Epstein play tackles serious topic


At the end of a play, applause is usually expected.

However, the students and teachers of Epstein Hebrew Academy encouraged the audience not to clap or cheer after the performance of The Wave last week because they don’t want people to think of it as just a play, and to go on with their everyday lives. They wanted the audience to remember the issue and take action to help people in need.

Advertisement for the J

For the annual Epstein Hebrew Academy play, 20 students re-created the 1981 movie The Wave, in the hopes of learning and spreading awareness of the genocide currently happening in Darfur.

“This year we thought we should deal with something that will get the kids involved with something that is happening around the world,” said Uria Teperberg, director of the play and a seventh-grade teacher and rabbi at Epstein Hebrew Academy. “The Jews feel they have an obligation to put out more and more awareness. We said ‘never again’ about the Holocaust, but it’s happening today in other places, especially Darfur. As Jews we can’t just sit and be quiet.”

The story is based on a true-life experiment, created by a teacher who was unable to answer the questions his students asked about Nazi Germany. He wanted them to understand what life was like, so he came up with a salute and chant called “The Wave,” which the students were expected to follow. After a week the experiment got out of control and had to be terminated.

“I can just imagine what those kids were actually feeling and how they went along with this huge thing,” said Natanela Kenigsberg, an actress in the school play. “It’s very scary that something that seems so out there can be so true.”

The play was put on by sixth-, seventh- and eighth- graders, who became passionate about the topic after they watched the movie and learned about the current Darfur conflict.

“Unfortunately, in the story and the process of making this play, we realized it’s very easy to cause people to join something as terrible like that because it’s not what or where you are, but who you are,” Teperberg said.

“We realized that we have a duty to make people realize that just because we’re in Missouri and are living a comfortable life, it’s not just about us,” Kenigsberg said. “Other people are suffering and we have to try to prevent what is happening. Parents will be proud of us because we’re doing something that can change the world.”

The group started practicing for the play roughly four months ago with a weekly practice, but as they got closer to the performance date, practices increased to two or three times a week.

“It’s been a big leap and a much harder play than it was last year,” co-director Suzanne Sundy said. “They’ve worked very hard. I really believe it’s been an educational journey for these children. It’s about standing up against injustice and being an individual.”

Aitan Groener, another actor in The Wave, said the play has caused him to think a lot about Darfur and he hopes people will be more motivated to help the cause.

“Anyone can be a Nazi and if you don’t try to stop something that you think is wrong, it’s not going to be solved, or at least not as soon as it needs to be.”