By Kendra Jones
A performance rooted in hope, resilience, and perseverance, Amid Falling Walls (Tsvishn Falndike Vent), directed by Matthew “Motl” Didner, captures the tireless journey both Jewish children and adults experienced throughout World War II. Songs and dance illustrate both the engulfing darkness and the fragments of passion and courage that carried them through the most traumatic, grueling, and unfathomable moments. Songs and lines were performed in Yiddish and derived from 1939-1945 from the ghettos, labor camps, partisan encampments, and forests of Eastern Europe.
I knew I wanted to experience this performance with a Jewish friend I had met in graduate school a few years back. Both writers, we coincidentally examine similar topics, themes, and time periods—oral testimony, memory, and in her case, Jewish history. We’ve connected over our dives into unforgettable stories. I remembered that she had also learned Yiddish as it had been a language held through her generations, but she admitted prior to the show that she was not sure she remembered much anymore.
Upon entering the Museum of Jewish Heritage, we discovered a Jewish Genealogy Center, learning that it had just recently opened for public access. Our excitement only grew when we wandered into the venue’s bookstore which was hosting a Book Fair that weekend. Their surprisingly large collection of memoir and fiction immediately prompted us to comb over tables and shelves, selecting identical and different works so that we could exchange with each other and read others simultaneously together. As we hurried into the theatre, a montage depicting vibrant Jewish life in Europe prior to World War II played, infusing scenes of rising antisemitism.
Song first dropped the audience into a Vilna ghetto, where resistance built, before hearing the frustration of courtship, cries of those on the streets, and satiric irritations of money and connections. Folk songs maintain some little sparkle of entertainment for Jews. Songs present the adversities, separation, emotional strain, and ultimately the survival of Jews, mentally and physically.
Some of the most memorable lines came from the poems and songs of children—many seemingly their fate still unknown, but their honesty, awareness, and youth will be forever present.
The voice of a child peddler sang, “Though I’m with less than nothing, still a whistle and song is my reply!”
The hope in the children, the adults—how they found the strength to live through song and dance and writing during those six years is so present in this show.
Their unification through art pushed them through uprisings, liberation, and struggles yet still as they returned to living.
As Jews were brought to the world of “after,” “Bar Mitzve” draws on words spoken by a boy at an improvised Bar Mitzvah ceremony at a displaced person camp in liberated Germany.
The entirety of this performance displayed the unending faith that Jews had in themselves, their endurance, and their unification. The internal energy of these individuals translated flawlessly into these songs, dance, and were sincerely emulated by the cast. The words of those not here today provide others the breath that they need, as relevant as it is today, to not just endure but to triumph.
“You know, I actually remember learning a few of those songs in my Yiddish classes. I remembered the melodies,” my friend said as we left the theater. “‘Zog Nit Keyn Mol,’ the famous song of the partisans.”
Those memories and recollections–that part of her identity she holds close, never left her, either.
“We live forever,
we are here”
Mir zaynen do!
WITH: Jacob Ben-Shmuel (Yosl), Yael Eden Chanukov (Esther), Abby Goldfarb (Sore), Eli Mayer (Moyshe), Daniella Rabbani (Khane), Steven Skybell (Mordkhe), Mikhl Yashinsky (Mendl), Rachel Zatcoff (Mina).
The World Premiere Production of Matthew “Motl” Didner’s Amid Falling Walls (Tsvishn Falndike Vent) will run until December 10, 2023 at The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, at 36 Battery Pl, New York, NY, in Edmund J Saffron Hall.
CREATIVE TEAM: Tamar Rogoff (Choreography), Jessica Alexandra Cancino (Scenic Design), Izzy Fields (Costume Design), Yael Lubetzky (Lighting Design), Brad Peterson (Projection Design), Dan Moses Schreier (Sound Design), Zalmen Mlotek (Music Director), Frank London and Michael Winograd (Orchestrations), D. Zisl Slepovitch (Music Coordinator), Jason Brouillard (Production Stage Manager), Robert Cott (Assistant Stage Manager), Juliana Suaide (Props Supervisor).