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2 Off-Broadway shows offer fresh perspectives on Anne Frank’s story

(New York Jewish Week) – A young woman imagines herself standing inside the office of a fast-talking, bowtie-wearing, pipe-smoking editor of a major publishing house in New York City. 

She’s just submitted her diary — a memoir of her life in hiding from Nazis and subsequent detention in a concentration camp — for his review, and stands in front of him as he scrutinizes her experiences, deeming them plausible or not, appropriate or absurd.

The woman is Anne Frank, and the imagined scene is the premise of “Anne Being Frank,” one of two shows based on Frank’s diary that are running Off-Broadway in New York City this fall. The other is “Anne Frank, a Musical.” 

The one-woman show, which opened on Sept. 4 at Manhattan’s Emerging Artists Theatre, presents a new version of the Anne Frank story in which she pens her diary while she is dying in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, rather than writing it while in hiding in Amsterdam. The show depicts her suffering from starvation and sexual assault in the camps, and eventually contracting a lethal case of typhus, all of which changes the tone of her writing.

“Instead of leaving people with this idea that all these people are really good at heart, she’s grown up and seen the atrocities and the things that have happened to her,” Amanda Lerner, the director of “Anne Being Frank,” told the New York Jewish Week, referencing a famous passage of the diary in which Frank writes, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

Lerner added that she wanted to represent the experience of Holocaust victims in the camps and depict the “truth of all of the other people who have lived these stories — without apologizing for it,” she said.

Frank’s story is among the most well-known Holocaust narratives, and the creators of both shows said that they saw it as an avenue for conveying the gravity of the Holocaust to audiences, especially non-Jewish ones. The two productions come during a time when works about Frank’s life have taken a central place in national debates about education and censorship. Recently, multiple school districts have banned a graphic novel based on Frank’s diary, and in September, a teacher was allegedly fired in Texas for reading it aloud to students

Earlier this year, the National Geographic limited series “A Small Light” told the Anne Frank story from the perspective of Miep Gies, the woman who helped hide the Frank family.

“For me, the Anne Frank story is, and really should be, universal,” said David Serero, who directed and produced “Anne Frank, a Musical,” and stars as Frank’s father, Otto. “Of course, it’s a Jewish story, but I think it’s important to share that story so it will never happen again. It’s important for others to know the damage that such a thing can do.” 

The diary has been adapted dozens of times in the more than seven decades since its publication, beginning with the 1955 Broadway show, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play.  

“In the 1950s when her diary came out, Anne Frank became probably the most well known victim of the Holocaust,” said Dr. Alex Sagan, a historian affiliated with Harvard’s Center for European Studies who has written extensively about adaptations of Frank’s diary. “It’s a very famous and resonant story. Everybody knows it, and it’s understandable that lots of people are inspired to retell it. The question is, what should our judgment be about what they produce?” 

He said adaptations should be judged based on whether they “impart inaccurate information,” and added that observers should “ask to what extent does it teach us or make us feel something about the story of Frank, or about her diary, that is really meaningful.” 

Sagan added that while adaptations and retellings should stay accurate to the diary, there is still plenty of opportunity for artistic license. 

“They’re going to reflect the moment in which they’re created, the medium in which they’re created and the creators,” he said. “So it doesn’t mean that they have no individuality, and it means that when they’re created, they see where they might seem very relevant if they’re well done.”

The publishing house scene in “Anne Being Frank” speaks to the question of whether and how future generations will receive Holocaust stories. In the play, Anne (played by actress Alexis Fishman) imagines the conversation with the editor as she lays dying in her bunk in Bergen-Belsen. 

She considers how an editor — and the world — might perceive her and her story after they learn the truth about humanity. The editor, while praising her as a writing prodigy, finds the details, especially the events in the camps, implausible.

