LIVINGSTON, NJ — Golda Och Academy students saw a year of hard work pay off at the premiere of their “Names, Not Numbers” documentary at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston on Sunday, June 3, screening the film in front of teachers, family, friends and the Holocaust survivors they had interviewed for the project. The project turned studying the Holocaust into an interactive experience, with students in grades 10 through 12 learning how to operate cameras and lighting equipment, interview subjects and edit film to complete the documentary as part of the program.
“This project is one that I’m not sure we could have predicted how it would affect the students,” GOA Head of School Adam Shapiro said when introducing the film at the event. “We’re moved in ways that I’m not sure that we expected. The work of our students will go a long way in preserving these stories forever. This generation will likely be the last generation to hear these stories firsthand and as long as there are stories to tell we will make sure they will be able to be told.”
The Names, Not Numbers program was created by Tova Fish-Rosenberg 14 years ago as a way for students to learn about the Holocaust and filmmaking. More than 200 projects have been created in the United States, Canada and Israel, interviewing more than 1,800 survivors and World War II veterans. Under project coordinator Erin Sternthal, the Golda Och students interviewed five survivors: Gerda Bikales and Marsha Kreuzman of Livingston, Fred Heyman of Morristown, Ann Monka of Montville, and Aron Nadel of Monroe Township. Nadel is the grandfather of Amanda Nadel, one of the Golda Och students who worked on the documentary.
Fish-Rosenberg explained the importance of the program at the premiere of the documentary.
“We are telling the stories to learn and help future generation prevent anti-Semitism,” she said at the event. “My goal is to teach the students about the Holocaust through making a documentary. They are making a personal connection to history.”
The project was advised by Michael Stern, a social studies teacher at the school. In an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event, he said he had hand-picked students to work on the documentary.
“We’re a small school, so I’ve taught pretty much all of them,” he said. “I chose certain people, ones who I knew are outgoing, some who had some acting ability.”
Stern was impressed with the turnout at the event, saying that while many in the audience were family and friends of the students and survivors they interviewed, some were community members who’d heard about it by word of mouth.
“It’s wonderful, it’s a bigger event than I expected,” he said. “I’m glad to see families and people from the community that just heard about it.”
As a social studies teacher, Stern had previously taught about the Holocaust. But at the beginning of the project, he started by talking to the students about the psychological and sociological effects of World War II, and said he was learning along with the students as they made the documentary.
“When it first came to our attention, I jumped at the chance,” Stern said about advising the project. “I’m the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, and there are aunts and uncles that I’ve only heard stories about. My uncle Peter was also very inspirational to me, so I saw this as an opportunity to carry on his legacy and the legacy of my grandparents.”
“This was an incredible opportunity for the kids, for our students to be able to capture it and present it like this,” Shapiro said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “We talk about the idea of never letting it happen again and we have an incredible group of survivors to hear from. As long as we have the opportunity, we want to capture it for them. We feel honored to take part in being here and hope to do it again and again.”
Iris Berman, a recent Golda Och graduate who worked on the documentary, said she found the project striking.
“It was really powerful, I found the whole thing very moving,” Berman told the Chronicle at the event. “We learn about the Holocaust in everyday life, but what stuck with me the most was that a lot of the survivors never went back home.”
Berman described a trip to Poland that she took during the spring and said seeing the places she’d been told about so many times added perspective to the interviews that she and her classmates conducted.
“I went there and saw the stories that happened everywhere,” she said. “It was completely new and I think learning how to get the story like that was interesting.”
Photos Courtesy of Jodi Rothfeld