Four Seasons Project is working to engage young people in the contemporary legacy of the Holocaust through the lens of Four Seasons Lodge, the documentary. The educational component of the project, now underway, will be designed for use in middle and high schools but elements, including survivor testimonials and website features geared toward for more advanced study, will be useful for college and graduate students as well.
By telling the story of Holocaust survivors who for decades have summered together in the Catskills to celebrate their survival, the film draws to the foreground their intoxicating passion for living, which stands in bracing contrast to lives harrowed by loss.
Using the film as its centerpiece, the education component of the Four Seasons Project will present a point of view seldom considered with regard to survivors: the strength, power and optimism derived from a community of shared experience. It also offers a last chance to meet the men and women who trumped Hitler’s Final Solution.
Four Seasons Lodge presents a point of view seldom considered in relation to survivors: the strength, power and optimism derived from the community of shared experience.
On the one hand, these are the principles best seen in the work of Rabbi Irving Greenberg (a member of the film’s advisory board) in which, to oversimplify, the celebration of life and the mundane is seen as a renunciation of the Holocaust.
And on the other, the film demands that we see the survivors, the Lodgers, as something other than victims.
Beyond the principles above, four factors uniquely position the project as a learning and outreach tool:
1) Oral History: over the last few decades, largely initiated by the work of the Foxfire team in the Appalachians, educators have moved to make oral history an important tool in the classroom. As multi-media presentations become more common, students may no longer be encouraged to see the value in verbal storytelling. A documentary such as “Four Seasons Lodge” opens the window to seeing the complexity, integrity and intensity of the experience of the elderly.
2) There has been a recent spike in the movement of younger Jews to reclaim some of their diaspora heritage. This is often most seen in music. The project has sparked the interest of Golem, as well as other popular bands in the burgeoning Klezmer movement. It seems likely that we will attach a DVD-extra to the project, with reflections and music by some of these younger people. In so doing, “Four Seasons Lodge” reaches out to, and bridges the gap, between the experiences of the old and the young. (It might be worth noting that interest seems to be spiking not with the children of survivors, but their grandchildren, seeking clues to the mysteries of their past. Some graduate students may wish to analyze the impact of the Holocaust on the second-and-third generation offspring of survivors.)
3) The Borscht Belt. Although the older generations, for whom the Catskills was a center of entertainment in their prime, may have a tendency towards self-denigration, younger Jews have a growing hunger for this aspect of their heritage. This fascination may derive from younger people looking and longing for an experience that is wholly Jewish, and one that is far from negative. With the region’s old-style resorts and bungalow colonies rapidly disappearing, this is one of the last times Catskills culture can be recorded on film, providing a document of inherent value and interest.
4) As a piece of “Direct Cinema” filmmaking. The tools of media-making become more and more common, which should raise questions about who makes media, what messages are inherent, and how experience is altered or refracted by the process of shooting and editing. The characters of the Lodge are special in many ways, not least in their willingness to share their experiences, and their ability to be themselves despite the camera. Social Studies, English and Media teachers will be able to elucidate questions about the nature of narrative.
Educational Discussion Points
Screening the film would raise multiple lines of inquiry, including:
Are the Lodgers “victims”? What defines a “victim?”
How is their strength manifest?
What gives a home meaning? What defines home? What/who define family?
How could the concentration camps have occurred?
What defines inalienable rights?
How does being Polish/Russian/Jewish define the experiences of the Lodgers?
How do you, as a student, define your experience as an American/religion/sub-culture?
How many of the students are descendants of immigrants? What were your parents/grand-parents/great-grandparents fleeing from or seeking when they came to the U.S.?
What happens to history once those who’ve experienced it are no longer able to tell their stories?
Does history always make sense?
Who defines happiness?
What role does nature play in our happiness? What role do friendships play?
What is “oral history?” How is it altered by the presence of cameras?
It is worth noting that Mathew Lavine, the film’s producer, has a great deal of experience as a film/media educator, and as a developer of educational materials. He has taught video for the Children’s Aid Society; helped students to make ‘zines at community-based organizations including settlement houses; was the director of education at Film/Video Arts, where he managed over 30 media-education courses each semester and initiated filmmaking programs for youth, and was the Director of In-Schools Programming for GLSEN, where, among other tasks, he helped create and distribute educational materials for the award-winning documentary Out of the Past.
Although he will play an advisory role on the educational component, Andrew Jacobs, the film’s director, is a 10-year veteran of the New York Times who frequently works with interns and as a journalism educator.
The filmmakers have been in discussion with Facing History and Ourselves (an award-winning non-profit, and experts in the field of Holocaust and post-war education) and more traditional Holocaust educators, including Holocaust museums in cities across the country.
Resources Development for Educational DVD
Where we are at right now:
The people behind the making of Four Seasons Lodge have laid out a basic framework, inquiry questions, a schedule and have been forming relationships with partners and advisors on the educational components. Valued supporters of the project include:
- Simone Schweber, Goodman Professor of Education and Jewish Studies, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, The University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Shelly Tenenbaum, PhD, Professor of Sociology, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Department of Sociology, Clark University
- Ken Wolk, professor of Holocaust classes at Suffolk Community College
- Ilene Karp, retired teacher of Holocaust Studies
- Jan Darsa, Director of Jewish Education, Facing History and Ourselves
- Gabrielle Schoenfeld, who leads groups of young people on Birthright Israel trips, as well as trips to Central America for the American Jewish World Service
What is unique and special educational opportunities are created through the Four Seasons Lodge project?