“The reason that I have spent such a great chunk of my career in writing speculative history is that I truly believe that truth is stranger than fiction — that no writer can match the sheer unpredictability and madness of the real world,” said Ron Elisha, the play’s writer. “There’s nothing that happens in my play that could not have happened. These things happened. They need to be explained.” 

“Anne Frank, a Musical” premiered at the Center for Jewish History in 2019. (Courtesy David Serero)

The second show out this fall, “Anne Frank, a Musical,” is less speculative about what happens after Frank was discovered in the annex in Amsterdam. Instead, it reinterprets the events depicted in Anne’s diary through song. 

The musical, which was originally written in French by Jean-Pierre Hadida in 2007, was adapted for an American audience in English by Serero. It premiered in 2019 at the Center for Jewish History and opens this year on October 11 at the Actor’s Temple Theater.

“Of course, people in America and in New York were a little bit reluctant when they heard, ‘a musical about Anne Frank,’ but a musical doesn’t have to be about something joyful. It’s emotive,” Serero said. “I can assure you, I have a lot of respect in the approach of all the characters in order to make them believable onstage.”

The musical opens in the present day, with a group of teenagers visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. When they start to ask questions about her life, they are quickly transported back in time to the same place in 1942.

“To bring it through the medium of music is very important because we sing what we cannot say — there are things that only music can express,” Serero said. “When you add music, the diary of Anne Frank becomes the life of Anne Frank.” 

And though the productions approach the story differently, they each reflect contemporary perspectives on the world. “Anne Being Frank” aims to show the graphic, violent suffering and death of Jews in the Holocaust, and to invite viewers to think about what happened next — rather than solely the hope reflected in the most famous passage of Frank’s diary. The show, in some ways, asks its viewers to interrogate other places or moments where the full story isn’t being told.

For Serero, the “secret of the musical’s success,” is that it connects Frank’s story to atrocities today.

“You could say that this story is over,” he said. “But still today, people are killed because of who they are.” 

Anne Being Frank” is playing at the Emerging Artists Theatre (15 W. 28th St.) through Oct. 29; tickets start at $59. “Anne Frank, a Musical” is playing from Oct. 11 through Nov. 5 at the Actors Temple Theatre (339 W. 47th St.). Tickets start at $36.50.

The post 2 Off-Broadway shows offer fresh perspectives on Anne Frank’s story appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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UN Committee Says Not Enough Evidence to Declare a Famine in Gaza

Egyptian trucks carrying humanitarian aid make their way to the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, at the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Israel, May 30, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The United Nations Famine Review Committee (FRC), a panel of experts in international food security and nutrition, has cast doubt on the notion that the northern Gaza Strip is suffering through a famine.

In a report released earlier this month, the committee responded to a claim by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) — a US-created provider of warning and analysis on food insecurity — that a famine was likely underway in northern Gaza. FEWS NET said that northern Gaza began experiencing famine in April and projected that the embattled enclave would endure famine until at least July 31.

The FRC rejected the assertion that northern Gaza is experiencing famine, citing the “uncertainty and lack of convergence of the supporting evidence employed in the analysis.” The panel carries out evaluations of humanitarian conditions on behalf of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), an international famine monitoring initiative. 

The FRC added that there is not sufficient evidence to confirm the existence of a famine within northern Gaza and called for more humanitarian access into the warzone, providing experts an opportunity to give an accurate assessment of the conditions. 

“The very fact that we are unable to endorse (or not) FEWS NET’s analysis is driven by the lack of essential up-to-date data on human well-being in northern Gaza, and Gaza at large,” the report stated. “Thus, the FRC strongly requests all parties to enable humanitarian access in general, and specifically to provide a window of opportunity to conduct field surveys in northern Gaza to have more solid evidence of the food consumption, nutrition, and mortality situation.”

However, the panel warned that Gaza is still enduring “extreme human suffering” and called for the “complete, safe, unhindered, and sustained” transport of aid into the enclave.

