Anti-Semitic calls to play director prompt ADL action

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The Anti-Defamation League plans to file a report following 12 angry, anti-Semitic phone calls to the director of two concentration-camp dramas in a Marin County Catholic school.

A few of the calls, which preceded last month's student performances, were profanity-riddled, while others raved that director Susannah Woods was "poisoning the minds or the young." Other comments included "The Holocaust never happened," "Racial cleansing is part of God's plan" and "Hitler was a genius."

All of the callers asked for Woods, who directed three performances each of Celeste Rasphanti's "I Never Saw Another Butterfly" and Arthur Miller's "Playing for Time" at San Dominico School in San Anselmo. The plays featured a cast of high-school and college students.

Woods staged the plays "so people wouldn't forget." But she "was not prepared" to receive hate calls.

"It was horrible to have that directed at you when you feel you're doing something right," she said.

"It encouraged us to go on," said Lochlan Shelfer, 15, of Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, who had parts in both plays. "We felt that if we could have an impact on people negatively, imagine what we could do positively."

Said Woods: "We started calling ourselves `artistic warriors.' The students weren't about to back off."

The Marin County Sheriff's Department was notified, but did not take action because the incidents are not legally classified as hate crimes, since the callers did not make threats, nor did any individual make more than one call.

However, Jessica Ravitz, associate director of the ADL's Central Pacific office, was particularly alarmed that 12 different people made the calls.

"That's scarier because it means there are more people out there that have these opinions to express, as opposed to one kook," she said.

The ADL plans to file an anti-Semitism incident report, which helps monitor anti-Semitic activity locally and nationally.

The director said the calls inspired stronger performances. Shelfer, whose mother is Jewish and grandmother is a survivor, said audiences were also moved.

"What pumped us up even more," he said, was that prior to each show, a survivor of the camps told their story to the audience.

Many audience members called the theater department to express their appreciation. A number of Shelfer's friends called him at home to do the same.

The best moment for Shelfer, though, came on opening night "A friend came up to me after the show, just bawling. There were tears all over the place. She just grabbed my hand, said, 'Thank you' and left."

Woods plans to tour other Bay Area schools with the pair of plays, if logistics and financing can be worked out. Several schools and organizations have expressed interest.

As for the San Dominico performances, Woods gave their students rave reviews.

"It could have been just a school production," she said. "But it transcended into something else that was very moving."