Innovative Intergenerational Program
Witness Theater is an innovative intergenerational program bringing together Holocaust survivors and high school students to elicit, expose, and memorialize the moving stories of survival. Through the lens of the survivors’ stories group members explore issues of war, loss, and trauma, while at the same time forming deep and meaningful relationships that dissolve the barriers between generations.
ABOUT WITNESS THEATER
Students and survivors meet weekly over the course of the academic year with a trained drama therapist. The project culminates in a staged production shared with the public: the students portray the personal experiences of the group’s survivors, while the survivors narrate their own stories. The program offers Holocaust survivors a therapeutic process designed to help them reflect on their past, and at the same time to pass on their personal histories and instill the memory of the Holocaust in the next generation. The free public performances serve as a vehicle for the survivors’ testimonies to be heard by many and to witness the special connections made between the generations.
In the last nine years, Selfhelp’s Witness Theater participants created 68 performances in 27 programs at eight distinct sites. During COVID-19, we have also organized two virtual seasons which resulted in six videotaped and live-stream performances in 2020 and 2021. In total, 316 students and 178 Holocaust survivors have performed Witness Theater in front of 43,000 audience members over the nine years.
OUR RECENT PERFORMANCES
Witness Theater: In Their Eyes is the culmination of a heartfelt collaboration between two generations. For months this dedicated group of high school students and Holocaust survivors met, shared stories and built beautiful relationships together. Their final performance honors and shares the stories of survival, celebrates these extraordinary individuals, and highlights the beauty of human connection.
Witness Theater: Sewn with Strength is the culmination of a heartfelt collaboration between two generations. For months, this dedicated group of five Holocaust survivors and nine students from across New York City met virtually, shared stories, and built relationships. Their final video honors and shares the survivors’ stories, celebrates these extraordinary individuals, and highlights the life-changing lessons they have imparted to the students.
Witness Theater was conceived by Irit and Ezra Dagan and developed by JDC-Eshel in Israel. It was brought to New York in 2012 by Selfhelp Community Services, Inc. This year’s Witness Theater Program is a collaboration of Selfhelp, UJA-Federation of New York, and Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School.
WITNESS THEATER: THE FILM
Witness Theater: The Film and Study Guide are powerful tools aimed at teaching the lessons of intolerance and bigotry to middle and high school students.
Take a look behind the scenes into Witness Theater’s year-long therapeutic journey. You will see stories of loss, struggle and lives rebuilt and the healing power of inter-generational relationships. This moving documentary, currently shown at film festivals across the country, is about the power of connection, friendship, and love between generations. It is also about healing, to the extent possible, in the context of the most brutal genocide in human history. Learn more about Witness Theater: The Film at www.witnesstheaterthefilm.com.
Witness Theater: The Film is based upon Selfhelp’s Witness Theater program. Filmmaker Oren Rudavsky, distributor Menemsha Films, and a number of individual and organizational supporters including UJA-Federation of NY, have joined in this feature length documentary that serves as a behind the scenes look at a nearly yearlong relationship between students and survivors.
Witness Theater: The Film is distributed by Menemsha Films.
Email Menemsha Films to schedule a screening of the documentary for your community.
HELP EDUCATE FUTURE GENERATIONS
Selfhelp is dedicated to remembering the Holocaust and raising awareness of the survivor population still in need today. Through creative educational initiatives, we’re ensuring that the memory of the Holocaust will not be forgotten by generations to come. Help us educate future generations about the Holocaust.