The report represents a course-reversal for the FRC, which claimed that Gaza likely surpassed the “famine thresholds for acute malnutrition” in March. The FRC now contends that civilians in Gaza are experiencing improved humanitarian conditions as a result of increased aid flowing into the war-torn enclave.   

“Since the FRC review conducted in March 2024, there seems to have been a significant increase in the number of food trucks entering northern Gaza,” the report read.

“The FEWS NET analysis acknowledges that humanitarian assistance in the area has increased significantly, finding that caloric availability from humanitarian assistance increased from 9 percent in February to 34 percent  to 36 percent in March and 59 percent to 63 percent in April. The opening of alternative routes to the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings, the authorization of commercial truck entry, as well as airdrops, allowed for an increase of food availability,” the report continued.

Several aid agencies, media outlets, and politicians, as well as pro-Palestinian activists, have repeatedly accused Israel of inflicting famine on Palestinians since beginning its military operations in Gaza following Hamas’ Oct. 7 slaughter of over 1,200 people throughout southern Israel. Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, accused Israel of using starvation as a “weapon of war.”

Despite these allegations, data produced by the United Nations showed that Israel allowed more than 100 food trucks to enter Gaza per day in March, an increase from the daily average of 70 trucks before the war. Moreover, many trucks transporting aid into Gaza have been hijacked and seized by Hamas terrorists, increasing the difficulty of distributing food to civilians.

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Hundreds rallied outside Toronto school board offices to protest a racism report that doesn’t mention antisemitism

Hundreds of people filled the lawn in front of the Toronto District School Board (TSDB) to oppose a proposed anti-discrimination policy being voted on by trustees that would include recognizing anti-Palestinian racism—while failing to acknowledge rising antisemitism in schools. The report, entitled Combating Hate and Racism: Student Learning Strategy, was received without any amendments by […]

The post Hundreds rallied outside Toronto school board offices to protest a racism report that doesn’t mention antisemitism appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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French President Denounces ‘Scourge of Antisemitism’ After 12-Year-Old Jewish Girl Raped

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference in Paris, France, June 12, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday denounced the “scourge of antisemitism” and called on schools to hold discussions on racism and hatred of Jews after three boys were charged with raping a 12-year-old Jewish girl in a Paris suburb.

The young girl told police that she was approached by three boys who raped and beat her in the northwestern Paris suburb of Courbevoie on Saturday in an incident that French authorities have described as a hate crime. According to French media, the assailants called the victim a “dirty Jew” and uttered other antisemitic remarks during the brutal gang-rape.

A police source told AFP that one of the boys asked the young girl questions about “her Jewish religion” and Israel, citing the child’s statement to investigators.

The boys — two aged 13 and one 12 — were arrested on Monday and indicted on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Macron’s office said the president asked French Education Minister Nicole Belloubet “to organize a discussion in all schools on the fight against antisemitism and racism, to prevent hate speech with serious consequences from infiltrating schools.”

The rape of the unnamed 12-year-old girl has caused outrage throughout France and among the Jewish community.

Elie Korchia, president of France’s Central Israelite Consistory, told BFM TV that the girl was raped “because she is Jewish,” adding, “We have never seen antisemitism that extends so far in all areas of life.”

Courbevoie Mayor Jacques Kossowski echoed that sentiment in a statement released on X/Twitter, saying, “The rape was carried out with antisemitic intent.”

Eric Ciotti, leader of Les Républicains, also condemned the “rise of antisemitism” in France, which he argued was “fueled by the alliance of the far left.” He added that “we must act as a bulwark” against antisemitism.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Rally party, decried the rape on social media. She noted “the explosion of antisemitic acts” in France since Oct. 7.

The recent gang-rape came amid a record surge of antisemitism in France in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. Antisemitic outrages rose by over 1,000 percent in the final three months of 2023 compared with the previous year, with over 1,200 incidents reported — greater than the total number of incidents in France for the previous three years combined.

In April, a Jewish woman was beaten and raped in a suburb of Paris as “vengeance for Palestine.”

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