By Hadassah Reich, Staff Writer
Sometimes, the stresses of everyday life are loud. Issues such as a stain on a shirt, an upcoming exam, or sleeping through an alarm take up a lot of headspace. The most trivial concerns seem so significant. And sometimes, things happen, and all of those stresses cease to matter. Sometimes, evil overshadows or tragedy strikes and everything you thought was so big, you realize is actually minuscule. On October 7, everything ceased to matter.
Classes started on the tenth. We went back to school, but we weren’t the same students as when we left for Rosh Hashana. Teachers had varied in their responses, some canceling class, some going on as usual, and others falling somewhere in between. There was a numbness to it all, a heavy mix of sadness, a sense of meaninglessness, and guilt. In the broader and darker context of war, what does class attendance, assignments, or grades matter?
We tried to find a balance, allowing the monotony of a familiar schedule to pull us along.
And then, time happens.
I sit on the third floor of the New York Public Library in the middle of the day. A window, three feet away from me, looks out toward an unimpressive view of the building across the street. The sun dissects its rectangular shape in half, leaving one side too bright and the other too dark- a stark juxtaposition.
My earbuds play the soundtrack of the Broadway show Harmony. This isn’t a coincidence, it’s not like I pressed shuffled and this album just happened to play. Sometimes music is a means of dissociation, but not today. Today, in the NYPL, I listen intentionally, allowing the soundtrack to evoke the memories from last week when I went to see Harmony as part of a Stern event.
It was a Thursday night and I was exhausted from school and current events, so I was really excited to get out. I wouldn’t classify myself as a theater kid per se as I have zero talent, but I love attending Broadway shows. It’s not just the actual show that’s exciting; it’s the whole experience. You arrive at the theater, receive a playbill, and find your seat. You flip through the playbill, look at the time, check when intermission is, realize you need to pee, rush to the bathroom, hope the show doesn’t start without you, triple check your phone is on silent, and spend ten minutes eagerly waiting for the lights to dim. And then, it happens: The lights fade and the stage transforms from a black platform to a time machine, a portal to elsewhere. Where the show starts is where all of your worries and anxieties end. How magical it is to let you and your problems fall away in the face of art and culture. Needless to say, I was looking forward to this show. I was looking forward to the moment when the lights go down and everything else ceases to matter.
I had no idea what I was walking into.
To be completely candid, I’m the one at blame. I didn’t listen to the music beforehand. I didn’t do any research. I really had no idea what the story was about. Harmony sounded like an innocent name enough, but now I can testify to its guilt.
According to the Harmony website, the show is, “Six remarkably talented young men form a singing group who become international sensations: The Comedian Harmonists. They sell millions of records, star in major motion pictures, and play the biggest theaters around the world. By 1935, they were never heard from again. What happened? That’s the extraordinary true story of Harmony.”
What happened?! Is this a rhetorical question? It’s the Holocaust, not a cliffhanger.
There is a huge significance to this show existing on Broadway. It’s a brilliant tool to educate people about the Holocaust and its horrors, and it sparks a broader conversation for when viewers leave the theater. It shows the Holocaust from a perspective that we don’t typically view it through, proving that the evils of the Holocaust were so much more widespread than we tend to think, since we typically learn about the Holocaust as a timeline from the ghettos to cable cars to concentration camps (which of course is crucial to learn about).
Harmony not only serves as an exceptional educational tool but the show itself is incredibly well done. The costumes, featuring sparkly gowns and fancy tuxedos, are stunning. There are several laugh out loud moments, showcasing a charming comedic nature of the show. Even Albert Einstein makes a cameo. The most striking element is the use of visual effects and props– vintage microphones, flashlights, bells, silver platters and champagne all contribute to the show’s spectacular visuals. And, of course, the music. The soundtrack is a mix of emotions ranging from hopefulness to sadness, guilt to power, and much more.
While not a Broadway critic, I can tell that this is a good show. The production was high quality. The acting was amazing. The music is still stuck in my head. But honestly, if I wasn’t worried about making a scene, I would have stood up and walked out.
Maybe I am too emotional. Maybe I am too sensitive. Maybe it would have been fine if I was better prepared. I mistakenly assumed that I would be able to leave the weight of the world at the theater door, but Harmony just made everything heavier.
