September 26, 2018

Creating ‘Windows’ Into Survivors’ Stories

Enter the central atrium at Sinai Temple and the Alice and Nahum Lainer School on Wilshire Boulevard, and colorful stained glass “windows” now greet visitors.

The windows are actually made of paper and were designed by 48 seventh-graders from the Lainer School after conversations the children had with Holocaust survivors earlier this year. 

The students met with 21 survivors in February to hear their stories. They then created the windows based on their interpretation of the survivors’ stories. 

The program was co-created by Lainer Judaic Studies Director Irit Eliyahu, Jewish History and Rabbinics teacher Rebecca Berger, the Righteous Conversations Project, and teaching artists Ruah Edelstein and Masha Vasilkovsky. The entire project was made possible through a grant from the nonprofit organization Facing History and Ourselves.

The students spent three months working on the project and at the end of May, 16 of the survivors and the students came together again with friends and family at Sinai Temple for the unveiling of the windows.

Tiny replicas of the windows were presented to the survivors, along with pictures with their students that were taken at the original event by Righteous Conversations photographer Gina Cholick. 

“To tell a story is one thing,” Eliyahu told the Journal. “To take the story of a person and make it into an artistic exhibit is something [else].” 

“This was a window looking into somebody’s life and looking into a future,” she added. “A window is very symbolic.”

Thirteen-year-olds Joshua Roussak and Isaiah Ofek depicted the story of Frank Schiller, 92, from Schiller’s capture on his 13th birthday and his time in a ghetto, through his escape from a rail car into the forest.

“I feel like I learned bravery,” Ofek said, “because Mr. Schiller was brave enough to jump out of the rail car, being at risk of getting shot or captured by a Nazi.”

“Standing before these magnificent windows, I am struck by the power of curiosity and compassion and respect when it is expressed through the language of color, form and light.” — Samara Hutman 

“Besides risk-taking,” Roussak added, “I also learned to appreciate the great times in my life.”

Lizzy Getman and Sarah Hoorfar, both 13, met with 92-year-old Martha Sternbach. They created their window based “on one side the dark times and on one side the good times,” Getman said.

“And how she overcame [the bad times],” Hoorfar added. “She lived the hard times, so we could live the good times.”

Righteous Conversations Project Director Samara Hutman said the art exceeded her expectations. “It was not only the art but the quality of relationship that was built with deep respect and curiosity and a sense of wonder,” she said. “Standing before these magnificent windows, I am struck by the power of curiosity and compassion and respect when it is expressed through the language of color, form and light.”

Twelve-year-olds Alexis Harouni and Lauren Reoua met 87-year-old Dorothy Greenstein. One side of their window reveals a dark sky with stars to commemorate the memory of those lost in the Holocaust. The other shows  a bright flower to represent the growth of the Jewish people in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“My favorite part of this was interviewing Dorothy,” Harouni said. “It was very meaningful to be able to be the last generation to hear the stories personally and then be able to carry them on.”