Witness Theater is a project that brings Holocaust survivors together with junior high school students, most of them eighth graders. At weekly meetings, each of the survivors in the group is gradually given the chance to tell the story of his/her experiences during World War II. Their stories are dramatized and performed by the students, and sometimes roles are played by the survivors themselves. At the end of the project, which generally lasts about a year, the play is presented to a local audience. JDC-ESHEL, the Association for the Planning and Development of Services for the Aged in Israel, joined up with the acting duo Irit and Ezra Dagan,1 who initiated the project. In recent years, the project has been extended by JDC-ESHEL to additional locations, using group facilitators who have backgrounds in the theater and drama therapy and have been specially trained for the program by JDC-ESHEL. To date, the program has been implemented in 37 places throughout Israel.
Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute was commissioned by the Nash Family Foundation and JDC-ESHEL to evaluate Witness Theater (hereinafter, the program). The evaluation had five main objectives:
- To examine the goals and components of the program from the points of view of all those involved in its planning and implementation, including implementation of the new programs based on experience from previous years
- To examine the implementation of the program
- To examine the motives for joining the program, the expectations and concerns of the survivors and the youth prior to starting the program
- To examine the participants’ views of the benefits of the program: Therapeutic benefits, fostering of intergenerational relationships, etc.
- To examine the emotional effects of the program on the participating survivors and youth.
An interim report was submitted to the Nash Family Foundation in January 2012, following a six-month evaluation that focused on the program model and observations of the survivors and students, including implementation of the model in accordance with the materials available to us at the time. The final report completes the picture regarding the successes and difficulties of implementing the model, examines the impact of the program on the lives of the participants (survivors and youth) during and after the program, and the social and emotional processes that occurred in the group.