I asked Maria Tumarkin to curate this year’s Yom Hashoah commemoration after hearing her confronting address at FOJAM’s first Yom Hashoah event in 2021. When I suggested she curate our follow up event in 2022 as our first non-musical curator, she needed to be convinced that it could work. Could we create a performance bringing writers and musicians together in a meaningful collaboration to commemorate the Shoah?
We were both committed to the idea of focusing on ‘women and war’. Maria recommended I read Svetlana Alexievich’s book ‘The Unwomanly Face of War’ as it would help me understand the tone and intent of the show she wanted to create. The event began to take shape. We had no idea of what was to come – a brutal invasion of Maria’s homeland; something of this scale not seen in Europe since WWII.
As the war raged on, Maria continued to work, connecting with artists to help them contextualise their performances, meeting with designers to ensure the poster artwork had depth and beauty, discussing set design and lighting, and troubleshooting how we would manage the size of the stage. I was astonished. Maria’s commitment to the show thrust us into a higher gear, driven by the urgency and significance of creating art about war from a woman’s perspective, at a time when she herself remained deeply connected to the people in Ukraine and across Europe who were trying to house, feed and save children and mothers in Ukraine.
Working with Maria has been the most important collaboration I have ever been part of and it’s a privilege to work with so many talented and intellectually engaged and diligent artists who are invested in creating this significant work, aiming to find some meaning and solace.
My maternal grandparents came to Australia from Bialystok, Poland in 1948 and my paternal grandparents came from Nove Zamky, Hungary and Bratislava, Czechoslovakia via Israel between 1952 and 1953. All four of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors, although they all had issues with those words, as ‘what’ you survived, changed the definitions of survival and the history and weight that they allowed those terms to carry. With their survival came guilt, declared and hidden traumas, and a visceral sense of how lucky they were to be alive.
Growing up we were reprimanded for wasting food, for being ungrateful for what we had, for taking our possessions and health for granted. Only one of my four grandparents is still alive, and the exposure my children have to this lived trauma is minimal. I try to pass on the stories and messages that were conveyed every day through trivial domestic transactions, but for my children I sound like a bore, a fake sage performing a duty. And so it goes. My grandchildren, not born yet, what will they know of their ancestors’ history, will they know their names, how they smelt, how their hands felt, the nuance of their smiles?
How to pass memories and personal stories on to our descendants so that we can attempt to make real the unfulfilled promise of ‘“never again”? I’ve learnt from my grandparents’ stories, from their pain, from my parents’ inherited trauma, and my own, from the work of Maria Tumarkin and Svetlana Alexievich, that the common thread is the frailty and strength of the human heart. If we can unlock our empathy and compassion for others through song, music and stories that illuminate our common humanity, those feelings may never be forgotten.
This is why we try.
This version is slightly amended from Lior Albeck-Ripka’s letter to audiences in the program for upcoming Yom HaShoah commemoration commissioned, curated and presented by FOJAM (Festival of Jewish Arts and Music) on Thursday 28 April.
When Women Speak of War: Artists Reckon with Wars Declared and Hidden, to commemorate and stand in solidarity with Ukraine, next Thursday 28 April at The National Theatre in St Kilda.
The show is available in person or as a livestream until Sunday 1 May. Tickets are available via www.fojam.com
We have a double pass to giveaway to attend the show to the first person who emails us at email@example.com and agrees to write a short piece of their reflections on it. We will publish it in the coming weeks.