High school students to retell survivors' stories as part of Witness Theater
By Lois K. Solomon
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 28, 2009
In a dramatic performance Sunday, Michael Jeifa, a Holocaust survivor, will share the most devastating moment of his terrifying teenage years.
When he was 16, his family was arrested in Paris during World War II because his father worked as a tailor at a time when Jews were not allowed to have businesses. He never saw his mother again; his father died in a concentration camp. Jeifa went into hiding in the Alps.
"It was the day that destroyed my life," said Jeifa, 82, a retired insurance company officer from Boyton Beach.
Jeifa will recount the day as part of Witness Theater, a performance of local survivors' stories Sunday and Monday at the Kay Auditorium west of Boca Raton. As Jeifa and 11 other survivors describe their experiences, high school students will act them out.
About eight years ago, students and survivors in Israel created a similar performing partnership, designed to help the survivors heal as they educate the public with their testimonies. The local Witness Theater performance is the first of its kind in the United States. It's sponsored by the Jewish Education Commission, a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County.
"The emphasis is on the kids as much as the survivors," said Caren Neile, director of the South Florida Storytelling Project and the theater's team leader. "There is nothing like getting to know a survivor who was actually there."
The students have met with the survivors weekly since October and got to know them as they honed their performing skills.
"I used to plug my ears in Hebrew school when the teachers would mention the Holocaust," said Katie Mogell, 17, a student participant. "This experience has been an emotional roller coaster. In every class, someone was in tears. All the survivors touched my heart; I love and care for them so much."
Witness Theater came to Boca Raton through philanthropist Rani Garfinkle, who saw a video of the Israeli version at a gathering of the Joint Distribution Committee, which raises money for Jews around the world.
Garfinkle hopes the performance benefits not only the audience but also the participants.
"It's therapeutic for the survivors and instructive for the youngsters," she said. "When you sit on a stage with survivors and get to know them, there's an immediacy that you don't get by watching a movie."