Sosua: Dare to Dance Together! continues to inspire differences of meaning in its three years of casting and performing. Seeded by a UJA –Federation grant, Sosúa: Dare to Dance Together was conceived by the Y to foster intergroup relations between the Jewish and Dominican populations in the community. This original musical ,composed and created by a Liz Swados (http://lizswados.com/), sparked passion and excitement as it brought together New York City teens from diverse backgrounds to share the story of Sosúa, the designated city for Jewish refugees after Dominican Republic granted visas to over 800 German Jews seeking to escape the Nazi regime during World War II.
The YM and YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood saw Sosua as something that could unite the Dominican and Jewish communities in Washington Heights. The musical provided those two communities a shared experience to start a dialogue and to build deeper community relations and understanding. On a personal note, cast members identified with the stigma, fear, and anxiety that being a persecuted minority can bring. For many in the cast, Sosua was about creating a world that makes such differences as race, gender, or religion as celebrations of human nature and that values the uniqueness of every person.
Sosua encouraged audience members to join the cast in “reaching out and [giving] a little something” to the world around them, ignoring barriers that often stop us from getting to know a strange. Sosua is the beginning of the story; the audience is asked to finish it.
The United Nations (U.N.) saw the potential Sosúa had to inspire and invited its third year cast to perform at the General Assembly hall. Sosúa’s U.N. performance caught the attention of the international community because two groups are teaching about genocide and racial prejudices through a musical production, making the history more personal and relatable to larger audiences.
Many speeches were made at the U.N. by dignitaries’ about the need for racial harmony and to remind the current and next generations about the horrors of genocide, yet Sosúa was the most vivid example of what can happen when the want-to-do-something becomes a reality. You can capture Sosúa’s United Nations performance by going here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYsjExZs2fw
The musical’s coverage afterwards appeared in newspapers targeted to different communities including Dominican, European, Jewish, and Russian. After Sosúa won its first award from the Prakhin International Literary Foundation (http://www.prakhin.org/), a Russian based foundation named Dor le Dor (Generation to Generation) reviewed Sosúa as “the one of the most moving events in the history of the Holocaust” and saw the musical as a continuation of its legacy. Later, Sosúa received its 2nd award, Zahav Award in Jewish Impact, from the Jewish Community Councils of North America.
Chief Program Officer and concept originator, Victoria Neznansky reports an increase interest and impact in the show. She points to the number of Holocaust victims and and Dominican members who see multiple performances. Sosúa’s recent performance at Congregation Shearith Israel, North America’s oldest congregation, means Sosúa is gaining a multifaceted appeal.
Past audience members are the first to acknowledge how the musical moved them.
During a past performance’s question and answer session, one lady identified herself as child of holocaust survivors and revealed she had extensive knowledge about the Holocaust from personal testimonies she has heard with other Holocaust survivors and their children. She said she never knew the story of Sosua until that day’s performance, but she reminded the teens that they have an obligation to teach the message of the Holocaust to the next generation because even today, “We have Holocaust deniers in our present day.” For her, Sosua is a testimony of historical fact.
Dr. Leon Hoffman, a psychiatrist who escaped from Germany to Santo Domingo at age 7, found Sosúa as a beacon of hope particularly that teens are involved in Holocaust education.
“[Sosúa] was a memorable and moving experience for me. You cannot image what memories and feelings were elicited in me by the words, the music, and the young people’s vigor and vitality and real deep honesty,” Leon says.
As a community program, Sosúa is always in need of financial assistance and relies on donations to carry out its performances. The cast of Sosúa has decided to raise money in a unique way. Sosúa’s cast will use YouTube videos appealing to viewers for donations. You can view the first of the Youtube series by going here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZvUne61iRI&feature=email), a video professionally produced by Y member Roy Rodriguez. As the cast went international at the United Nations, they saw the next logical step is to take the production to the Dominican Republic or Israel and began the fundraising steps to make happen.
Yet as this year’s season came to its finale this past May, preparation is already being made for next year’s performances. The Museum of Tolerance (www.museumoftolerance.com), for instance, already has invited Sosúa for a fall performance. Casting is also changing. Victoria envisions next year’s cast will be composed of all-stars from previous Sosúa alumni, uniting three years of cast members.
The most significant contribution Sosua had for the Y was showing the impact a group of teens with a mission could have on the larger world. Contact Victoria Neznansky (firstname.lastname@example.org) at 212 569 6200 ext 204 to learn how you or your teen can get involved in Sosúa’s efforts.