coordinator), David Geliebter (stage production), Adina and Fran (Selfhelp therapists), Brian Gelfhand (musical director), Evan Brown (AV Director), Joey Berkowitz, Joey Baum, Isaac Levy, Victor Dweck, members of the YOFHS choir, SelfHelp, UJA Federation, and most importantly all of the high school seniors and Holocaust survivors who participated.

Full production below:

Pictures from production: