Respected for its strong commitment to diversity, inclusion and acceptance, the City of Chandler will again highlight these exemplary traits during its annual Celebration of Unity.
The yearly tradition honors the values of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his commitment to equality and universal respect. This year’s iteration showcases a deep-rooted partnership with The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival and East Valley Jewish Community Center, with the play “Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project.” It will be presented at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, at the Chandler Center for the Arts. Tickets are $10 general admission; $5 students up to age 25. For information, visit evjcc.org.
The story pays tribute to Sendler, a Polish Christian woman who smuggled 2,500 children out of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.
“The historical transcendence message is, as the Talmud says, when you save one life you save a universe,” said Rabbi Michael Beyo, CEO of the East Valley Jewish Community Center. “In this case Irena Sendler—a Catholic social worker—saved over 2,500 universes. Each one of us is a universe, but we can only exist with the kindness and compassions of others.”
The 80-minute production shares the horrors of the Holocaust, and one brave woman who stood up to the atrocities by demonstrating extraordinary valor in the face of overwhelming odds.
“I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors and have been directly affected by anti-Semitism against myself, my family and friends,” Beyo said. “This act of courage done by a Catholic Polish woman shows that lights prevail over darkness, just like the lights of Hanukkah prevail over the darkness of anti-Semitism and racism.”
The play was developed in 1989 by four Midwest high school students as a response to their teacher Norm Conard’s charge to develop a National History Day assignment, which would answer his classroom motto, “He who changes one person, changes the world entire.
Patrons can participate in a Q&A after the production with cast members; Megan Feist, one of the four students who created the play; and Conard, who now serves as executive director of the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes in Fort Scott, Kansas.
City officials seized the opportunity to share this compelling story with Valley residents after they were approached by Adrian Bendick, senior programming coordinator for the EVJCC and chairwoman of the Films in Schools program at the GPJFF. The film version of “Life in a Jar” is used for student outreach.
“I wanted to bring the play to Chandler for several years,” Bendick said. “I have presented the film of the play to high schools as far north as Cottonwood and all areas between there and Chandler.”
According to a Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival release, more than 3,900 secular and religious school students have seen the film in nine years.
A presentation on Friday, Jan. 13, is closed to the public, as Chandler-area high school students will attend a free presentation of the program.
Beyo said Chandler officials were paramount in bringing this program together.
“The City of Chandler is a very important partner with the EVJCC—not only for this project. We are thankful for the partnership and for the educational programs and events that we do and will continue to do in partnership,” Beyo said. “Together we are able to bring meaningful and important messages to our community.”
As for the City, occasions such as “Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project” are fundamental cornerstones of its commitment to shared mores.
“Chandler is very proud of its diversity and we look for opportunities to celebrate our differences along with the attributes that we share with one another,” said Leah Powell, community resources & diversity manager, City of Chandler.
“It is through education and celebration that we promote unity in Chandler. ‘Life in a Jar’ is a great example of an event that educates our youth and the public in general on the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust.”
As a New Year unfolds, patrons can be touched by the story that stresses tolerance, hope, harmony and solidarity.
“The message is unity in our community and how one person can change so many lives,” Beyo said. “Do not stand idle when wrongs are happening.”