We decided to produce this play over sixteen months ago. Since then we met with numerous community leaders, theologians, educators, civil rights activists, friends, and colleagues to listen, learn, and better determine how this production may be a ritual of remembrance, an act of defiance, and a source of solace and light. Inspired by Rabbi Arthur Waskow of Philadelphia's Shalom Center and the radical inclusivity of the original 1969 Freedom Seder (an event which, a year after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., intentionally linked the Passover story to the civil rights movement in America), we asked ourselves and others how Anne's story can speak most profoundly to us today. How do her specific experiences and words reach across the decades to the multi-generational, multi-cultural communities that gather at People's Light? Of course, there is no one answer. The conversation is what matters.
Here are some initial responses to these questions from local and national leaders.
"The Diary of Anne Frank is as important today as perhaps it has been in recent history. We find ourselves in a time when there is so much disconnection and polarization. It is so important that People’s Light is bringing this production to their stage. Thanks to this incredible document and Anne's youthful yet ageless wisdom, the atrocities of the times will forever be documented through a young girl’s eyes. Racism, prejudice, antisemitism – inexplicable hatred that tragically fed the fires of World Ward II – are present today on our doorsteps and in our daily headlines. We need to address the conflict and turn the hatred into empathy and compassion, embracing the values that must define our collective humanity. Theater is an invaluable means by which to spark this critical engagement.
The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect is thrilled to engage with People’s Light in fostering the civic dialogue spotlighted by this epic story. Key to our mission is keeping the legacy of Anne Frank's short life current for the largest possible audience. The profound relevance of Anne’s legacy today cannot be understated. Her Diary instills in us the determination to educate future generations to remember the horrors of the past and learn compassion, tolerance and the fight against prejudice. I look forward to this critically important production."
Lisa S. Hoffstein
The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, New York, NY
"Anne Frank is, first and foremost, a story about Jews and anti-Semitism. She and the more than six million Jews who were systematically murdered by the Nazis were targeted only because they were Jews. Anti-Semitism was not invented by the Nazis; it is woven into the very fabric of Western culture. The Nazis merely exploited what was already there. And anti-Semitism persists, as we saw in Charlottesville last summer. It persists not merely on the fringes of political extremism or among a handful of internet trolls, but continues to affect the lives of American Jews today; in the last two years the number of anti-Semitic incidents – including violence – has more than tripled. Anne Frank forces us to confront the reality of this hatred by focusing on an ordinary teenager; it challenges us to answer questions of “what if”? What if Anne has been allowed to live her life: who would she have been; what would she have accomplished? What if the world had responded with outrage, rather than indifference? What if today we were to summon that outrage in response to anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and all the bigotry that infects our society?"
Rabbi David Fox Sandmel, Ph.D.
Director of Interreligious Engagement
"The Diary of Anne Frank grows more compelling every year. Jews in particular hear in her struggle of countless lives like hers, devastated by centuries of pogroms and hateful conduct toward Jews. Her writing a diary becomes an expression to Jews of our Rabbinic teachings to strive to be humane, even in circumstances of inhumanity.
But more universally, audiences who read her diary or see a performance of this play, individuals growing up in all cultures, can relate to the tragedy of a young woman’s goodness, her righteousness, her creativity, and her optimism, all held captive by a brutal regime that threatens and ultimately takes her life."
Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, OH
"The Diary of Anne Frank, both her actual writings and the play itself, continue to resonate across eight decades now in the human heart. There is both a particular and eternal life force that comes through Anne's belief in the essential goodness of the human spirit, in love amid the darkest of times and the cruelest of inhuman behavior. The play captures her and her family's living in daily drudgery, discovery, fear and anxiety, and ultimately in betrayal and for all except her father- death. In the wake of the unmasking of our own society's still existing anti-semitism, white supremacist and neo-nazi ideologies, the message of the play resounds as profoundly as today: hope and love, not hate and rage, help us maintain faith and compassionate for each other and enable us to work together for a world as it can and must be in the face of intentional evil and even worse- mass indifference. This is a deeply Jewish story and experience and reflects the nightmare of the Holocaust. The particular message, and the approach that this production has taken, honor that unique experience of the Jewish people in the Shoah and send a wake up call to any of us who are still asleep or in denial that all oppressions and prejudices ultimately inform each other."
Rabbi Shawn Zevit
Mishkan Shalom Synagogue, Philadelphia, PA
On opening night, Saturday February 24, [my husband, Rabbi Arthur Waskow] and I had the opportunity to see an extraordinary racially diverse production of The Diary of Anne Frank at People’s Light in Malvern.
You may have read the diary in high school as I did or perhaps seen the movie or the play in the past, but this production is unique. Director David Bradley had been influenced by Arthur’s original Freedom Seder, written 49 years ago as Arthur’s response to the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King. Arthur then wrote a haggada integrating the ancient story of the Israelites’ escape from Pharoah’s slavery in Mitzrayim (the “tight places” known as Egypt) with the modern story of the Black Freedom movement beginning with resistance to slavery here in the US, continuing into the “civil-rights movement” as he was writing, and commemorating the life and death of Dr. King with the first observance of the Freedom Seder on MLK’s 1st yohrzeit in 1969. David (a member of Mishkan Shalom) created, with his unusual casting, a modern production of The Diary of Anne Frank that links the Jewish experience of the Holocaust with the universal horror aimed at all peoples who are dehumanized by others’ hatred -- anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, misogyny.
A number of years ago, I was invited as a rabbi to be one of three religious leaders (the other two were Catholic and Buddhist) at the Zen Buddhists’ annual retreat to Auschwitz/Birkenau in Poland. I had been warned by others who had experienced these or other concentration camps that it would be better to have gone first as a participant than as a leader so that I would be free to have the fullness of my own reaction, but that hadn’t been possible. As the rabbi, my job was to hold other people as they experienced shock, horror, and pain as we sat for hours on the railroad tracks that delivered prisoners to the camps, reciting the names of those who didn’t survive, and cried as we walked through the gas chambers and recited Mourners’ Kaddish, and chanted morning prayers each day in the children’s barracks. I never cried in the face of it all, in the memory of so much of my own family who died in the Holocaust, because I was “on duty”.
On Saturday night, after a stunning performance, I found myself unable to speak but finally able to weep. This is our story; this is everyone’s story.
Don’t miss this production! It’s at People’s Light until the end of March.
Rabbi Phyllis Berman