3 generations, 1 community
L’DOR V’DOR: it’s important to us, so we’re always kvelling when we hear about Federation-championed programs that touch the whole family. Niza Schear, her son Ahmree, and her father Lejzor have had a year of amazing experiences through Federation-supported programs. We sat down in the lobby of the Barry Family Campus for a conversation about community, connections, and family.
When Lejzor tells a story—and he tells a lot of stories—you’re right there with him in Poland with his zadie, or working on a tractor in Israel in 90 degree heat.
It’s no wonder Lejzor is part of the Witness Theater Project, a Yachad course dedicated to keeping survivors’ memories alive in new ways. High school students pair with survivors like Lejzor to bond, build relationships, and eventually perform stories they spend the year learning.
Throughout the school year, Lejzor, five other survivors, and ten Yachad students rehearsed at the Sabes Jewish Community Center (JCC)—a place Lejzor is very familiar with. He has lunch with other seniors on a weekly basis, and is an avid swimmer at the pool.
“The JCC is a great place to feel connected,” Lejzor acknowledges. “I know everybody here, everybody knows me. Every time I come in—Lejzor, how are you?—Everybody. 100%,” he says with pride.
Last spring, the Witness Theater Project performed three shows. Lejzor was paired with then-ninth grader Theo Kronfeld, who portrayed a young Lejzor.
“Acting out Lejzor's story made me feel invested,” explains Theo. “I think it’s important kids know these stories so they will never be forgotten.”
Lejzor’s daughter Niza is thrilled for this opportunity for her father.
“This is a wonderful venue for my dad to share his stories,” she says, “and for kids to feel the strength and power of people in a dire situation.”
Niza Schear thrives on connections.
“When I was 16, I went to Israel and was placed with a family for a weekend,” she said. “35 years later, I see them every time I’m in Israel.”
Lifelong connections are what drive Niza in her work with Partnership2Gether’s School Twinning Program. The program pairs schools in Minneapolis with schools in our sister city of Rehovot, Israel to foster friendships and understanding.
Niza is part of the delegation of 5th and 6th grade teachers who traveled to Rehovot in February for a teachers’ exchange.
“We had been working together from across the world, but meeting face to face was pretty powerful,” says Niza. Through conversation and shared experiences—the teachers visited the Kotel and Machane Yehuda (Jerusalem’s largest market) together—the group bonded and collaborated on a plan for the coming year.
Three schools in Minneapolis are twinning their fifth and sixth grade religious school classrooms with Rehovot schools: Bet Shalom, Temple Israel, and Heilicher. Heilicher’s kindergarten and first grade classes will also participate.
“I’m motivated to do this because connections will make the world a better, more peaceful place,” says Niza. It’s a lesson she learned from Lejzor, who relied on connections and kindness growing up during the Holocaust.
“It stemmed from my dad—he made an impact on me. He used to tell us stories about living in Israel, and how Arabs and Jews lived and worked together.”
These lessons, Niza believes, are directly responsible for her teenage son Ahmree’s involvement in the Jewish community.
Among other roles in the Jewish community, last year Ahmree was instrumental in bringing an important speaker to the Jewish Community.
“He’s an Arab-Israeli who talks about standing for Israel when everyone in his family was against it,” says Ahmree. Niza, of course, was one of the event’s biggest cheerleaders.
“My dad made an impact on me,” Niza says to Ahmree, “and I made an impact on you.”
Ahmree also participated in the Chanukah 2016 teen exchange to Rehovot through Partnership2Gether and Yachad.
“Last year I participated in Israel Leadership Fellows,” says Ahmree, speaking aboout a class offered through Yachad that teaches students tactics to advocate for Israel. The next year he went to Israel. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet kids my age there.”
“It was an intense week filled with intellectual curiosity, dialogue, friendship, and more,” says Amy Weiss, Yachad’s Director of Programming and Development, who traveled to Israel with the delegation. “The week brought new perspectives. One thing is clear: wherever you come from, whatever your reality, the connection between Jewish people is strong.”
Ahmree is grateful for his Jewish community and the opportunities it has provided him. “I appreciate the network of people and the skills I’ve been able to develop,” he says, “It’s been an important part of growing up.”
Smiling, Niza puts her arm around Ahmree and turns to her father.
“Dad, how does it feel to have a grandson so involved in the Jewish community? Does it make you happy?”
“It does not make me happy,” says Lejzor. “It makes me very happy.”