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Jewish Journal

“Anne Frank” for Teens

by Orit Arfa

August 5, 1999 | 8:00 pm

Contemporary Holocaust literature for young adults seems to favor a theme: transport unaware teenagers to German-occupied Europe and, together with the characters, the readers will emerge as more sensitive, aware young adults.

The book, and recent Showtime drama, The Devil's Arithmetic, takes Hannah, a Jewish teenager apathetic to Judaism, on a journey through a ghetto and concentration camp. "Anne Frank and Me," a contemporary one-act play performed this past week by participants of the Teenage Drama Workshop at Cal State Northridge (CSUN), follows the protagonist, Nicole, through a similar experience.

Unlike Hannah, however, Nicole is not a spoiled Jewish teen. Her non-Jewish parents are Holocaust deniers, and they attempt to teach their daughter that the Holocaust was a lie. Before she can fully accept their theory, Nicole is knocked unconscious in a car accident and wakes up as a Jew in war-torn Europe. By trying to make sense of her surroundings, and eventually meeting Anne Frank, Nicole comes to recognize the horrific truths of the Holocaust and gains an appreciation of the Jewish people.

Written by Cherie Bennett for teen-age actors of all faiths, "Anne Frank and Me" is an effective educational tool against Holocaust denial because it targets two audiences: young viewers and actors themselves.

"I thought is was a terrific play, first and foremost, and an important play for our community, given the strong Jewish presence here, and the fact that we are experiencing more hate crimes," said Doug Kaback, Executive Director of the full-time Teenage Drama Workshop, now in its 42nd year. "Anne Frank and Me" was one of the three productions put on by the young workshop crews.

In addition to rehearsing -- a lesson in both drama and Jewish history in itself -- the acting crew visited the Museum of Tolerance. For many of them, the experience boosted awareness and knowledge they had already begun to cultivate.

Fifteen year-old Stephanie Blaze, the Christian-Catholic who played the lead, is nothing like pre-transformation Nicole. She keeps clear of racist company. "I have no friends like that," she said. "I don't know if I'd want to have any friends like that."

Thirteen year-old Rachel Garcia, a Mexican American, was enamored with Anne Frank even before she heard of the play. Since playing the part of her newfound role model, she recommends "The Diary of Anne Frank" to her friends.

"To me she was a hero," she enthused.

Over 50 percent of the young actors happen to be Jews of various backgrounds. For them, the play reinforced their Jewish identity and taught them more facts about the war.

"It made me a little more proud of my Jewish heritage," said 14 year-old Jesse Reiss, who admits to being "not very Jewish."

The play moves adults as well. After a successful performance, Director Irene Silbert could be found with tears in her eyes. A child of a survivor, directing and watching the play has aroused heartfelt emotions, a sign that the actors played and understood their roles with maturity and grace.

"I feel we have an obligation to make sure the truth is always known," she said. "Especially when there are so many deniers out there."

For more information on the Teenage Drama Workshop at CSUN call (818) 677-3086.

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