Saturday, June 03, 2023

A full-to-capacity gymnasium played host to Yavneh Academy’s eighth grade class Holocaust production “The Magnificent Danes.” This original play based on the book “Rescue in Denmark” by Harold Flender, was adapted for the stage and written by Yavneh students Regina Feiler, Joey Jawetz, Lila Montag, Benjamin Shiner, Emily Silver and Noah Zurkovsky.

The program began with the poignant remarks of Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, head of school, recalling the yahrzeit of his stepfather and his remarkable life during and after the Holocaust. Rabbi Burstein, producer of the play and teacher of Holocaust studies and history, followed with a sobering recitation of “K’El Ma’aleh Rachamim.” The acting, stage direction, scenery and stage production crew were brilliant; and every eighth grader played an essential role in the production.

Barbara Rubin, school principal, emphasized, “The accompanying multimedia gallery showcased months of work by our graduating class; and two students assisted the professional staff in ensuring that lighting and sound were running smoothly during the play.” She said she was awed and inspired by the students. “We are privileged to spend our days together in an environment which promotes Holocaust education and always seeks to develop the children’s talents.”

The play was adeptly directed by Mikaela Simon, who also managed the music and projection selections. Judging by their remarks at the conclusion of the production, it was obvious that the students held great respect and appreciation for her expertise, guidance and role in the success of the play.

Simon remarked: “Getting the opportunity to watch eighth-grade students connect so deeply to the stories of the Jewish people throughout the Shoah would be a point of pride for any director. That feeling is made ever deeper when these incredible students are able to connect this experience to the stories of their own grandparents and great-grandparents. It reminds us all [of] how close this history is, and how important it is for Holocaust education to remain a part of these and all students’ education.”

Rabbi Burstein, as producer, said: “The Yavneh students demonstrated a genuine understanding of and appreciation for the life and death challenges that faced Danish citizens and Denmark’s Jews. As Danes persevered through an intensely trying period of their history, the lessons of loving kindness, courage and grit shone forth. Many lives were saved and the world was left with many lessons that endure for all time. The students portrayed a window into this period of history, on stage, and left their audiences feeling inspired.”

Among the beaming relatives in the audience was grandparent Sarah Barber, who shared: “Having lived my life as a ‘G-2’ [second generation/child of Holocaust survivors], I was always aware of the presence of survivors. Being escorted by my grandson Eli Friedman as a lighter of a candle truly crystallized the absence of these kedoshim. The Yavneh program and others are a vital part of instilling in our children and grandchildren the importance of ‘zachor.’ Never forget, and to consecrate and commemorate their holy neshamot.”

Rubin, the principal, added: “Yavneh Connects, under the direction of Mrs. Keren Horn, featured the stories of 14 survivors, who are related to our faculty or graduates. The opportunity to conduct interviews, gather pictures and present the lives of these individuals will be with our children forever. Many children learned of their families’ histories through artifacts that traveled from Eastern Europe to America. The virtual reality presentations, under the direction of Mr. Jason David and Mr. Matthew Feiler, allowed students to research the world of Denmark and their dedication to saving Jewish lives.”

The printed program contained an insert with photos of the 14 survivors accompanied by QR codes connecting to recorded stories, photos and artifacts displayed on Google Drive, and narrated by Yavneh students.

By Ellie Wolf


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