Solon High School senior Alexis Gross, portraying Gita Frankel, and Orange High School freshman Noam Paz, playing her brother who died in her arms.

CJN Photos | Bob Jacob

Thirteen student actors re-enacted five Holocaust survivors’ stories in 60 minutes as Testimony Theater brought to life the horrors of the Holocaust April 16 at Cleveland Heights High School in Cleveland Heights.

The young actors shared the courageous stories of Cleveland-area survivors: Erika Gold, also a Heights High graduate; Gita Frankel; Nina Frankel; the late Shaul Gorodinski; and Emil Schwimmer.

The location – the spacious, newly renovated theater at Heights High – was significant because of the history the school has educating youth about the Holocaust. Leatrice Rabinsky, who was unable to attend, was a pioneer in Holocaust education in schools in the mid-1970s. In 1975, she organized the first Journey of Conscience trip, taking students to concentration camps in Poland and then to Israel.

“This school and its forward-thinking educators, Dr. Leatrice Rabinsky and Sol Factor, really created the field of Holocaust education as the world slowly came to grips with the reality of what happened during World War II,” said Muriel Weber, president of Kol Israel Foundation, during a pre-show event for partner organizations. “Educators Adrienne Yelsky and Mark Sack continued in her footsteps with groundbreaking educational experiences to teach their students this important history.” 

Among the 275 attendees were students and staff from Archbishop McNicholas High School in Cincinnati, who are learning about the Holocaust in a partnership with Heights High. The partnership was formed after Sack, a social studies teacher, took students to the Holocaust & Humanity Center and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, both in Cincinnati. The students also performed two community service projects: making blankets for a homeless shelter in Cincinnati, and writing notes and preparing plants as gifts for residents of Menorah Park in Beachwood.

“These students, these young people, are seeing and experiencing the common humanity in all of us and they’re actually working together to expand their universe of responsibility by finding ways to break down barriers and help others,” said Sack, who has taught at Heights High for 29 years and teaches Lessons of the Holocaust classes. 

Testimony Theater is an @Akiva Cleveland high school program in its second year in which local youth retell Holocaust survivors’ stories based on interviews under the direction of Sheri Gross, who is director of creative programs at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike.

Kol Israel vice president Avi Goldman also reflected on Rabinsky and the  Cleveland area’s legacy of Holocaust education.

 “One of the people who really got the Yom Hashoah commemoration going here in town is Dr. Leatrice Rabinsky,” he said. “And if you have never been to a Yom Hashoah commemoration like we have in Cleveland, I urge you to come next year because there isn’t a community in the world that does what we do here in Cleveland. I’m not talking about Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. What we do in Cleveland is unique.”

Goldman then read a message from Rabinsky: “I love you all. I miss you and thank you for continuing the legacy that we started with Holocaust education.”

Sack, who helped to coordinate the night’s program, closed with a message: “Our universe of responsibility needs to extend beyond our own personal and immediate interests. The message here at Heights High has always been and continues to be what each of us does every day matters.”  

The Cleveland Jewish News was a media partner of the event.

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