Winning schools will tell original stories on stage

Since the fall, local day schools have been hard at work — even though the fruits of their labors won’t be seen until close to the end of the school year.

The challenge? Put on your own Yom HaAtzmaut celebration and tie it to Israel’s 60th birthday. The prize? Your school would present its performance to the crowd at Israel in the Gardens.

The project, Schools Tell Stories, was announced to schools last August, and those that chose to accept have been honing their entries ever since.

The winners are: Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito, Congregation Beth Am Sunday school in Los Altos Hills, South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale, Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, Congregation Beth Israel-Judea Sunday school in San Francisco, Brandeis Hillel Day Schools in S.F. and Marin, and Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City.

All incorporated elements of music, theatre or dance — or a combination — into their shows, which take place on the main stage at Yerba Buena Gardens, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The project is sponsored by the Israel Education Initiative — a program of the Bureau of Jewish Education, the Israel Engagement Network of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israel Center of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. It is also supported by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund and the Koret Foundation.

“There are many programs that have to do with Israel at 60, and we said that the schools can get our support in creating original programs,” said Ilan Vitemberg, director of the IEI. “So schools took this challenge.”

Vitemberg, along with Schools Tell Stories coordinator Avital Sharon visited each participating school with specific criteria for the challenge.

The productions were rated on a scale depending on three things: connection the performance has to Israel, quality of the performance and whether the show would translate onto the large stage at Israel in the Gardens.

The rules: only 12 kids on stage at a time and no longer than an 8-minute performance. Other than that, entrants were given complete freedom of expression.

Take the winning program “This is Your Life.”

“It shows 60 years of life with memories and songs that are played throughout the performance,” said Sharon Dwek, development director for South Peninsula Hebrew Day School.

Though SPHDS celebrates Israel Independence Day every year, “because of Israel at 60, it was way beyond anything we have ever seen before,” Dwek said.

Teachers and staff at the school brainstormed collaboratively on ideas. “Different characters from different parts of the history of the state of Israel were weaved in throughout with music, theatre and video,” Dwek said.

The hourlong show involved students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and was initially performed before an audience of several hundred.

“I had chills. It was very powerful and everyone was moved,” Dwek said of the show.

SPHDS has had to pare down the show significantly to fit into its Israel in the Gardens time slot. But Dwek is excited about the possibility and believes the students have put something incredible together.

“It was a very special performance and the theme of Israel at 60 really came through both on the educational part and the theatrical part,” she said. “SPHDS’s connection to Israel is so seamless and it’s something the kids take away as a very strong part of their identity.”