One group of eighth graders unwrapped toy guns. Another group dashed around the stage trying to hit their mark. The auditorium at Paramus High School buzzed with activity on Tuesday as Yavneh’s eighth-graders rehearsed their play, "Run East A Story of Flight and Survival."
Since 1978, Yavneh’s eighth-grade class has performed a Holocaust-related play to supplement their studies about the Shoah each year. This year’s play written by a handful of students and based on the book of the same name took place on Thursday at the high school.
All 9′ students in the eighth grade participated in the play, whether as main characters or in crowd scenes. Seventy-two had speaking roles.
Would-be student writers read the book and presented reports earlier in the year summarizing the story and highlighting the psychological and emotional tensions of the characters. Two teachers and two administrators then selected 1′ students to write the script.
"They are personalizing the story of the Holocaust by acting out the play," said Rabbi Shmuel Burstein, Holocaust studies coordinator at Yavneh. "They actually enter the roles of the people that they are portraying on stage."
The book is the true story of Jack Pomerantz, a Polish Jew who escaped from a concentration camp and, with ‘00,000 others, ran eastward toward the Soviet Union. He ran through Russian-occupied Poland, Ukraine, central Asia, and Siberia. The book describes the details of his travels, the people he met along the way, and what happened when he returned home.
"It’s almost chilling to see what his journey of survival actually was," said Ariel Futter, a Yavneh student and one of the play’s writers.
Lauren Blachorsky and Nova Frankel, who play, respectively, a Polish refugee and one of the Jews the main character meets in his journey, said they were affected by the way Jews banded together and risked their lives to help other Jews.
That Jewish "self-help," as Burstein called it, was one of the factors in choosing the book this year.
"The full weight of what they’re doing dawns upon them, and they realize they need to step into their roles," Burstein said with pride during the students’ rehearsal.