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Holocaust survivors, students collaborate For ‘The Wisdom of Storytellers’

Intergenerational Witness Theater Dramatizes Survivors’ Stories For Yom HaShoah Observance

May 3, 2016 By Francesca Norsen Tate Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The best way to preserve one’s history and legacy is to teach it to youngsters. Holocaust survivors in Brooklyn have been doing just that in an intergenerational collaborative setting called Witness Theater.

The innovative and emotional intergenerational journey that bridges the age gap between Holocaust survivors and high school students will allow the survivors’ stories to come alive. Witness Theater is a dramatization through which Holocaust survivors retell their experiences to high school students, who then act them out. The goal is to keep alive the experiences and lessons of the Holocaust, especially as the number of Holocaust survivors continues to diminish 71 years since the end of World War II.

The theater is presenting “The Wisdom of Storytellers” at several high schools around the city from May 3-5, in observance of Yom HaShoah.

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Witness Theater aims to involve Holocaust survivors in a therapeutic process designed to help them come to terms with their past, and to instill the memory of the Holocaust in following generations. Working together, the different generations elicit and expose the moving stories of survival and explore issues of war, loss and trauma. The survivors are the narrators. Students work under the direction of drama therapists and with the survivors to draw out their stories and enact their wartime experiences in an emotional theatrical production.

Since September, students and Holocaust survivors have been meeting weekly with trained drama therapists, social workers and other project staff. These bonding meetings between survivors and students will culminate in the productions of the poignant staged performances. One of the students, Sonny Setton, wrote and is performing a song as part of the performance.

Witness Theater was conceived by Irit and Ezra Dagan and developed by JCD-Eshel in Israel. SelfHelp Community first brought Witness Theater to New York in 2012. SelfHelp was founded in 1936 to help waves of émigrés fleeing from Nazi persecution find new lives in America. The organization has a comprehensive Nazi Victims Services program that addresses health and safety issues, provides social opportunities and enhanced case management services with special attention to Holocaust survivors unique needs. SelfHelp Community Services is now the largest provider of comprehensive services to Holocaust survivors in North America, serving nearly 4,700.

Funding from the UJA-Federation, The Jewish Communal Fund and a grant from the Claims Conference has enabled Witness Theater to expand from its original venue, the Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School in Brooklyn, to a total of four sites in the NYC area this year.

Seven public performances of Witness Theater will take place across the four sites (including area high schools) to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, (Yom HaShoah), which began the evening of May 3 and will end the evening of May 5. Performances are free and the public is invited. The performance at Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School will take place tonight at 7 p.m.

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