This story weaves present day observations with the true accounts of Peter’s grandmother, a Dutch Jew, and the incredible journeys she went through during the time of Nazi occupied Holland during World War II. As Peter takes a bike ride along Chicago’s lakefront, observing the ease and comfort of modern day life, he remembers his grandmother’s stories of the dangers of riding a bicycle across rural Holland to secure food for her husband and children. The contrasts of modern living are highlighted against the fears of appearing in public as a Jew during the war. (more…)
Feathers in the Wind: A Jewish American’s Story invites students and teachers of all religious and cultural backgrounds to reflect on their own lives and to explore the impact of gossip and hurtful words.
This lesson plan “unpacks” stories told by Susan Stone, a professional storyteller. This story and lesson plan can be used in one or two sessions.
“…Your words are like feathers in the wind.
Once they’re gone you can’t get them back and you don’t know where they’ve gone to.”
Feathers in the Wind: A Jewish American’s Story invites students and teachers of all religious and cultural backgrounds to reflect on their own lives and to explore the impact of gossip and hurtful words. This lesson plan “unpacks” stories told by Susan Stone, a professional storyteller. This story and lesson plan can be used in one or two sessions.
This unit provides some ways to engage diverse students with traditional folk tales and contemporary stories.
Through personal reflection, peer discussion, and the development of collective strategies for making a difference, the exercises included here explore our use of language and encourage us to stand up for our beliefs.
The unit seeks to promote a culture of empathy and compassion for the differences and similarities among us.
Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts? Click here for directions.
About Storyteller Susan Stone
Susan Stone has been sharing her tales for over twenty years for children and adults all over the USA. She teaches storytelling to teachers at National-Louis University, IL, and has been honored with many awards for her CDs of Jewish stories for children. She loves telling stories from many cultures, but especially loves sharing stories from the Jewish tradition. Susan believes that hearing each other’s stories enables us to nurture compassion for others, and perhaps heal ourselves as well.
Carol’s father is told he is not permitted to run on his college track team at the University of Pennsylvania. Two Jewish runners in the 1936 Berlin Olympics are not permitted to participate in the 400 relays. All three are Jewish and all three have the same coach. (more…)
Nancy tells an excerpt from “A Window of Beauty,” a story inspired by the experiences of a young girl, her remarkable teacher and their secret art classes in the Terezin Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia during World War II. It is a tale of courage, friendship and the power of artistic expression to sustain hope and light the way during the darkest of times. (more…)
A Yiddish King Lear is about hard choices, hopes, dreams, racial persecution, and love! It tells of the moment Judith realized that her grandfather, Oscar Markowitz, an actor in the Yiddish Theatre at the turn of the 20th Century was her role model as a Storyteller. Remembering her grandfather’s background, gave her the courage to pursue her dreams. A Yiddish King Lear is set in the emotional, artistic and actual geographic crossroad of Second Avenue in New York City in the early 1900’s and in the 1970’s. (more…)
Solly Ganor, a Lithuanian Jew, was a boy when Germany invaded his country in1940. He was eventually sent to Dachau and was rescued by members of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, the all-Japanese American unit. Fifty years later he once again meets the man who saved him. (more…)
Lisa Derman, the late president of the Illinois Holocaust Memorial Foundation and Holocaust Survivor, died at the Illinois Storytelling Festival (July 2002) while telling her story of survival of the Nazi atrocities in Poland when she was a young girl (http://bit.ly/LisaDerman). She had told this story thousands of times to schoolchildren and other groups all over the country and abroad.
Her words to the audience that day, “I might not be here much longer but the story must continue on to the next generation; the time will come that you will have to answer the call, and stand up to do the right thing” were uttered moments before her sudden fatal heart attack. Lisa died in mid-story, telling the story that had defined her contributions to the fight against anti-Semitism, as well as against genocide the world over.
Trail Guide For A Crooked Heart by Jim May (pp. 42-44 and 84-90)
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood Lessons
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking a Stand and Peacemaking
For 20 years, I was artistic director of the Illinois Storytelling Festival, which is now in its 25th year. We started in 1984 and very soon in our history, we became committed to the idea that we needed to have elders telling their life stories. Not professional story tellers, just people who had lived interesting lives and had something to say. Civilian story tellers, I always called them.
So that started with some of my uncles and aunts who lived in Spring Grove and then we expanded over the years, and we included anyone we could find with an interesting story and, so, some of our most notable years were when we featured some of the original Tuskegee Airmen who came and told us the stories of their experiences in World War II.
