Erin Simons portrays a Jewish mother and Noah Fischer a Gestapo soldier

The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival, East Valley Jewish Community Center and city of Chandler are co-sponsoring a Holocaust play as part of the community’s annual Celebration of Unity.

A series of events is held by the city in January to honor Chandler’s heritage and diversity, along with the spirit, ideals, life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.

The play, titled “Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Story,” will be presented Jan. 12 at the Chandler Center for Performing Arts.

The 80-minute performance touches on the Holocaust, ethics, education, respect and unsung heroes and brings a message of hope, not despair.

It originated in a small classroom in a small town in the Midwest in 1989 when four girls were challenged by a teacher to create a National History Day project that would illuminate his classroom motto: "He who changes one person, changes the world entire."

The students discovered the little-told story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Christian woman who smuggled 2,500 children out of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. The world soon caught notice of this unsung hero of the Holocaust and her accomplishments and ultimately led to her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.    

The performance will be followed by a question and answer session with current cast members as well as Megan Feist, one of the four students who created the play, and Norm Conard, the history teacher whose assignment led to the Irena Sendler movement.

Conard is now the executive director of the Lowell Milken Center in Fort Scott, Kansas, which works with schools around the world to teach respect and understanding among people.

The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival uses the film version of “Life in a Jar” as the cornerstone of its Films in the Schools youth outreach program. Trained presenters bring the film into public and religious schools to help teach the topic of the Holocaust.

“Film as a medium allows young people to learn on a different level; characters, legends and stories that may seem difficult to understand come alive on the screen. This is especially important when trying to convey the magnitude of the Holocaust,” spokeswoman Deborah Muller said.

Since the school program began nine years ago, the festival has shared this film with over 3,900 secular and religious school students.

Information: Tickets: 480-897-0588,, or visit the East Valley Jewish Community Center at 908 N. Alma School Road, Chandler. Tickets are $10 and $5 for students.

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