Jewish Theater of Elgin to put on its first play, 'Rosenstrasse'
The Jewish Theatre of Elgin is producing their first play, "Rosenstrasse" by Terry Lawrence, which opens on Nov. 3 at Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin.
"Rosenstrasse," which translates to Rose Street, is based on the true story of the Rosenstrasse protests in Berlin, Germany in 1943. The protest began on Feb. 27 when Jewish men married to non-Jewish women were arrested from factories, detained and prepared to be shipped off to Auschwitz.
Around 1,700 men were arrested and taken to a holding facility on Rosenstrasse. Their wives started coming to Rosenstrasse to try to get their husbands back. Each day more and more women arrived. They began to unite. It is an uplifting, inspiring, and even funny at times telling of an important part of Holocaust history and education. You will laugh, you will cry, you will cheer as women find their voices, and you most certainly won't want to miss this show.
How this production came to Elgin is a long journey.
"I saw Rosenstrasse in 2002 in Grand Rapids, Mich.," explains Sarah Klein, the producer. "It's a story of women learning their strength and power against seemingly insurmountable odds. I saw it with my mother and my grandmother: two strong, smart, and passionate women. It's a play and a piece of history that stuck with me.
"Sitting at the Tony Awards this year, I decided I needed to use my strength, my power to make this history known and bring this beautiful play to Elgin," Klein said. "Closing night is my grandmother's yahrzeit, the anniversary of her death. She would have been proud to see me in this play, which shows formidable female role models."
From the minute Gareth Mann Sitz walked into Congregation Kneseth Israel many years ago, she knew it was the perfect location for theater.
She decided now was time for Jewish theater in the Elgin area and after talking to Klein, they resolved to bring "Rosenstrasse" to Congregation Kneseth Israel and to Elgin.
The Jewish Theatre of Elgin is performing "Rosenstrasse" in remembrance of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, which took place on Nov. 9-10 in 1938. Kristallnacht refers to the broken glass littering the streets after the Nazis attacked Jewish people and property.
"One of the things I love about performing this play at CKI is the audience will sit beneath the beautiful stained glass windows in the sanctuary," Klein commented. "I think history like Rosenstrasse where Jews and non-Jews can help and protect each other and organizations like the Jewish Theatre of Elgin where Jews and non-Jews work together to create a show are similar to stained glass windows. We take something broken, this broken glass from Kristallnacht, and put it together into something beautiful."
Klein explains that there is so much more special to her about performing in the sanctuary. The aisles are used extensively in this production as the streets. There is always motion, movement happening throughout the play and it puts the audience in the action.
Above the bimah, stage, there is a Ner Tamid, eternal light. "For me, I see the Ner Tamid as the presence of God in the story. So much of this play is about the power of women and the power of love, the Ner Tamid becomes part of it for me."
The Jewish Theatre of Elgin is proud there are many skilled people within the local Jewish community. The director is Jewish, the producer, the stage manager, people creating music, sets, props and costumes, as well as some of the cast. But, as the story of Rosenstrasse shows, so much can be accomplished when we work together, Jews and non-Jews. It enriches this piece to have diverse backgrounds.
"We have a wonderfully talented cast that feel such a connection to this play, a need to tell this story. We have cast members who were born in Germany or had German parents. One cast member had a mother born in Poland in a German labor camp. Their experiences enhance the play," remarked Mann Sitz.
"The moment I heard of the women's protest at Rosenstrasse, I knew this story had to be told. It's about the power of women, the power of nonviolent protest and the power of love itself. Even today, women demand to be heard," explains playwright Terry Lawrence.
Performances are 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, and 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4, at Congregation Kneseth Israel, 330 Division St. in Elgin.
There will be a talk back after the 3 p.m. performance on Nov. 4 with playwright Terry Lawrence who now resides in Vermont. Any tickets for any of the performances gains access to the talkback.
Tickets in advance are $15, $10 for students/seniors. Tickets at the door are $18, $12 for students/seniors.
Tickets can be purchased online at jewishtheatreofelginrosenstrasse.eventbrite.com or at Congregation Kneseth Israel. Come see this story unfold of the power of love as women stand up to hate, to Nazis.