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NJ seniors, Israeli students go through ‘Revolving Doors’ for film project
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NJ seniors, Israeli students go through ‘Revolving Doors’ for film project

Animated works are based on memoirs of Lester residents

ARTS By The People executive director Paul Rabinowitz, back row, right, with some of the writers from Lester Senior Housing who contributed to “Revolving Doors” at the project’s debut.  Photo by Keisha McDonald
ARTS By The People executive director Paul Rabinowitz, back row, right, with some of the writers from Lester Senior Housing who contributed to “Revolving Doors” at the project’s debut.  Photo by Keisha McDonald

A woman logs onto Facebook to look for a cousin lost during the Holocaust decades before. 

An older woman speaks about growing up, dating, falling in love, going to college — watching “one season following another” as old age sets in.

These vignettes are from two of 16 very short animated films based on real-life experiences of and written by residents of the Lester Senior Housing Community in Whippany. The animators were all young Israelis.

The genesis of the project was a workshop in which Lester residents spent the past seven years writing their memoirs. The project is run by ARTS By The People (ABTP), a nonprofit organization based in Morristown that offers creative arts programs at Lester and other senior communities.

Once their memoirs were set down, ABTP’s executive director, Paul Rabinowitz, helped the seniors edit and shorten their copy. The stories were then sent to the Holon Institute of Technology in Israel where art students produced animated short films based on the writings of the Lester seniors, who range in age from 84 to 101. It took the young artists three months to create the films.

The title of the transgenerational product of 16 one-minute videos — “Revolving Doors” — has multiple meanings in both English and Hebrew.

“In English,” Rabinowitz said, “it is based on the concept that grandparents push open a door for the next generation and as the door revolves, the young people get the stories of the grandparents.”

When “Revolving Doors” was shown in Israel in August, one of its pieces, “In Late Summer,” written by E. Anne Lipman and animated by Ariela Martinez, was honored as the best film in its class by the Holon Institute. It’s a colorful portrait of aging and seasonal change; Rabinowitz explained that the English title also includes “a play on the Hebrew word ‘dor,’ which means ‘generation,’” referring to the members of the multiple generations who took part in the project.

Rabinowitz told the gathering of some 30 Lester residents, that the participants in the writers’ workshop, in spite of their physical challenges, used sharp minds and gifted pens to record their memories. 

“They rolled into class with wheelchairs and walkers and arthritis and sometimes with aches and pains, but they found a way to write,” he said. 

The students at Holon “enhanced their rich stories,” Rabinowitz said, stories that reflected all kinds of memories — “happy, sad, tragic, loss of life, dating, children, weddings, and bar mitzvahs. They didn’t shy away from anything.” There was even some political commentary. 

A work called “Hope” by Stanley Goodman, with animation by Idan Cohen, is a mash up of political opinions. There’s a video clip of Pres. Donald Trump saying, “There is a tremendous hatred out here,” followed by a narrator, who in Goodman’s words says, “I would like to be a member of his cabinet” due to approval of the president’s decision to bomb a Syrian airfield. Then the narrator states he would “welcome all the children who are refugees who are suffering such a terrible life. I would give them hope.”

“Forgetfulness” by Frances Goroll, animated by Roz Ben Stemer and Moran Shina, tells the story of a woman going through her possessions as she moves to an assisted-living facility, “reminding me that I had forgotten so much of my first life,” she says. “Today I forget my boots, my eyeglasses, and my cape. What did I have for dinner last night?”

Another work, “The Sparrow” by Naomi Weintraub Zaslow and animated by Yarden Rokach, is the story of a bird weathering the seasons. “The challenge helps me to keep strong,” says the narrator.

Birds are also at the center of other works. “A Goose” by Mira Pratt, animated by Shirel Mothada, is the story of a woman watching a bird who is shot down by a BB gun.

“Study of a Bird” by Sylvia Link, animation by Maya Nakar, illustrates a childhood memory of two parakeets Link received as pets. She promised her parents to care for them, but the pledge was broken when a cat devoured the birds. “It was a tragedy one never forgets,” the narrator says. 

Two works, both called “Time,” are based on the same composition by Beatrice Freiheiter; one was animated by Illya Mulchnov, the other by Noy Cohen Gal. “Hour, period, minute, second, duration. Time waits for no one. It passes you by. You couldn’t catch it if you try,” said the narration for both films.

During the ABTP classes, the writers spent months reading and analyzing the poetry of folksinger Bob Dylan. Three teams of writers and animators converted his song “Tangled Up In Blue” into one-minute films. Their images depicted lost love, past memories, and references to one color of the Israeli flag.

Although the authors made e-mail contact with the young illustrators, none of the Lester residents had seen their works as portrayed on the screen before the official debut. Their reactions to the results of their words being enhanced with pictures were positive. 

“It was very surprising and very exciting,” said Pratt. “I didn’t know what to imagine. I was very pleased.”

“It brought back a time in my life when all was good and family was all that mattered,” Helena Krebs told NJJN. 

“It was very nice,” said Goodman. “I am proud and happy I was chosen.”

But for Zaslow, watching “The Sparrow” was overwhelming. “I couldn’t grasp it,” she said. “My heart was beating too fast.”

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