June 25, 2024
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The Bicycle Messenger Debuts at Yavneh

The Yavneh Academy’s 8th grade production of the Bicycle Messenger, under the leadership and direction of Rabbi Shmuel Burstein, Holocaust Studies Director of the School, went off without a hitch last week to much acclaim and applause.

In the months prior to the play, Rabbi Burstein spent hours with the students learning with them about the causes and effects of the Holocaust from political, psychological and theological perspectives. Each year, he chooses a book to serve as the year’s topic and a group of 12 interested student playwrights take on the task of writing a play based on the book.

This year’s book was Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation by Aili and Andres McConnon. Upon the completion of the script, the entire 8th Grade class of 65 participated in acting, publicizing, preparing scenery. and designing costumes. No 8th Grader was left out.

The play was directed by the dedicated Dominique Cieri, who has developed a teaching curriculum that has been published and received awards from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts.

The play begins in a small town outside of Florence in the Tuscany area of Italy. It tells the story of Gino Bartali, a winner of the Tour de France. Gino, a devout Catholic, attended church regularly and spent much time conferring with Cardinal Dalla Costa, a priest involved in anti-Fascist efforts. Bartali’s wins were attributed by Fascists in Italy as evidence of Italian racial superiority. When Mussolini fell from power in July 1943, Italians thought the worst was over. But that is when the Nazi regime began the Final Solution in Italy, the plan to deport all Jews living on Italian soil to Auschwitz.

Although Mussolini had few reservations about deporting Jews, high-ranking government officials and senior military personnel pressured him not to. Only when Germany invaded the northern and central regions of Italy, did the Jews there find themselves in mortal danger.

Gino grew up with good friends in the Jewish community. Devastated by the news that his friends, the Kleins, were sent to Auschwitz and never heard from again, he set out to prevent this from happening to the Goldenbergs, their cousins. Gino was encouraged by the Cardinal to consider using his cycling prowess to smuggle false identity documents. Known throughout as a celebrity rather than an activist, Gino accepted his new responsibility and hid the Goldenberg family until their liberation. It was later discovered that more than two-thirds of the Italian Jewish population was hidden and rescued by caring Italian countrymen and clergy.

Outstanding performances were given by all of the students. Eighth graders from a number of local Jewish schools in the Bergen area attended a performance of the play. It was especially gratifying to see students of Teaneck High School in attendance. Dennis Heck, Interim Principal of Teaneck High School, warmly welcomed the Yavneh student production to the school, as well as all of the attendees. It should be noted that the facilities used by Yavneh at Teaneck High were offered as a courtesy and no fees were charged.

By Nina Glick

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