Verdi at Terezín tells the story of the Jewish prisoners in the Theresienstadt concentration camp who performed Verdi’s Requiem 16 times with only a single smuggled score. Their conductor, Rafael Schächter, told the choir, “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.”
As an alum of the Wexner Heritage Program in New York, I looked to engage myself with a program that was important to me and to the Jewish community. I have focused on helping Holocaust survivors because I feel it’s most important to assist those who need our help the most.
I have joined my parents and Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat and his son Brian as honorary chairs of the March 9th performance of Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín at Lincoln Center. This concert will raise funds for UJA-Federation of New York’s Community Initiative for Holocaust Survivors (CIHS).
New York is home to 60,000 Holocaust survivors, nearly half of whom live in poverty. As these survivors age, their needs become more complex. The cost to serve a steady number of survivors is going up, not down, as survivors experience chronic illness, loss of mobility, loss of spouses, dementia, and other life-altering challenges associated with advanced aging. This year, Selfhelp Community Services – the largest provider of survivor services in North America – served 1,000 survivors who had previously not sought out help from a community agency.
The Community Initiative for Holocaust Survivors supports critical survivor services that are not funded by government reparations or other revenue streams – individualized case management, socialization programs, mental health services, legal services and emergency cash assistance.
Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín, tells the story of the courageous Jewish prisoners in the Theresienstadt concentration camp who performed the famous Verdi Requiem while experiencing the depths of human degradation. With only a single smuggled score, they performed the famous oratorio 16 times. The conductor in the camp, Rafael Schächter, told the choir, “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.” Through this performance these prisoners held fast to their dignity even as they were surrounded by evil.
I think for all of us Wexner leaders mixing what we feel most passionate about from all the seemingly distinct parts of our life results in the most potent and satisfying kind of activism. For me, because I was a concert pianist and care so deeply about Holocaust survivors, this particular way of mixing resonates deeply. Through events like this, by sharing stories of the Holocaust and caring for the survivors who are still with us today, I try to keep the communal promise to “never forget.” I wonder how other Wexner alumni are mixing their passions into their lay leadership work? If you’d like to share your thoughts, please comment below or email me. Likewise, if you want to learn more about the concert on March 9th, you can click here and perhaps I’ll see you there.
Sara Wolfensohn, an alum of the Wexner Heritage program (NY 1), is the director of the Wolfensohn Family Foundation, a charitable trust based in Manhattan. She also has been a concert pianist performing as a soloist internationally, including at a White House Official Dinner with Yo-Yo Ma. Sara graduated from the Juilliard School of Music, from which she also received master’s degrees in music and in professional studies. Sara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.