Sunday, April 05, 2020

Ma’ayanot hosted its third annual Book Day, an event where all Ma’ayanot students and faculty read the same book and then participate in a day of interdisciplinary programming aimed at exploring issues and topics related to that book. This year’s book, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, is a historical novel that recounts the story of the Mirabal sisters during the time of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Main themes that emerge from the book, and were therefore topics of numerous sessions throughout the day, include revolution, dictatorship, martyrdom, religious responses to tragedy, feminism, and more.

In her introduction to the day of programming, Ms. Devorah Wolf, Interdisciplinary Studies Coordinator, explained to the students that In the Time of the Butterflies was chosen for this year’s Book Day because “it is about a place and time that is different from our own and yet so familiar. The Mirabal sisters struggled with their beliefs and ideals, with their families and relationships. It’s a book about oppression and revolution, but it’s also a book about coming to terms with your own beliefs and figuring out what you stand for. These are themes that are important to all of us.”

For the first session of the day, all students watched Sosua: Make a Better World, a film that tells the story of Dominican and Jewish teenagers from the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York who collaborated to produce a musical about the Dominican Republic’s rescue of 800 Jews during WWII. Students debriefed after the movie in small sessions to try to make sense of the complicated man that Trujillo was—the ruthless dictator of In the Time of the Butterflies who murdered tens of thousands of his own people, but also the leader of the Sosua story who stepped up to save Jews would few others did.

Dr. Rosa Lavergn, Founder and Mental Health Consultant for the Dominican Women’s Development Center, delivered the keynote address on Women Transforming the World. Guest speakers who presented in small-group discussion sessions included Ma’ayanot alumnae Tiffy Unterman (’03), who presented on Feminism and Revolution, and Ms. Lauren Steinberg, Terrorism Analyst at ADL, who spoke on Recovering after Revolution.

Students also enjoyed numerous and varied teacher-led small-group discussion sessions that reflected the diverse areas of interest and expertise of the Ma’ayanot faculty. For example, Joyce Heller (Math) and Marta Baez (Phys. Ed.) joined together to teach students how to dance the merengue; Ivy Weiner (Art) led a session on Dominican art; Shifra Schapiro (Tanakh) compared the Mirabal sisters to women of Tanakh, Jewish history and our own day; Pam Ennis (History) explored the topic Revolution vs. Terrorism: Is One Person’s Terrorist Another’s Freedom Fighter; Enid Goldberg (English) helped students understand the art of memoir writing; Dr. Julie Goldstein (Jewish history) presented on The Sisterhood of Sacrifice: Gender and Martyrdom Throughout History; Sam Kur (English) analyzed religious views of tragedy; and Alan Deaett (History) explored dictators of the 20th century.

The day also featured a festive Latin-themed lunch that included a nachos station, chicken Ropa Vieja, Mexican rice, South American black beans, and layered southwestern salad, fare far different from an ordinary Ma’ayanot lunch.

When asked what they liked best about Book Day, junior Racheli Zirman commented that “the movie was phenomenal. It was great to see the camaraderie between the Dominicans and the Jews who worked together to tell such an inspiring story.” Students and teachers also reported enjoying the inter-grade nature of the program; for example, freshman Tali Antosofsky commented that “it was really fun to discuss and debate issues with older students,” and Jewish History teacher Dr. Julie Goldstein, who mainly teaches upperclassmen, noted “I loved having the opportunity to interact with ninth and tenth graders in an intellectual way.”

Dreshman Ariella Halstuch reported loving the ‘learning lishma’ atmosphere of the day: “I really enjoyed learning and having educational conversations without the pressure of having to take notes or being tested on the material.”

In summing up her impressions of the day, Ms. Wolf commented: “I think the day did a good job of addressing the themes of the book, not only through discussion of the book itself, but also in terms of covering relevant contemporary political and cultural issues that gave students a way to think about how themes of revolutions from prior generations relate to their own lives today.”

By Pam Ennis