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Solidarity On Stage

Solidarity On Stage

When Yeshivah of Flatbush High School students take the stage on Dec. 28 to perform “Noah! Ride The Wave,” they will be embracing the concept of giving chizuk, or strength, on two levels.

The musical was produced by women in West Bank settlements as an emotional outlet following years of terror attacks that began in 2000 following the collapse of negotiations with the Palestinians.

In purchasing the rights to the play and presenting it here, the Brooklyn yeshiva will be showing solidarity by spreading awareness and a message of hope. But the students will also be giving strength to a group of Jews closer to home by including in the production members of Yachad, an Orthodox Union program for the developmentally disabled. Its name means together.

Yachad and Flatbush have a long shared history that began 18 years ago when Rabbi Naftali Besser, the dean of students introduced the organization to students, who are required to work on chesed, or good deed, projects as part of their curriculum.

“Initially the idea was to have the Flatbush and Yachad people meet each other and be friends and have a connection,” said Aryea Aronoff, one of several Flatbush graduates now on the full-time professional staff of Yachad.

The connection grew. Flatbush students now regularly learn Torah with senior members of Yachad, who range from 15-35 years old, and include them in holiday programs, such as monthly Rosh Chodesh celebrations. They also volunteer for weekend retreats and a summer Israel program.

“This is by far the most popular chesed program,” says Rabbi Besser. “You have some where you have 25 to 35 students. Here it is in the hundreds. There is a large percentage or students who have gone on to social work, psychology or special-education careers because of their involvement with Yachad. People get tremendous satisfaction out of it.”

For several years Flatbush students have included Yachad members in the annual Chanukah play, and this year they will be included in the chorus.

The selection of this year’s play grew out of an Israel solidarity mission earlier this year by Flatbush students and parents, which included a stop in Efrat and a meeting with founders of the Raise Your Spirits Summer Stock Company. The company was formed to counter feelings of depression and anxiety from what were almost daily terror attacks. Its first production was “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which involved 160 women – performing for all-women audiences – and raised close to $30,000 for terror victims and their families.

In 2002, founders Sharon Katz, Toby Klein Greenwald and Arlene Chertoff wrote their own production, “Esther and the Secrets of The Kings Court,” later followed by “Noah! Ride the Wave!” Renee Adelsberg, a Yeshivah of Flatbush parent who is a childhood friend of Chertoff, purchased the rights to perform the play in Brooklyn. Unlike in Israel, where “Noah” was performed in English with Hebrew subtitles, the yeshiva will perform it completely in Hebrew.

“It’s such a beautiful play that shows hope and confidence and the feeling that Jews always come out from under persecution,” said Adelsberg. “By bringing it here it is showing solidarity with the people of Israel and saying look what they did to help themselves.”

During a rehearsal on Sunday, as kids dressed as giraffes and zebras took the stage, Ruchie Winkler, the Hebrew teacher who is directing the play, said the kids “enjoy the play because the music is fun and contemporary. The nice part is that they got to meet the women who produced it in Efrat.”

The Flatbush students will also stage a play this spring entirely for Yachad members. “Being in a play helps develop their social skills,” says Yachad’s Aronoff of his clients. “Performing on stage in front of 800 people makes them more confident to express themselves in general.” Michael Greenberg, a Flatbush senior who stars as Noah in the Chanukah play and is also a volunteer at Yachad, said he helped a disabled man who said he dreamed of being an actor participate in last year’s Yachad play.

“People said it’s a pipe dream, don’t encourage it,” said Greenberg, who lives in Hillcrest, Queens. “But he had a part and he memorized two lines and he loved it. It made his year.”

“The whole purpose of Yachad is for them to be in the mainstream,” says Rabbi Besser. “To be part of a program that is not a special program but a play is very mainstream.”

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