Tales of the Holocaust concert review

Review of Tales of the Holocaust: A Memorial Concert performed at Temple Shalom on April 18, 2015

by Frances B. Ravinsky, April 26, 2015  Winnipeg Jewish Review

Jane Enkin: Songs Rabbi Karen Soria: Readings Dale Rogalsky: Piano

How do we memorialize a history for which the language of statistics and facts is inadequate – a history that is now over 70 years old – a history in which there are few survivors left to privilege us with their memories and life stories?

How do we memorialize a people’s history in ways that honour those who perished and those who survived, that honour the families and communities that have carried the wounds across the generations; and that shine a light on victims’ acts of resistance and sacrifice at a time in history when the future was reckoned in terms of hours and days?

How do we memorialize the Holocaust?

For three consecutive years, I have attended a memorial concert held during Winnipeg’s Holocaust Awareness Week at the Temple Shalom in Winnipeg, in which Rabbi Karen Soria and ethno- musicologist Jane Enkin weave together their respective talents as dramatic oral interpreter and as vocalist and poet, into a commemoration of heart-breaking intensity and passionate beauty. This year was no exception.

Structuring their memorials around literary texts, Soria and Enkin move back and forth between dramatic readings, and songs that illustrate and elaborate on the themes explored in the texts, to create a seamless evocation of this horrific time. This year they chose to structure the memorial around the book From Darkness to Light – Surviving the Holocaust by Naomi Rosh White. The book is a compilation of the life stories of eleven survivors who, apart from their shared identity as Polish Jews and as post-war immigrants to Australia, represent a wide range of family backgrounds – rich and poor, religious and secular, urban and rural. Their experiences during the Holocaust were similarly diverse. Some survived by hiding and by assuming Aryan identities. For others, the war years were spent in ghettos and concentration camps, in the Russian Gulag, in the Polish or German military, and/or as partizaners. Their stories document life in Poland prior to the outbreak of war, during the war, and in its aftermath when the survivors began their ‘new lives’. The range of experiences captured in the book provided Soria and Enkin with a rich and varied palette from which to choose their material.

Using minimalist props to portray the different identities of the survivors – a cap, a hat, a scarf, a shawl – Soria read excerpts from the survivors’ life stories in a voice so authentic and intense that the audience could not help but be drawn into the centre of each survivor’s experience. Soria’s form of delivery leaves no question that she believes in the value of fully and intentionally entering into a state of remembrance to the degree that we feel as though we lived through the Holocaust ourselves. She asked a lot of the audience. She gave a lot to the audience.

Enkin similarly didn’t shy away from intensity. Digging into her trove of musical treasures, she sang songs from a range of musical genres, including tangos, folk songs, lullabies and songs from cabaret theatre. Her choice of songs and rich, evocative delivery spoke to the range of emotions captured in the stories of the eleven survivors – pain and loss, anger and defiance, sarcasm and bitterness, love and hope. Through her finely honed art, Enkin reminded us that, even in the most horrific of circumstances, people are much larger than their traumas.

Most of the songs Enkin sang were in the original Yiddish. Many were written during the war by poets and musicians living in the ghettos or while imprisoned in the death camps. Leaning in and out of, and wrapping herself around each note and each word, Enkin’s passion for the Yiddish language, the music, and for the songs’ composers was unmistakable.

This review would not be complete without acknowledging the contribution of pianist Dale Rogalsky. With a deft touch and a keen musical sensitivity, Rogalsky did what the most valued of accompanists do; she provided Enkin with the musical platform she needed to give full rein to her art.

How do we memorialize the Holocaust?

Tales of the Holocaust as performed by Rabbi Karen Soria and Jane Enkin provides one answer to that question: that we intentionally dedicate time and space in which to fully open our hearts to the stories of its victims. In so doing, we set aside our bystander perspective. We allow ourselves to feel both the horror of what the victims endured as well as their hunger for life and for a world free of war and oppression. Through that experience our resolve to participate in Tikkun Olam – repairing the world – can be strengthened.

I look forward to the opportunity to re-enter into such a time and space through future collaborations between Soria and Enkin.

Frances Ravinsky is a member of a community development partnership, Community Works www.community-works.ca. She is also a certified facilitator of digital storytelling.