- Over 300 hours of high quality verite/interview footage, not included in the primary feature, that was directed by Andrew Jacobs and recorded by a professional team of filmmakers. Educators have a need for shorter classroom-timed videos and exercises, which the project can provide.
- Test screenings at universities and film festivals have revealed that FSL has huge cross-generational potential. In surveys and post-screening discussions, young viewers have said they relate to the film’s characters through unexpected commonalities: both groups tend to create families out of friends; they are seeking community; and their attraction to parties with dancing and music.
- The Project has gathered an Oral History of previously un-articulated past, that is quickly disappearing.
- The film and the corollary materials will provide tools for nuanced and complex philosophical analysis. In addition to the experts cited above, the Project will include narration by Rabbi Irving Greenberg, who will provide the moral and intellectual thesis behind the project: that the celebration of life, of the mundane, is the ultimate renunciation of the Holocaust.
- The people of the Four Seasons are never presented as simple victims, alien and alone. Instead, in a break from most of the available material on Survivors, they are presented as strong, powerful, funny, normal people who are nonetheless extraordinary. Feedback surveys (as well as casual missives from audiences), inform this idea: People, students young and old, relate the experiences of the Lodgers back to their own lives. In doing so, a historical barrier is broken.
- Some educational partners have requested segments from the project to use in teacher-training conferences.
- All of the themes and questions raised by the Lodge are pertinent to social studies curricula – not only the historic, but the current events as well.
Types of materials to be made available:
1 – Video Segments, of 4 to 17-minutes in length.
2 – Questions of Inquiry and Lesson Plans for teachers.
3 – Archival materials: still photographs, text including Hymie’s poetry, and other rich documents.
3 – Suggested cross-generational community activities, for both traditional post-screening Q-and-A panels with Holocaust survivors, and with less traditional roundtable formats.
Video segments and additional materials are to be categorized and clarified in the following ways (so that a teacher or facilitator can pick a focus area) to encourage further understanding by going :
1 – Deeper into individuals’ biographies, through Character Studies: short selected clips and longer personal Holocaust monologue experiences of the main subjects: Hymie, Carl, Tosha, Tobias, Lola, Charles, Aaron and Basie.
2 – Deeper into the context of the Borscht Belt: clips from interviews and chatter, still images and written materials, will help recreate the world of the Catskills in the 20th century.
3 – Deeper into questions of faith: While the primary documentary engages issues of faith in a multi-faceted community, this section will allow for deeper analysis and introspection, bringing the very perilous questions of faith during and after the Holocaust to the foreground.
4 – Deeper into the music and Saturday-night parties: The project has an abundance of unused party material. Clips and supplements would encourage learners to think about music as an act of joy, and partying as not only joyful, but as a response or reaction survival technique, by those who bear the weight of a living legacy. 5 – Deeper into the concept of community: The Lodgers created and managed a living cooperative, which was also a self-selected family of people who’d undergone their experience, and would understand both their pain and their humor. Teachers will be able to raise questions about the value and challenges of community, utopian or otherwise.
I. Educational Advisors
a. Simone Schweber, the Goodman Professor of Education and Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin.
b. Gabriele Schoenfeld, based in Israel, who leads groups on Birthright Israel trips to Yad Vashem and service trips to Central America for the American Jewish World Service; and whose great uncle and aunt are subjects in the film (Charles and Pola Swietarski).
c. Walter Armstrong, the editor of PharmExec, former editor of Poz Magazine.
d. Writer and filmmaker Patti Munter.
e. Ron Gorsky, the principal of a Staten Island high school who has developed and implemented a Holocaust curriculum for teachers and students.
f. Amelia Klein, who brings a multi-generational approach, through her doctoral research on the grandchildren of survivors.
II. Community Education Partners and Prospective Partners
The Four Seasons Project has begun making inroads with other non-profits with whom it will build the in-classroom tools. Our intention is to make the materials available online and with the regular distribution of the DVD.
a. Publishing assistance will come from Pass It On, a non-profit whose mission is to help teachers and students construct a classroom culture of learning, caring and inquiry, by being a publishing house for educational multi-media, connected to a hands-on, in-school programs. The publication and on-line components will focus on understanding and critiquing current and historical world issues, transforming social and personal realities and encouraging students to explore the creation of a more just, humanistic society. Pass It On and its parent organization, Dream Yard Project, have experience anchored in 15 years of arts-based lesson plans for grades K-12, certified by the New York State Department of Education. Its staff of writers, activists and teaching artists have also created curriculum and educational outreach programs for the 92nd St. Y, New Victory Theater, National Actors Theater, U.N. Dept. of Children in Armed Conflict, Leadership Program and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
b. The Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, which has a great deal of experience in creating short docu-elements and lesson plans for classrooms, as well as teacher training.
c. PROSPECTIVE Partners:
d. Simon Wiesenthal Center
e. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
f. Holocaust Museum Houston
We ‘re looking to build relationships with non-profits to provide educationally challenging and appropriate materials that will help students understand the survivors of of the Holocaust, and the history of the Borscht Belt, culminating in suggested lesson guides for the film.
If you have suggestions, or you’re an educator who’d like to volunteer, please contact Mattthew Lavine, via mLavine@FourSeasonsMovie.org