The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival, East Valley Jewish Community Center and City of Chandler have joined together to present a special production of the play “Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project.” A public performance of the play will be held on Thursday, Jan. 12 at the Chandler Center for the Arts. This performance is part of the city’s Celebration of Unity, a series of events held in Chandler every January to honor community heritage and diversity and to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This dynamic play touches on the Holocaust, ethics, education, respect and unsung heroes, with a message of tolerance and hope. The performance will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the current cast, director and some of the original cast members who started the Irena Sendler movement.
According to the “Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project” website (irenasendler.org), the movement began in 1999 in a classroom in rural Kansas. Mr. Norman Conard, a high school teacher, encouraged three students to work on a year-long project that would, among other things, align with their classroom motto, “He who changes one person, changes the world entire.”
Conard showed the three students – Megan Stewart, Elizabeth Cambers and Sabrina Coons – a clipping from a U.S. News & World Report article on Irena Sendler that stated she had provided hiding places for over 2,000 children during World War II. Since he had never heard of this woman or her story, and to confirm the accuracy of such a claim, he encouraged his students to research the story further.
They discovered the truth: that Irena Sendler was a non-Jewish social worker who went into the Warsaw Ghetto, rescued Jewish children and placed them into homes of Polish families or hid them in convents and orphanages. She made lists of the children’s names and put the lists in jars, which she then buried in a garden in the hopes of digging them up one day to tell the children of their true identities. The students went on to write a performance based on the life of Irena Sendler. Since that humble Kansas beginning, “Life in a Jar” has been performed hundreds of times all over North America and Europe.
The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival uses the film version of “Life in A Jar” as the cornerstone of its Films in the Schools youth outreach program, where carefully trained presenters bring films into public and religious schools and present information to students in grades seven to12. “Life in a Jar” is used to teach about the Holocaust. Film allows young people to learn on a different level; characters, stories and concepts that may seem difficult to understand come alive on the screen. The film is a valuable teaching tool in history classes, as well as social studies, language arts and character-development courses and focuses on understanding instead of memorization. The film and study guide are free to schools.
Educators can also encourage students to write something for an essay contest; a gift card will be awarded to the winner.
“The Films in the Schools program has been visiting schools throughout the metropolitan area and elsewhere over the past 10 years,” says Bob Segelbaum, executive director of the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival. “We have a strong presence in the East Valley and the Chandler school district is very active in the program.”
For the Wednesday, Jan. 13 production (which is not open to the public), 800 Chandler-area high school students will arrive by bus to attend an assembly and free presentation of the play. Since the school program began more than 10 years ago, the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival has shared this film with over 3,500 secular and religious school students.