A bridge to the past

Young performing arts students come to terms with the Holocaust through music and drama.

holocaust 88 (photo credit: )
holocaust 88
(photo credit: )
"I always felt close to the theme of the Holocaust," admits Tom Froimovitz, 17, one of the musicians who participated in an unusual Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at The Lab (Hama'abada) in Talpiot. In "Muzika - Teens relate to Holocaust Poems," now in its fourth year, performing arts students from several Jerusalem high schools offered their own musical interpretation of texts written during the Holocaust. In his original text, Avraham, 14, describes "thousands and thousand of thousands of people walking slowly, carrying their packages - just like the exodus from Egypt." Another child writes about his loneliness in the camps: "Our eyes follow the black smoke. Only a few of us children were left here with no mother, no father or uncle - up in the sky songs are hung with joyful birds and we have only these barbs and wires, how can we fly away to this other country?" In between the musical pieces drama students acted out scenes from the book A Family Used to Live Here, by Lizi Doron. The evening, a remarkable staging of young talent, was so entertaining that I was gripped by guilt for enjoying myself on such a somber day. The show is the culmination of an extended educational-artistic project by the students at Yad Vashem's Training Department. The program aims to bring young people closer to the difficult and sensitive theme of the Holocaust through music and drama. "We searched for creative ways to cope with the subject and eventually found a way to convey it in a language they love and understand - music," explains Inbal Kwity-Ben Dov, director of the Training Department. "These young musicians get the opportunity to compose [music to] texts that had never been set to music before." "I chose a poem by Haim Nahman Bialik - first, because it was a great challenge and second, because I wanted the text to be staggering, dealing with the 'real thing' and not revolving around birds and flowers," explains Froimovitz. "'Al Hashehita' [On the Slaughter] was written by Bialik years before the Holocaust but it depicts a similar reality of Jews being murdered in vain. I thought it was appropriate to emphasize the fact that Jews were murdered years before the Holocaust took place," adds the student from Ma'aleh Adumim. Froimovitz, who usually plays rock music, chose melodic tunes for this particular song. "Usually my music 'rocks the house,' but this time I aimed to move people and touch their hearts. It was my first real performance on stage but it felt rather intimate because the audience was sitting only a few meters away from us. Meeting other musicians my age was great and since we could exchange ideas and learn from each other, it was also a very productive experience. "Unlike other people my age I easily relate to the subject of the Holocaust and even enjoy the 'formal' ceremonies," he says with a spark in his eye. "They usually consist of the most beautiful texts and music." Eliezer Simon, 18, from the Urban Kibbutz in Jerusalem, is the oldest and most experienced musician in the project. Simon, who plays mandolin and guitar, also performed a text written by one of the greatest Hebrew poets, Alexander Penn. "It was one of the first texts I read and immediately I connected to it and heard the music in my head," he recalls. The poem is a dialogue between verses from Shir Hashirim [the Song of Songs], allegedly composed by King Solomon, and the voice of a Holocaust survivor: 'I am the Lily of the Sharon (Oh mother, mother, my eyes remember it all!) The Rose of the valleys (Oh mother, my life weeps without making a sound!).' "I was overcome by the contrasts in this piece - the beautiful rhymes of King Solomon are echoed by the cries depicting the horrors of the Holocaust." Simon composed music for the poem himself and then gathered five musicians - keyboard, drums, and two vocalists - to perform with him as he plays guitar. The song is performed as a duet between the two singers - one male and one female, and like the two voices in the poem they contrast with each other. While the biblical verse is rhythmic with motifs of gypsy music, the cries of the Holocaust survivor are more melodic. "I was approached by Eitan Ben-Haim, the musical manager and producer of the evening, who had apparently heard of me and knew I was a rather experienced musician," Simon explains. "At first I was intimidated by the subject but I was eventually glad to take part in a project that gives us, representatives of the third generation, the opportunity to express our feelings. At the end of the day, art should be renewed, otherwise it is worn out and these songs that are sung in formal Holocaust ceremonies constantly repeat themselves." Simon says that in his school, Reut, there is an emphasis on the subject of the Holocaust. "We learn more about it than in other schools. Of course every year the school sends students' delegations to Poland but I always refused to go," he insists. "I feel that instead of teaching us the universal and humanistic values of the Holocaust, many students get the message of patriotism and hating the other. This way of relating to the Holocaust through art suits me much better. I guess I would never have known about this poem if I hadn't participated in the project." The audience - young people, fellow students, the performers' families and representatives of Yad Vashem - were clearly moved by the performances. No one could remain indifferent to this professional display of talent. Not only did these young artists build a bridge to the past, they succeeded in taking us with them.