And in 2002 we had invited Holocaust survivors and camp liberators to come and tell in what we called our elders concert or our traditions tent with the idea that almost every family has some kind of storytelling tradition, almost anyone who has walked on this earth has some body of stories that they tell about their life’s experience.
So, it was Sunday afternoon, and Lisa Derman was our storyteller, a Holocaust survivor. She had escaped Poland in her teens, was a resistance fighter during World War II, and she and her husband Aaron had come that warm July day. Lisa had been very active; in fact, she is one of the key people who had lobbied the state legislature in Springfield. I believe Illinois was the first state to require Holocaust Studies, at all middle school and high school levels.
So, a real celebrity, a real power house. She had told the story thousands of times and she told it to us that day. Things started out on a great note; we had a piece of music that Jim Pfitzer a pianist played on a portable piano off stage that was music composed in the ghettos, lyrics and music composed in the ghettos during World War II. It had been translated by Bresnick Perry, another storyteller who was there that same day. There was a real sense of love, all things coming together that day.
And Lisa told her story. In a village in Poland where she and her family lived that was occupied first by German soldiers and then they noticed that a new group of soldiers came with different uniforms and that was the SS, or the equivalent of the SS; I’m not completely sure.
And then the extermination began. And she and her sisters escaped the first wave of it. She talked of running through the woods and hearing the shots and not being sure what they were, and then coming upon a scene in a clearing where 10,000 villagers were machine gunned in seven hours, she said. Her mother, and I believe one of her brothers, were among the group who died that day.
But she and her sister escaped because, while many turned them away, there was a particular Christian woman when her and her sister came to the door of the Christian part of village, she opened the door and said, “You don’t need to tell me why you are here; I know why you are here. God has sent you to the right place.” And she hid them in the spring works under the hide-a-bed.
And that’s how Lisa and her sister survived that first encounter, and at that point she looked at us and she said out to the audience: “There will be a time when all of you will have to stand up and do what is right. The call will come. And you must care and stand up and do what’s right. I may not be here much longer,” she said, “but my story must go on.”
Well moments after that, when she was literally describing her escape and she was, Aaron her husband who was sitting next to her that day in Spring Grove at our storytelling festival, he was just a teenager, that day that they escaped from Poland, that day Aaron was on top of the train car, and Lisa was waiting to catch the next train. Aaron had gotten up on the train, and other people who were helping them escape, there was a Gentile who had organized this.
Lisa said, “I was waiting there, the trains were coming, and I knew, I looked, and I could see the last train, the last car, was coming. I was the last one to grab on to the car. Aaron and others were up on the top, and I had to make a decision that I had to grab one of these, but there was no ladder. But I jumped on that side of the car anyway.”
So she was holding on, apparently to the door latch, and she said, “I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I might die.” But she kind of smiled when she remembered. She smiled, “When I heard footsteps, they were coming back for me” or words to that effect, and then she just sort of stopped and put her hand on her chest, looked and Aaron and said, “I hope I’m not having a heart attack,” and then she just nodded her head, and it was over.
It was that sudden and that peaceful. And then we had a fire man, a paramedic, chief of the fire department of Spring Grove in front row and they started CPR and they had a defibrillator there, but the doctor said that she had a massive heart attack right at that moment.
Then after the ambulance left, there were prayers in Hebrew and in English and American sign language, and that spot is a sacred spot to anybody who was there that day. And so the continuation of that story is that the Illinois Storytelling Association, we’re working to raise money to put a bronze with Lisa’s story in that spot.
We have already secured a donation from a nursery for a Burr Oak. We planted it a year later. Not only is planting a tree a Jewish custom, but the Burr Oak tree is what survived the Illinois fires. So the Burr Oak is the survivor of the great fires that used to cross the great plains in the Midwest for centuries and destroy most everything but helped the Burr Oak survive and establish all kinds of beautiful native flowers.
So it is this beauty created after the survival, and we thought that would be appropriate tribute for Lisa. So that’s the story. We are hoping we’ll continue that, that when people come to see that bronze, hear Lisa’s story, they will think about her last words which truly were: the time will come for all of you to care, to answer the call, and to stand up. And when we hear a story like that—and there are thousands—to me there is no more powerful way to move people to action, to move people toward justice and peace.
Is it possible to be emotionally neutral when your family has been hurt by someone else? How do we channel rage in productive ways?
What did Syd discover in himself that surprised him?
What did Syd mean that there were “no victors” during this demonstration? Do you think Syd wishes he had made other choices that day? If Syd could do the day over, what would you advise Syd to do or not do?
