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The Mitzvah Project

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The Mitzvah Project
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The Mitzvah Project is a three-part Holocaust-themed, theatrical-educational presentation.

Details

The Mitzvah Project is a three-part Holocaust-themed, theatrical-educational presentation.  Over the course of 2020, I will be bringing The Mitzvah Project to 25 San Francisco Bay Area high schools. Comprised of a short play, lecture and talkback, The Mitzvah Project, which is being offered to the schools without charge, engages several critical socio-historical questions: “Who decides the meaning of culture, race and ethnicity?” “How is one’s identity determined?”  “Why do we demonize ‘the other?’"

The Mitzvah Project is an inspiring presentation that goes into the heart and complexity of current issues of prejudice, bullying, racial tension, genocide and war, presented within the historical context of  The Holocaust.”  Mónica Olague-Marchán, Ph.D., Inclusivity Leader / Family Liaison, Catholic Memorial High School, Waukesha, WI

The first part of the presentation, The Mitzvah, is a one-act, one-person drama. In 2016 The Mitzvah became the nucleus of I Died in Auschwitz, my full-length Holocaust drama (originally known as The Obligation) that premiered in San Francisco in 2017 and had a return engagement in 2018. The Mitzvah dramatically explores the nature of prejudice through the interconnected lives of a Polish-Jewish Auschwitz survivor and a half-Jewish Wehrmacht officer who cross paths during the darkest days of the Holocaust.

“Roger Grunwald delivers a powerful performance in his one-person show, The Mitzvah, further enhanced by his lecture — equal parts history lesson and personal revelation. His audience cannot help but be moved, informed and enriched. Our patrons are still talking about it.” — Lillian Polus Gerstner, Director of Public Programs, Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, Skokie, IL

Click here to view The Mitzvah Project's video trailer.

Mission

The Mitzvah Project is designed to be a living history lesson leveraging the power of performance and personal history to touch and teach young people and adults.

"The Mitzvah Project should be required viewing for anyone wishing to learn about a nearly-silent chapter of Holocaust history.  People will be forced to take a deep look inside themselves to determine the nature of their hearts, and just what we would do at any cost to try and stay alive."  — Dr. Rick Halperin, Director, Embrey Human Rights Program, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas

As a classically-trained actor and the proud son of an Auschwitz survivor, my obligation is to make sure that, with my mother’s generation dying out, the world does not forget. 

Roger Grunwald manages to combine art and history in his dazzling performance of The Mitzvah Project. Seldom have I witnessed the ability of an actor to infuse characters with such passion and clarity so as to make time travel a reality… Today, when events unfold with terrifying velocity, it's critically important to remember the past. Just one of the many reasons not to miss Roger's mission and mastery."  — William S. Cohen, Former United States Senator/Secretary of Defense 

Need

We must acknowledge — and commit to filling — the void in Holocaust education that is being left by the passing of the survivor generation. We are facing several incontrovertible and disturbing facts. According to a recent Claims Conference study, “forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was” and, as Steven Spielberg rightly lamented, Holocaust education is currently "not a pre-requisite to graduate high school, as it should be. It should be part of the social science, social studies curriculum in every public high school in this country.” 

I couldn’t agree more.

History

The Mitzvah Project is inspired by and is in homage to my mother who used her Holocaust experience as a tool for teaching the lessons of history to young people. Over the years, I have presented The Mitzvah Project at over 80 venues and institutions in 24 states, the U.K., Canada and Israel, including Stanford and Oxford Universities, Hebrew University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie. I have also presented The Mitzvah Project for high school students in Nebraska and Wisconsin and performed I Died in Auschwitz for students from Lick-Wilmerding, the Waldorf School, the French American International School and Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco.

Three central characters in The Mitzvah

Schmuel Berkowicz, an Auschwitz survivor; Christoph Rosenberg, a German half-Jew and First Lieutenant in the Wehrmacht and a Groucho Marx-esque American-Jewish comedian-cum-social critic (The Chorus) who leavens the drama with acerbic commentary, probing the boundary between the absurd and the horrific. 

The lecture

Early on in my talk, I explore the ways in which the Holocaust - and being the son of two German Jews - shaped me as a boy, a teen and as a young adult. I examine the unique history that produced tens of thousands of half and quarter Jewish Wehrmacht soldiers who themselves were the product of two centuries of German-Jewish assimilation, intermarriage, conversion and the striving of a people committed to calling the German Fatherland their home. I segue to American history and the role that America’s Jim Crow Laws played in providing a model for the Nuremberg Laws and reference the recent resurgence of white supremacy and intolerance, how it has been manifesting itself around the country and, most alarmingly, in our schools. The last section of my talk examines how advances in human biology and genetics have totally debunked racialist mythology.

— Roger Grunwald

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