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March 28, 2013 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-03-28

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The cast: Otto Herczeg, Rebecca Bloom, Rene
Lichtman, Melissa Berlin, Fred Lessing, Phillip
McMurray, Manya Feldman, Erica Schulman, Rose
Bohm, Shira Starr, Ann Eisenberg. Zoe Lis is not



Witness Theater,

Teens and survivors team to tell
I each other's personal stories.

Vivian Henoch
Special to the Jewish News


hey were young: children and
teens, driven out their homes and
villages, brutally separated from
mothers and fathers, sisters and broth-
ers. They endured hunger, bitter cold and
constant fear. They hid. They fled. They
fought and survived.
They remember, and their stories will
not be forgotten.
On Monday, April 8, at 6:30 pm, in com-
memoration of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust
Remembrance Day), six Holocaust sur-
vivors will be joined by six high school
students for an extraordinary one-time
theatrical event to be staged at the Jewish
Community Center's Berman Center for
the Performing Arts in West Bloomfield.
The program, entitled We Are Here: The

Journey from Harmony to Horror to Hope,
is a production of the Witness Theater,
an innovative project where Holocaust
survivors and high school students partici-
pate in a series of intensive workshops to
explore their collective stories and to col-
laborate on a single public performance.
With the generous support of the Nora
and Guy Barron Jewish Life Millennium
Fund, the project is brought to the com-
munity by the Jewish Federation's Alliance
for Jewish Education in partnership with
Jewish Senior Life.
Conceived as an opportunity to link two
generations on a journey of mutual dis-
covery, the Witness Theater was initiated
by Eshel, an Israeli elder-services agency
under the auspices of the American-based
Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Now
implemented as part of the high school
curriculum in Israeli schools, the program
was first adopted in the U.S. by the Jewish
Federation of South Palm Beach in 2007.
Replicating the Eshel model, the Detroit
Witness Theater program will be the


March 28 • 2013

fourth such production in the U.S.
"When Nora Barron brought the
Witness Theater Project to our attention,
we knew immediately that we had to find
a way to make it happen in Detroit" said
Jeff Lasday, Alliance for Jewish Education
director. As a member of the board of the
JDC, Nora was familiar with the program
in Israel and saw the opportunity to show-
case some of the work being done there as
well as to connect generations in a mean-
ingful way here in our own community"
Barron added, "My generation lived
through the Holocaust, we know the his-
tory. And we personally know survivors.
Younger people have no such experience.
What better and more profound experi-
ence can we provide than helping to pass
the baton of our memories on to a new
Clinical psychologist Dr. Charles Silow
is a consultant to the Witness Theater
Project and director of the Program for
Holocaust Survivors and Families at Jewish
Senior Life. "Survivors of the Holocaust
hold a unique position as storytellers in
the Jewish community:' he says. The son
of survivors, Silow attests that despite the
traumas of living through the Holocaust,
"survivors have inspiring messages of
hope, peace and tolerance to deliver"
With an estimated 750 survivors in
Michigan today, more than 400 of their
stories recently have been archived in
www.portraitsofhonotorg, an interactive
exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial Center
in Farmington Hills and a companion
database online, both of which Silow
helped to develop.

The Creative Process
The goal is not to produce a polished play.
A group dynamic and collaboration in
every sense, the Witness Theater Project
emphasizes therapeutic insights gained
through learning, understanding and com-

passion, rather than the
finished results of a live
stage performance. The
eight-month program
represents a significant
commitment of time,
energy, intellect and
emotion as the group
meets every Thursday
afternoon in carefully
orchestrated sessions designed to create an
atmosphere of trust and confidence under
the creative direction of Corinne Stavish.
A professional storyteller, communica-
tions specialist and professor of speech
and literature at Lawrence Technological
University, Stavish explains, "We're in
this together as equal partners. The tone
of our meetings is one of respect. That
means everyone has a voice and everyone
is heard. We engage and we listen as each
person in the group speaks.
"We make a point to turn off our
phones. We try not to let the outside
world enter our space. We listen and learn
and retell one another's stories. And we
laugh a lot— more than we cry — which
might seem strange, but survivors enjoy a
unique, crusty gallows humor that we have
all come to share"
Rachel Taubman, Witness Theater
Project manager, says, "It is remarkable
just how attached members of the group
have become" An associate in Federation's
Israel and Overseas Department respon-
sible for teen missions to Israel, Rachel
brings to the project her considerable skills
in planning and team-building.
The students are asked to maintain a
weekly journal to submit before each ses-
sion. Their "assignment" involves answer-
ing prompted questions as well as tran-
scribing the recordings from interviews.
"This has been a life-changing experi-
ence for all of us:' Taubman says, "but
the teens have taken their responsibility

for the work very seriously. Three of the
students are enrolled in Corinne's speech
class for dual credit at Lawrence Tech"
They are not actors. Nor is We Are Here
at the Berman the final act. As the artistic
director, writer and master storyteller for
the staging of the production, Stavish has
a vision for what will be on stage and what
might be carried forth once the Witness
Theater Project has concluded. Noting that
there's an unmistakable cadence to each
survivor's tale, Stavish has written a script
that she describes as a kaleidoscope of
lines recalled and recorded from the stu-
dents' journals.
"I want the torch passed, but I don't
want to lose those voices we are still
blessed to have with us" she says, "because
there will come a day when we won't have
those voices, and then the teens can use

The Cast
• Otto Herczeg, child survivor, born
January 1931; Sajoszentpeter, Hungary;
concentration camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau,
Buchenwald, IG Farben, Zeitz.
• Rebecca Bloom, 15, sophomore at
Andover High School; enjoys writing; the
clarinet player in the production, We Are
• Rene Lichtman, child survivor, born
December 1937; Paris, France; in hiding
near Paris in Le Vert-Galant with a French
Christian family.
• Melissa Berlin, 15, sophomore at
North Farmington High School; grand-
daughter of a Holocaust survivor.
• Fred Lessing, child survivor, born May
1936; The Hague, Netherlands; in hid-
ing as a Christian in Amsterdam, Utrecht
Tilburg, Voorthuizen.
• Phillip McMurray, 18, senior at De La
Salle Collegiate High School in Warren;
honored to participate, brings love and
cookies to Thursday sessions.

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