When the Nazis said they were going to speak at Evanston at Lovelace Park, at first I didn’t think much about it. They said they were going to march in Skokie a few years earlier and it turned out to be a publicity stunt. But as the time went on and it seemed like it was actually going to happen, I got more and more upset. I mean, being a Jew had never been a problem for me. I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. There were synagogues, delicatessens…on High Holiday, school was empty. Everybody was out. And when I went to college, I went to Harvard, a liberal community. Now there was some anti-Semitism there. There were some final clubs that I couldn’t join but they had a lot of Jews. And when my wife and I decided to settle down, we picked Evanston – a large Jewish population, a large black population.
And so being a Jew who had never been a problem.
And now the Nazis were going to invade my territory. Our Rabbi said, “Don’t go there. We’re gonna have a counter demonstration at the lake. Don’t give them the honor of a crowd.” But I had to go. I didn’t want the Nazis to say, a mile from my house, you can kill Jews! Now, I didn’t know what I was gonna do. I’m not a violent man. I thought, “Well, I could yell; maybe we’d just drown them out so we can’t hear them.”
Now when I got there, you got a 60’s feel first. I mean, some people were singing, some people were doing horas. There were groups all over. Jewish groups; Never Again. Black groups; the Nazis hated blacks too. Women’s groups; equality is genderless. Ecology groups; save the whales. Everybody marching around with signs. And a guy walking through the crowd, probably more, there were probably a lot of guys walking through the crowd saying, “Ok. No violence. No violence. You know what we’re going to do. We’re gonna yell. When they speak, we’ll drown them out but remember no violence.” And he walked by me and there was a big guy standing there and he looked at me and he said, “No violence? Did they say that at Warsaw? Did they say that in Jerusalem? You know what I’m gonna do? As soon as a Nazi begins talking, I’m gonna rush down there and I’m gonna choke him to death.” And then he walked away. And then I thought, “There are crazies in every crowd.”
Now as the day went on, it got more and more serious. More and more police came. Their cars lined the park. There was a police helicopter in the air. And I saw what was going to happen. There was a maintenance building at the edge of the park. And I could see that the Nazis could park by it and take up a space in front of it and the maintenance building will cover their back. And there was like this concrete opening in front of it. And I figured the police would stand there to protect the Nazis. So we got the police, the Nazis and the building. Now when the riot police came, that’s when it got really serious for me. They came off a bus and they looked like gladiators. They were wearing helmets and they had shields and clubs. Then, sure enough, they took up that space in front of the maintenance building. They had five rows of ten. I was standing right next to a yellow rope they had used to cordon off the area. And next to me was this little man and he was talking to himself and he was muttering and finally he looked at me. And he said, “Look, look, I was in the camps in Germany. They could do whatever they wanted. They were in power. But here… here we’re gonna protect them?” His wife said, “This America. Everybody gets to say what they want.” He says, “I can’t believe. I can’t believe it.”
Now all of sudden, somebody yelled, “They’re coming!” And a chat began, “Nazis no, Nazis no, Nazis no!” And I looked up and you know what I saw? I saw a junker. A junker. Its fender was dented, its bumper was tied up with a rope, it was burning oil. And I thought, “This what we’re so excited about? Five guys in a junker?” And then they stepped out. It was like electricity went through the crowd. They were wearing Nazi uniforms. Two were in SS uniforms. And the chat changed, “Kill the Nazis! Kill the Nazis! Kill the Nazis!” And they did something that… I don’t know… it was like I had seen it before. They just stood there in a circle ignoring us. Smoking cigarettes and talking. And then finally they formed a line and one stepped out with a blowhorn and he began to speak. Now the crowd got louder and louder but you could still hear that blowhorn over all of our yelling. Rocks began to fly through the air. That man with the blowhorn stepped back and everyone cheered. And then he stepped up again. He began to speak again, and again we were screaming so loud and yet you could still hear him. It was as if he was gaining strength from all the hatred around him. And then a brick flew through the air and hit a policeman, knocked him down. And the chant changed to, “Kill the pigs, kill the pigs, kill the pigs!”
