When Joyce Newstat first saw the concert pianist and acclaimed storyteller Mona Golabek perform The Children of Willesden Lane, she says, “I saw what a huge talent Mona was, and that her story would be an incredible and dynamic educational tool.”
Two years after that night at the theater, the JFCS Holocaust Center is producing its largest undertaking yet—The Children of Willesden Lane Bay Area BIG READ, a powerful education program which culminates in an award-winning theatrical production at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre. 7,000 students and teachers—grades six to twelve—will be participating from throughout Northern California.
Toward the Future of Holocaust Education in the Post-Survivor Era
As the Chair of the JFCS Holocaust Center’s Council of Children of Survivors, Joyce and her spouse, Susan Lowenberg, are devoted supporters of the mission of the Center to educate people about the Holocaust and patterns of genocide.
Together with the staff, Joyce has been thoughtfully asking the question of how personal stories about the Holocaust will be shared with students in a post-survivor era.
The Children of Willesden Lane, written by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, is a book that tells the true story of Ms. Golabek’s mother, Lisa Jura, a 14-year-old musical prodigy in Vienna who dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. Her dream was interrupted when Nazi Germany annexed Austria and her parents were forced to make the difficult decision to send her to London with the organized rescue effort that took place nine months before the start of the outbreak of WWII called the Kindertransport. Lisa became a refugee and never again saw her parents.
“Mona’s live performance about her mother’s story is so moving, I knew the Holocaust Center would be the perfect partner to bring the performance to students in the Bay Area,” says Joyce.
“This production is the first large-scale JFCS Holocaust Center program which does not feature first-person testimony,” continues Joyce. And it is incredibly effective. Students who have read the book and see the production across the country relate personally with the plight of Lisa Jura as a refugee and are inspired by the strength she finds in her music.
Creating Powerful Educational Opportunities
Thanks to Joyce’s leadership and passion for the project, the Holocaust Center is able to present The Children of Willesden Lane Bay Area BIG READ to the Bay Area.
“I’m really thrilled we’ve taken this opportunity to share this with students,” says Joyce. “Growing up in New York, I went to public school in Queens, New York and my class got to go to the Met (Metropolitan Opera) on a field trip. To this day I remember being awed at the experience. Sharing culture, music, storytelling, and history with students can be such a powerful and once-in-a-lifetime experience for young people.”
The full BIG READ educational program, including classroom books, curriculum, teacher training, and the performance itself is being offered at no charge to Bay Area teachers and their students.
A Deep and Personal Commitment to Holocaust Education
Joyce plays an instrumental role in the programming and success of the JFCS Holocaust Center and, like many of the thousands of students that the Center touches each year, she learned the lessons of the Holocaust from a survivor. That survivor was her father, Seymour.
Seymour Newstat did not talk much about his life during the Holocaust which included internment and escape from the Lodz Ghetto, living in hiding for three years in a small farmhouse, and the loss of his parents and brothers. But in the last five years of his life Seymour resided at the senior living community founded by JFCS, Rhoda Goldman Plaza, and became involved with JFCS’ Café By the Bay where he presided over the annual Passover Seder with gusto and took part in cultural and social activities. He made new friends and began to openly share stories about his life during the Holocaust for the first time. He was even matched with a high school student participating in the JFCS Holocaust Center’s Next Chapter Program who documented his life and was profoundly touched by his story.
Joyce says, “My father found comfort and camaraderie those last few years among other Holocaust survivors, and I re-dedicated myself to the essential need to educate people about the Holocaust when my dad began sharing his story more publicly. It was so very meaningful to him, and to me.”
Joyce Newstat and Susan Lowenberg were inspired by both of their father’s legacies. Susan’s father, William J. Lowenberg, was also a Holocaust survivor and devoted his life to Holocaust education. He played a vital role in the development of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a Vice Chairman in the late 1980s and early ‘90s and he was a founding Board Member of the JFCS Holocaust Center.
A Legacy of Giving
Joyce and Susan established the Seymour Newstat Endowment Fund at JFCS in 2014. The fund supports the annual Passover Seder for Holocaust Survivors, and it helps support programs of the JFCS Holocaust Center which educate young people and inspire social responsibility and activism so that future generations will stand up against injustice.
The couple also supports the JFCS Holocaust Center’s William J. Lowenberg Speakers Bureau, which brings eyewitness testimony from Bay Area survivors to students and adults in their classrooms or institutions.
Joyce says, “Storytelling is an amazing educational tool like no other, and I know that the thousands of young people taking part in the BIG READ will be touched and uplifted. I hope that after reading the book and watching the performance they’ll feel empowered to tap into their own strengths during difficult times in their lives.”
The Bay Area BIG READ is made possible through the generosity of the following foundations: Berland Foundation, Koret Foundation, Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture, Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation. Generous individual contributors include: Valli Benesch and Bob Tandler, Riva and David Berelson, Julie Brandt, Lynn Bunim, Suzanne and Elliott Felson, Anita Friedman and Igor Tartakovsky, Mona Golabek, Adean and Ben Golub, Sally and Richard Goodman, Joan & David Karlin, Susan and Moses Libitzky, Jacqueline Neuwirth and Stephen Swire, Joyce Newstat and Susan Lowenberg, Paul Orbuch, Karen Pell and Heather Lupa, Gerald Rosenstein z’l, Dan Safier, Lydia Shorenstein, Laura Talmus and Ace Smith, Tramiel Charitable Trust, and Luba Troyanovsky.
If you would like to make sure that future generations learn about the Holocaust, please call Barbara Farber, Director of Development, at 415-449-3858 or email BarbaraF@jfcs.org.