Sh'ma: The Dance Film

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Dr. Suki John, Texas Christian University Professor of Classical & Contemporary Dance, has developed her choreodrama, Sh’ma, into a proactive educational movement called The Sh’ma Project.

Originally choreographed in (the former) Yugoslavia with an original score and developed in John’s native New York City, Sh’ma retells her mother’s story as a young Jewish girl during the Holocaust. Professor John has now built on her original concept to gain wide support for The Sh’ma Project, an educational, artistic program designed to reach young adults through dance film, interactive Upstander Workshops, and free Online Educational Resources (OER) developed with Pennsylvania State University. The Project is scheduled to go into area high schools and colleges next year.

The Sh’ma Project provides a safe space enabling students to move beyond the ‘silent witness’ state of mind, to develop their own thoughtful choices and responses to hate-based speech and actions that lead to atrocity. 

World-wide suffering is difficult to grasp, but through The Sh’ma Project students, educators, and parents are empowered to recognize that individual experience opens a window to empathy and to understanding. Most of us have wished that, at a potentially threatening moment, we’d known what to do, how to defuse, what would give a real solution. Using interdisciplinary materials, this three-tiered approach uses art, workshops, and education to empower young people to creatively process information about the Holocaust. Facing historical events that previously have been too overwhelming to consider, they develop their own responses interpret the difficult content in empowering, creative ways, to contextualize history  and make contemporary connections. History repeats itself, and The Sh’ma Project with its workshops in movement and awareness provide ways to stand up and speak up when confronted by racism and ethnic violence.

‘Sh’ma’ is the centerpiece prayer in the Jewish faith. The first word, ‘Sh’ma,’ means ‘hear.’ Sh’ma can also be translated as ‘listen,’’ heed,’ and ‘do.’ Professor John’s mother refused to accept victim mentality after gaining her freedom from the camps, but instead hopefully insisted upon treating every day as an opportunity to do. John, inspired by her example, has created The Sh’ma Project, and by partnering with TCU and the Jewish Federation of Tarrant county, the power to do, to heal, and to understand is brought to all.

 

The Sh'ma film is currently in the editing process and will be released on Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, 2023. 

Dr. Suki John and her editing team are preparing a full-length director's cut as well as a shorter, educational version, which will be suitable for high school and college audiences.

Photography by M. Alimanov