And then, on my left, I saw a guy get under the rope and start to run to the Nazis. It was that guy! He got through the first two lines. I think they were surprised that he would actually do it. And they clubbed him to the ground when he reached the third line. And then a second man went under the rope and he was clubbed down. And then a third and then a fourth and both those were clubbed down. And then the little man on my right yelled, “Never again!” and he was under the yellow rope. And his wife, she dove at him, she grabbed his leg. He was dragging her along the ground. She was wearing a wig, you know, that was now coming off. She was yelling, “Stop ’em! Stop ’em! They’re gonna kill ’em! They’re gonna kill ’em!” And I was under the rope… And it wasn’t to save that old man… I wanted to kill the Nazis. I wanted to take that blowhorn and shove it down the Nazi’s throat… Well, thank God, by the time I reached the police, they knew they had a potential riot on their hands. And so they had already bundled the Nazis into their car. And when I hit that first line, the policeman gave me a bear hug. And he yelled, “Ok. It’s over. It’s over. Calm down. It’s over. They’re leaving.” And I looked up and sure enough, they were driving away. And then in minutes, the crowd left.
They would write this up as a victory. We had stopped the Nazis from speaking. But there was no victor on that field. I knew that, as I stood there shaking from adrenaline in me and feeling the rage, that only victor on this field was hate. I looked over and the men who’d been clubbed to the ground were leaning against the maintenance building field. An ambulance had arrived bathing the park with those blue and red lights. The old man, he was still sitting on the ground. His wife was smoothing his head. She kept saying, “It’s ok, it’s ok. It’s over. It’s over. It’s ok.” But he didn’t answer her. He just sat there staring off into space.
In this story a Jewish girl and her friend sneak away from the forced walk of the Nazis toward… they don’t really know. They hide in a haystack and a farmer helps them until the drums toll. In the face of this innocence, what motivates the Nazi soldier? What compels the farmer to help? What does this story say about the capacity of human beings for good and evil? (more…)
Gerry Fierst is someone who would describe himself as “spiritual”, but he also says: “I also love the ritual of religion which connects us to all who have gone before and all who will come long after we are gone.” Especially as Gerry got older, he realized der pintele yid lived inside of him as he could hear the words of his ancestors and pass the tradition of the blowing of the shofar on to his children. (more…)
Growing up in New York City, Gerry never understood that Jews were such a small percentage of the world’s population. In his neighborhood, one could go for blocks and blocks and never meet anyone who wasn’t Jewish. But when Gerry went to visit cousins who had retired to Albuquerque, he discovered that “we all look alike when we are the other.” (more…)
Growing up in his New York City Jewish neighborhood was a world of homogeneity for Gerry. But an occasional intrusion of “alien nuns” could be truly scary to a young child unfamiliar with other religions.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Nuns
Have you ever reacted with the same kind of fear that Gerry and his friends had when they saw nuns? What could the adults have done to help the children understand who the nuns were?
What allows someone to react with curiosity rather than fear to someone or something that is different?
Does every group have prejudices and biases? Does being discriminated or misunderstood yourself lead to your being more open-minded about others?
Catholic and Jews in Twentieth-Century America by Egal Feldman
Stereotypes and Discrimination
History leaves us all with prejudices. For 2000 years, the Jews have been chased from country to country. They’ve always been the “other.”
“Well, my family, they fled Russia about a hundred years ago. The Czar of Russia had encouraged his subjects and his soldiers to kill Jews. One day, the Cossacks, the Czar’s horsemen, were riding into my little village the Zubkova.
My cousin heard the horse’s hooves in the street, and she ran out to get the children inside. But she wasn’t quick enough. There was the Cossack, sword drawn, coming down the street. She threw herself on the baby, and the sharp blade came down, right across her back.
And that night, my grandmother said, “Enough! We’re going to America!”
And so, we came to America, where we could be safe, where we could live with other Jews. But memories like that, they don’t go away. They’re in our culture. They’re inside our genes.
One day, when I was about five years old, I was sitting on the steps. My sister and my cousin were with me. We were playing, when suddenly I saw them. I’d never seen anything like that before, but I, I knew that they were dangerous. I knew it, in my DNA.
They were big, and they were black. And they seemed to be flying down the street, with big white wings that came out of their head. My sister, my cousin, they saw the look on my face. And then they looked, and then we three were all frozen in fear, as the monsters came, closer and closer.
“Where they going to kidnap us? Or maybe even worse?”
They reached us. They started to reach out their hands towards us.
“Good morning, children.”
Aah, aah, aah, aah, aah! And we ran inside. Escaping from the nuns.
Featuring Arif Choudhury, Gerald Fierst and Susan O’Halloran
Through exploring misconceptions and common threads such as immigration and disagreements within their own religions, these three tellers bring alive their distinct histories and our common humanity to illuminate the experience of being an American in a time of religious tension, change and possibility. (more…)