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View Sh'ma excerpts below

The Sh’ma, the fundamental prayer in Jewish liturgy, states the imperative: “Hear.” It tells the listener to do more than listen, but actually incorporate, digest, and integrate meaning. In my evening-length choreodrama, Sh’ma, I ask the viewer to bear witness to my family’s experience in the Holocaust, something that is impossible to understand. In creating this work, I try to make meaning out of the unfathomable, to make sense of the story that shaped my family, the oldest story I know.


Sh’ma is a choreodrama, a dance that tells a story. It’s a narrative ballet told eclectically, with contemporary, tango, jazz, and folk dance. The protagonist is based on my late mother, who loved to dance and devoted her life to social justice through education. I first created the work in 1990, when I was invited to the former Yugoslavia to choreograph for a multi-ethnic theater with dancers, actors and singers from Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, and my family’s native Hungary. I had unprecedented material support from the state-funded theater in Novi Sad, northern Serbia, the state that would soon indulge in the sort of ethnic genocide we depicted onstage.


When the Bosnian war began to rage, I heard from our brilliant Serbian set designer, Bojana Ristic. “It’s happening again,” she cried, “the story we told onstage is happening here, now, again.” A few years after dancing this story in Yugoslavia, there was no Yugoslavia left. So I told the story in New York, using the Holocaust as a metaphor for genocides taking place around the world. Building on the sole support of a rehearsal grant from the 92nd Street Y, long a home for Jewish dance, I cobbled together a group of excellent dancers. My family came alive on that stage, and I stood in the wings feeling the relief of afterbirth. This video is an excerpt from a performance in New York City in 2000, recorded at Washington Irving High School Theater.


History’s similarities reverberate in our bones. “Never again,” we say, but my mother lay awake at the end of her life -- thinking of her immigrant neighbors waiting for the knock on the door -- just as she waited for that knock so many years ago. I am now working on telling her story again, together with educators and filmmakers who will make it resonate for Holocaust and human rights education. This time I will tell the story as I always imagined it should be told: with dancers in hijab and war-bonnets, dashikis and burkas, turbans and yarmulkes. Because we are all immigrants, we are all refugees, we all have a story to tell.

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