May 24, 2024
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May 24, 2024
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Yavneh’s Holocaust Play Sends Powerful Message

As part of The Gabriela (z”l) and Walter (z”l) Weiss YavnehConnects program, eighth grader Daniella Demby interviewed Yavneh faculty member Ariella Kranczer about her grandfather Carl Kaufman.

Ask any graduate of Yavneh Academy in Paramus from the past 23 years to recall some of the highlights of his/her elementary education and without doubt, among the top 10 fond reminiscences will be of the eighth Grade Holocaust Production. Rabbi Shmuel Burstein, rebbe and Jewish History instructor at Yavneh, a Torah scholar and lifelong student of Jewish history, creates a Holocaust production performed by the graduating students as they approach their high school years, which remains ingrained in their memories for a lifetime. Among those heroes of the Holocaust whom Rabbi Burstein has honored for close to a quarter of a century are Rav Yisroel Meir Lau, chief rabbi emeritus of Israel; the Bielski Brothers, partisans of the Polish forests; and Adolfo Kamisky, teenage Jewish forger whose documents saved 14,000 French Jews.

In two productions, Rabbi Burstein has honored the memory of Chiune Sugihara, Japanese Consul in Lithuania, whose visas to Japan saved the lives of thousands of Jews fleeing from Poland, including the students of the revered Mir Yeshiva. In the 2021 production, on Zoom due to covid, Sugihara and his wife were the focus, highlighting their heroism in the face of dire personal consequences from the Nazi-allied Japanese government. In the current 2024 production, once again based upon the authoritative account in “The Fugu Plan,” the focus is upon the Jewish families whose “leap of faith” enabled them to escape certain death in Europe by fleeing to the unknown shores of remote Japan where they survived the war despite dire living conditions. Highlighted in the production are the courage of Rabbi Shimon Kalish, the Amshenover Rebbe, who together with Rabbi Moshe Shatzkes, the Lumza Rav, stood up to the hostile Japanese Naval Admirals and convinced them to allow the thousands of fleeing Jews into Japan. Rabbi Zorach Warhaftig, who later became the world leader of Mizrachi, was also involved in advocating for the fleeing Jews to be relocated in Shanghai. As a result of the strength of these pious and brave leaders, generations of Jewish scholars and leaders of communities, including our own Bergen County, are perpetuating the heritage of Am Yisrael.

The full cast of the 2024 performance.

This year’s program was enhanced by the outstanding exhibits placed around the auditorium.

Upon entering the venue, guests were greeted by a student-created video “Israel—Our Strength and Emunah,” showcasing the Yavneh community’s support for Israel since the outbreak of the October 7 Gaza War. The moving video featured approximately 20 Yavneh graduates currently serving courageously in the IDF. Scenes from the Yavneh Unity Mission to Israel through BCLev Echad, including faculty and parents, illustrated the tremendous financial and spiritual support provided to our soldiers and citizens by the Yavneh community.

A hanging art gallery exhibited original art pieces by the students illustrating their talent in recreating images of the Holocaust through realistic and symbolic lenses. Seven students provided actual artifacts of family members who managed to salvage them and pass them on to future generations. These included a worn Siddur from which Levi Gottesman, z’’l davened daily, defying the cruel, watchful eyes of the Nazi guards in Auschwitz. The Gabriela z’’l and Walter z”l Weiss Yavneh Connects Program, under the direction of Karen Horn, memorializes relatives of current Yavneh students who interview family members to ensure their legacies. This year, 19 students, mainly grandchildren and great-grandchildren of living and deceased Holocaust survivors, created impressive video biographies of their family members, accompanied by background photographs and historical images.

New this year is the Virtual Reality Gallery, created under the direction of Jason David, Yavneh director of technology and curriculum design innovator. David shared, “In an impressive display of creativity and innovation, seven students created immersive Virtual Reality experiences. Using CoSpaces, a platform for VR creation, they constructed scenes, created characters and an atmosphere that transports the viewer into a different time period. These experiences were then transferred to Meta Oculus headsets which gave the viewers the ability to interact with the characters and landmarks. These innovative technologies allowed our students and viewers to foster understanding and empathy for the stories that we pass down from generation to generation.”

Preceding the performance, students introduced five special Holocaust survivors, some family to Yavneh students, who lit memorial candles to the six million who perished.

Rabbi Burstein is truly grateful for the support he is provided yearly by the administration at Yavneh. In introducing the program, Rabbi Knapp, head of school, acknowledged the upcoming sobering Pesach message of “b’chol dor vador omdim aleinu l’chaloteinu,” which is so painfully relevant this year as Be’eri mirrors Warsaw. Rabbi Knapp encouraged us to continue expressing our gratitude to our IDF heroes through our tefillah, study of Torah and recitation of tehillim. He quoted the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ mantra, “To defend freedom, we need education,” which has been the ongoing mission of the annual Holocaust production at Yavneh.

Barbara Rubin, principal, always a source of encouragement and assistance to the eighth grade students, shared, “Never has Yavneh Academy’s mission to ensure Holocaust education been more relevant than this year. Our Holocaust production empowers our youngsters to keep Israel and Yiddishkeit strong. Through writing and performing, artwork and stage setting, virtual reality creations and the sharing of artifacts, and tributes to our chayalim, our students are partners in the resounding message of “Am Yisrael Chai!”

Kudos to Scriptwriter and Director Mikaela Simon, who joined the Yavneh production team three years ago and has added greatly through her talents in visual arts and design as well as drama.

Her enthusiasm for the Holocaust production is evident as is her warmth and encouragement of the students.

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