Beth Seldin Dotan has shepherded the Institute for Holocaust Education in Omaha since its 2000 inception. Before she leaves this fall for a new position in Israel she’ll witness the organization she grew from nothing into the state’s primary Holocaust education resource present its most ambitious project.
Remembrance, Creativity, Transformation is a week of concerts, master classes and workshops from October 21 to October 28 featuring the Hawthorne String Quartet from Boston, Ma. The quartet, comprised of Boston Symphony Orchestra members, will perform works by composers who died in the Holocaust and works by contemporary composers reflecting on that history.
Students from area high schools and after-school programs will participate in performances and related activities throughout the week.
What began as a single concert has morphed into a sprawling artist-in-residency and performance project.
“The project has taken on a life of its own. It really has a soul,” says Dotan, a Omaha native and Westside High graduate. “There’s so many components to this. We have 15 community partners. We’ve got a team of over 20 volunteers.”
The project embodies everything the Institute does to present the Holocaust in meaningful and engaging ways. Under Dotan’s leadership the Jewish Community Center-based organization develops curriculum programs for classroom teachers across the state to use in teaching the Holocaust in age appropriate ways. It organizes exhibitions, presents guest lecturers and collects the stories of area survivors, whose dwindling ranks are often feted by IHE.
“I really believe we need to honor the survivors as much as possible in everything we do.”
The Institute’s even co-produced a production of the children’s opera Brundibar.
Dotan’s own journey as a Holocaust educator included a stint at the Ghetto Fighters Museum in Tel Aviv. She’s rejoining the staff there as director of its international department. She and her Israeli husband, Amnon Dotan, moved to Israel in the early 1990s with their then-young children to live on a kibbutz near the Golan Heights. Though she studied the Holocaust in college, her real education began in Israel, where she earned a certificate in museum studies at Haifa University.
“If anything changed my life it was that course because every lesson was in a different museum in Israel and one of our visits was at the Ghetto Fighters Museum, where they have a children’s museum that’s very unique and quite experiential. I walked in and said, ‘This is it.’”
Additionally, she was part of an epic survivor testimony effort.
“I was an interviewer for the Shoah Foundation, the (Steven) Spielberg project that interviewed as many survivors as possible throughout the world, and I was the sole interviewer for the northern Galilee area, which was fascinating. I interviewed about 30 survivors and I don’t think two or three were from the same place. Every single story was this incredible history of their lives and gave me a whole other understanding of the Holocaust.”
Her work for the Ghetto Fighters Museum brought her back home, to the Omaha Anti-Defamation League, for whom she traveled to conduct Holocaust teacher education seminars. She was set to return to Israel but she says she saw “there was a lot of work to do here in Nebraska, so we decided to stay in the States.” Much of what she’s implemented here is drawn from what she learned with the Ghetto Fighters Museum and the Shoah foundation.
The Institute’s a member of the national Association of Holocaust Organizations. She serves on the board.
With Remembrance, Creativity, Transformation the Institute’s bridging art and history to shed new light on the Holocaust. Inviting the Hawthorne made sense because the group’s intimately involved in the Terezin Chamber Music Foundation, whose mission is “to preserve and advance the resilience of the human spirit expressed in and inspired by the music and art created in the Terezin concentration camp.” Its founder-director is Quartet director Mark Ludwig.
October 21 at Dundee Presbyterian Church the quartet will perform with the Omaha Public Schools Holocaust Remembrance Choir comprised of students from each OPS high school and string players from the Omaha Youth Symphony.
“The idea is to highlight music from the composers who were at Terezin and from American composers who have responded to that music or the history of the Holocaust,” says Dotan.
October 24 at the Jewish Community Center the quartet will perform the concert Silenced Voices of Terezin as a benefit for the Institute. The featured works include those composed in Terezin as well as Hans Krasa’s “String Quartet.” During the concert landscape painter Jim Schantz will produce an image envisioned but never realized by Krasa.
October 28 at Joslyn Art Museum’s Witherspoon Concert Hall the Hawthorne will join the Omaha Symphony Chamber Orchestra in performing “Concerto for String Quartet and Wind Orchestra” by Wulzburg concentration camp victim Erwin Schulhoff and will debut Clint Needham’s specially commissioned work, “Voices.”
During the week artists will work with kids at Kaneko to produce artworks for display and the Hawthorne will work with high school students and University of Nebraska at Omaha music students.
Dotan, honored earlier this year by the Women’s Center for Advancement, says the project marks a satisfying end to what’s “been a tremendous ride” at the Institute.
For schedule details and tickets, visit www.ihevents.org.
Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.