December 12, 2018

HBI Launches Latin American Project with Anne Frank Event

WALTHAM – HBI’s two-day launch of the Project on Latin American Jewish & Gender Studies (LAJGS) began with a dramatic reading of Marjorie Agosín’s Anne: An Imagining of the Life of Anne Frank at the JCC of Greater Boston and followed the next day with programs in two Jewish day schools.

Credit: Josh Luckens

“The events highlighted the ongoing relevance of Anne Frank in Latin America “as a reminder of the enduring power of art, narrative, and truth as resistance to systemic instances of dehumanization,” said Dalia Wassner, director of the LAJGS, a project with the mission to study and explore of Jewish life and gender in Latin America and among Latin American Jews worldwide.

In her opening remarks, HBI Director Lisa Fishbayn Joffe noted that in a week that saw the anti-semitic slaughter of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on a Shabbat devoted to welcoming the stranger and refugee in our midst, we are reminded “that we must be ever vigilant to identify and respond to those who would demonize some groups in society, who would divide us and who would facilitate anti-semitic violence against us.”  In the re-telling of the story of Anne Frank for children, Marjorie Agosín and Francisca Yáñez, offered guidance and insight into addressing this complex and delicate task of explaining terror and violence to children, Joffe noted.

Credit: Josh Luckens

The evening opened with a performance by Nisha Sajnani, director of Drama Therapy at NYU, accompanied on piano by Jan Zimmerman. Artwork from Argentine artist Sandra Mayo displayed on stage and on the way into the auditorium complemented the themes of the evening by connecting the Holocaust and periods of dictatorship in the Southern Cone. The program as a whole urged the audience to consider the ongoing impact and salience of Anne Frank in Latin America.

Francesca Colletti, New England Executive Director of Facing History and Ourselves, a co-sponsor of the event, related the program to our times. Anne’s words were resonant to so many issues of our time – displacement of children and families, injustice and even death in the face of discrimination and hate.  But the words also speak to us of resilience and hope.”

The launch of the LAJGS  project was made possible by a gift of $50,000 to HBI from former HBI director, Professor Emerita Shulamit Reinharz and former Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz.  Shulamit Reinharz explained that the focus of their philanthropy is to fund projects that embody an important innovation on issues related to Jewish life and social justice and are led by a dynamic individual. The LAJGS project, led by Wassner, is a “perfect fit for these goals,”  said Shulamit Reinharz.

Wassner added, “Recent events in our country and around the world have highlighted the importance of promoting greater understanding of minority identities, including those of Jews, women, and immigrants. With their generous support, Shula and Jehuda Reinharz have made a foundational investment in LAJGS’s mission to generate innovative research and culture that explores the role of gender and Judaism in Latin America, and that understands Latin American Jewry as an important part of the global Jewish story.”

Credit: Gann Academy

The following day, Nov. 2,  Wassner, Agosín and Yáñez held workshops at Gann Academy and Solomon Schechter Day School. Yáñez spoke to Lily Rabinoff-Goldman’s creative writing class at Gann. She told the students that her country had suffered a coup d’etat in 1973 that ousted the democratically elected Salvador Allende, instituting instead a military dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet that would last 17 years. She recalled the feelings of insecurity and fear she felt as a little girl who became a refugee.

In preparation for their departure, her parents asked her to pack her most beloved belongings. She recalled choosing a favorite doll, but mostly paper cutouts of beautiful color images. As she boarded the plane, her suitcase flew open causing her paper cutouts to blow away. At that moment, her family was being escorted at gunpoint, allowed to escape only due to a moment of international cooperation. Certain her cutouts would be lost, Yáñez told of her surprise when her father, mother, and brother each turned and descended the plane’s stairs, set on retrieving the youngest family member’s prized possessions. At that moment, she understood what love looked like.

Wassner thanked the event’s co-sponsors, JCC of Greater Boston, Facing History & Ourselves, Gann Academy, Hadassah Boston, Jewish Women’s Archive and Temple Beth Zion of Brookline. Earlier in the week, Yáñez spoke in Agosín’s class at Wellesley and also at Emerson College.

To learn more about the LAJGS and other upcoming HBI programs and events, visit this web page.  

Comments

  1. Grant Brandon says:

    Outstanding event and write-up! Must be repeated again to a broader audience …

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