Time has since removed me from the intensity of the show, yet these are the things that still stick out. Like many Jewish tragedies, it begins on a positive note– a group of singers find each other and a shared interest in singing. There’s a feeling of lightheartedness and serendipity. But it takes place in the late 1920s, so everything is hedged with the notion of oh-no-everything-is-about-to-go-downhill. Gradually, the themes of antisemitism, fear, and hopelessness are peppered throughout the musical numbers until they envelop the entire show.
It wasn’t a performance, it was pain. It was reality. I thought I could look away for a couple of hours, but evil presents itself everywhere. I couldn’t look away because there was a scene with actors playing Nazis who came into the audience, not ten feet away from me. I couldn’t look away because there was a scene encapsulating two weddings. A moment of hope and happiness, but I’ve seen Fiddler on the Roof. I know how Jewish weddings end. Sure enough, the groom’s glass was not the only thing to shatter. I could not look away because when names appeared in yellow in the background depicting Jews who were arrested or sent away, I only saw the names from tehillim lists; names of our soldiers, our hostages, our ill, our murdered. I couldn’t look away because the stage I stared into was not a time portal. It was a mirror.
The visual effects within the show do not distract from the main truth: we need to know our history. We need to showcase our history, and then we need to redefine what the very word means. History is not confined to one place, nor does it stay in the past. It’s not just a subject taught in a classroom, it’s our day-to-day, breathing in and out experience.
I guess this is not a new message. I guess that is kind of the point.
Our first day back in classes, we had nothing to say. Most of my teachers didn’t continue with their formal lesson plan. Those who did were just white noise, background music, while I read every news update on every news channel I could find. Now, my professor in my social movements class wants us to analyze the current rallies and protests through sociological approaches.
As mentioned earlier, time happens, but analysis requires a sense of objectivity. It requires the ability to step back, and this is not something we can step back from right now. The evils of Hamas and its supporters, the pervasive antisemitism, can’t be reduced into anything digestible. In a classroom or in a Broadway theater, all of the evil, the tragedy, the fear, the hate are controlled. They are maintained by walls and white boards and velvet folding chairs, but then you walk out into the street and there are no desks to sit at. The notes you take are world observations, and right now it doesn’t matter how beautiful your cursive handwriting is because those notes are ugly. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the music soundtrack of Harmony is, it’s painful to listen to. I press pause and take my earbuds out. I’ve had enough.
It’s Friday afternoon, and the rush of the week comes to a close. I light my candle and welcome in Shabbat. I pray for Israel and Am Yisrael, everything else ceases to matter.
On Shabbat afternoon, two friends and I were reading in the Brookdale lounge. It was a calm and restful afternoon until we started hearing sounds reminiscent of the American Revolution. We put our novels down and looked out the window, confused and wondering if we were hearing things, but the street outside looked just as it always looks. And the noise kept getting louder and louder. Then we saw the police presence, and we saw the banners– red, green, and black. We heard the noise distinctively: the chants of “Israel committing genocide” and “from the river to the sea.” We watched 34th street go from an empty and quiet street to a mass march of people who hate my people, who support evil, who are calling for the eradication of our homeland.
I remember the protest that happened in the middle of Harmony. It was led by the character Ruth, an activist, trying to fight against the government before Hitler and the Nazis could rise to power.
I don’t know how long it lasted, but it felt like an hour. Eventually, 34th street turned back into the quiet street that it was before. The protesters left, but we stayed staring out the window. We didn’t have much to say, besides for some comic relief here and there. Anger, sadness, helplessness. We walked to mincha. We hear the first aliyah of the next parsha being read from the Torah: Avraham burying Sarah.
It feels like everything ceases to matter, but maybe that is just because the most important things matter a tremendous amount. Supporting Israel matters. Supporting our soldiers and civilians, hostages and injured matters. Supporting the Jewish nation matters. Condemning the evil that Hamas is matters. The overwhelming actions of chessed, prayer, rallying, and unity matters.
Time happens, Shabbat ends. We begin havdalah.
“Behold, God is my deliverance, I trust in God and I am not afraid. God is my strength and song, He will be my deliverance…”