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Friday, June 29, 2012

Youth Writing Contest Profile: Josh Gale and his teacher, Robin Stanton

Last week, we posted the reflections and photos of this year's upper division contest winner Leah LeVine and her teacher Jaclyn Guzman (which you can read here). This week, we feature second place winner Josh Gale and his English teacher, Robin Stanton of Solomon Schechter High School in Glen Cove, NY.

From the outset, Josh had a solid idea of what he wanted to write about: Solomon Schechter’s annual trip to Poland – an opportunity for upper-class students to immerse themselves in the history of the Holocaust by visiting museums and monuments such as Auschwitz and the Warsaw ghetto – provided him with the visceral and emotional experience he would use a year later to craft his winning essay.

“Entering JPEF's Youth Writing Contest was very important to me. After having visited Poland last year, I knew that I could use my experience to write an inspirational essay about the female partisans. The essay I wrote has inspired me to use what I know about the Holocaust and partisans to teach people about creating a better tomorrow.”

His teacher Robin is no stranger to JPEF’s Youth Writing Contest – her class at Solomon Schechter produced two upper-division winners in 2010, and has participated every year since. Thanks again to Josh, Robin, and Solomon Schechter High School for participating, and we look forward to reading next year’s student essays!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Youth Writing Contest Profile: Leah LeVine and her teacher, Jaclyn Guzman

This year, hundreds of students from around the world entered our 3rd annual Youth Writing Contest , competing for the honor and a chance to win a Kindle Fire. Starting this week, we will post the reflections (and, if available, photographs) of this year's contest winners. Here, we feature first place Upper Division winner Leah LeVine and her history teacher, Jaclyn Guzman of Kehillah High School in Palo Alto, CA.

Echoing Sonia Orbuch’s memorable statement about dying as a fighter and not as a Jew in the opening of her winning essay, Leah was inspired by “the ideal that one should be willing to fight for one's identity rather than suffer persecution because of it.” She stated “I will embrace this philosophy as I continue my growth as a Jewish woman.” Leah’s essay touched on subjects of gender identity, power of will, and the importance of taking action rather than embracing passivity and apathy.

For Jaclyn Guzman, this was the second year that she encouraged student involvement in the contest and motivated a winning essayist. Last year, Jaclyn taught first-place winner EJ Weiss – another student inspired by Sonia Orbuch’s story. Perhaps her insistence upon a compound, nuanced understanding of history and the importance of personal narratives influenced her her students’ success:

At Kehillah Jewish High School our philosophy is to approach history as a series of woven perspectives. No singular person has the “correct” view of history and everybody has a unique perspective on every situation. Who we are as individuals impacts how we view the world and how we will remember the major events in our past. I encourage our students to participate in the Youth Writing Contest in order to explore the various perspectives and experiences of the Holocaust. The majority of their education of the Holocaust has been the camp experience and the Jewish Partisan Education Foundation has wonderful resources that enable my students to look at the various acts of bravery Jews exhibited during the most horrific time period. Each year the contest provides a different angle to approach the same history: through the lens of a youth, a woman, etc. This pattern is a perfect fit for our curriculum that is geared toward hearing as many voices as possible in evaluating our collective past.

Thanks again to Jaclyn, Leah, and Kehillah High School for participating in the contest, and we look forward to reading their inspiring essays again next year!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Partisans In The Arts: Marcel Marceau (1923-2007)

“It’s good to shut up sometimes.”

— Marcel Marceau

Marcel Marceau, a French-born performance artist, championed the art of pantomime for his generation. Before his prominence as a mime, however, Marceau took part in the French resistance during World War II. He used his talents to help Jewish children escape German-occupied France and his art to provide moments of humor.

Born Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg on March 12, 1923, Marceau’s interest in performing pantomime had early roots: as a boy he enjoyed imitating gestures and behaviors. In March 1944, Marceau’s father was deported to Auschwitz, but a teenaged Marcel and his elder brother, Alain, were able to evade capture. Together they adopted the last name Marceau, in reference to a French Revolutionary general, and decided to help the French Resistance. Marcel used his drawing skills to forge identity cards for Jewish children and the brothers Marceau, dressed as boy scouts, led many to the Swiss frontier.

During this time, Marcel began mime acting in order to keep children quiet while they escaped. Later, his talent with body language and illusion came in handy: Marceau claimed that while fighting with the French Resistance he accidentally ran into a unit of German soldiers and, startled, he imitated an advance guard of a much larger French force, successfully persuading the German soldiers to surrender. At the end of the occupation, Marcel used his art to entertain Jewish children who were living under false names in La Maison de Sevres near Paris.

One of Marceau’s performances was seen by a theatrical historian who persuaded him to enroll in the drama school of Charles Dullin and study with √Čtienne Decroux. As a mime artist, Marceau was acknowledged without peer. His original exercises all became classics: e.g., The Cage and Walking Against the Wind. His oft-used onstage persona, Bip the Clown, became as intertwined with Marceau’s name as The Little Tramp is with Charlie Chaplin’s. Marceau toured all over the world, won countless awards, became a favorite of Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin, and appeared in films like Barbarella and Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie. In 1999, New York City even declared March 18 to be “Marcel Marceau Day”.

For Marceau, however, his name’s synonymy with pantomime was bittersweet, as he feared that l’art du silence would be buried along with him. Truthfully, enthusiasm for pantomime has long since lost momentum, although Marceau’s talent went on to inspire many popular performing artists, including Rowan Atkinson and Michael Jackson whose moonwalk was based on Marceau’s “Walking Against the Wind”. Marcel Marceau’s inimitable talent was his ability to express the human condition through his art; and he explains the implication of such a performance: “As we go on in life, torn between light and shadow, encountering injustice, violence, misery, we still have one weapon against despair – to make people laugh through their tears.”