YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood

Sosúa: a night of theater and film

 The Final Curtain call for Sosúa

After 4 years, the revolutionary Sosúa production will put on its final performance

In 2010, The YM&YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood had conceived a plan to bring Jewish and Dominican teens together to celebrate a joint heritage through theater. No one could have predicted what this production was to become.

With a complex history as the starting point and funding from a UJA-Federation grant, the Y created “Sosúa: Dare to Dance Together”, an original theatrical production directed and scored by award-winning director and writer Liz Swados, and performed by Jewish and Dominican teens from the Washington Heights community. “Sosúa: Dare to Dance Together” tells the true story of 800 Jewish refugees who fled WWII Europe in 1938 to settle in the town of Sosúa, Dominican Republic. The teen actors researched the history, discussed the issues raised by the story – racism, abuse and suffering, tolerance and acceptance – and interwove the historical facts with their own experiences, allowing them to understand difficult and poignant issues through a personal context. “The play is a shining example of how we can work together as both producers in the drama of life and actor-participants in it as well,” said Victoria Neznansky, Chief Program Officer of the Washington Heights Y, and executive producer of the play.

The initial purpose of the Sosúa project was to strengthen the community by fostering communication between the Dominican and Jewish populations. The entire production process was documented in the film “Sosúa: Make a Better World”, created by Peter Miller and Renee Silverman.  The film reveals the moving journey of how the students were personally transformed by a historical story of courage, survival, freedom and friendship. Commenting in the film footage, Liz Swados says, “We cannot afford to underestimate our children.” The Sosúa Project is a testament to how much we can learn from our youth when they have the opportunity to become leaders and spokespersons.

Martin Englisher, executive director of the Y added that the play “has become a replicable model for other communities in New York City and beyond in that it conveys a message of tolerance and understanding and people working together.” Martin suggested that the play and the film could be used as educational tools, such as using it to create school curriculum.

The play has gained serious traction and attention, performing at venues such as National Museum of Jewish History, Columbia University Medical Center, Museum of Jewish Heritage, Queens College, and the United Nations in New York City.

Although the essence of the play is the telling of the story of WWII refugees, it also includes comments set in the present day. Neznansky explained that the Dominican and Jewish Teens wrote much of the content themselves, about the role of family and the need for working together with others.

On the night of June 6th, The United Palace of Cultural Arts in Washington Heights will host an evening dedicated to Sosúa. This highly anticipated event will bring together the play “Sosúa: Dare to Dance Together”, and the accompanying documentary film “Sosúa: Make a Better World” in an evening of celebrating diversity. This will be the final live performance of the play by the teens at the Y. To conclude the evening, there will be a special Q&A session with play and film producers, and Sosúa alumni from past productions. This event is free for the public and a highly relevant program for teachers, students, and families alike. The beautiful United Palace in Washington Heights was built in 1930. It was preserved to stand as a center for culture, arts, and community in northern Manhattan. In recent years the Palace has hosted top acts from New York and around the world, and been used for commercial, television, and movie shoots.

“Celebrating Sosúa in Theater and Film” Will take place on June 6th at The United Palace of Cultural Arts in Washington Heights (4140 Broadway & W. 175th) from 7PM-9PM. RSVP is required. To RSVP, or more information please visit http://unitedpalace.org/index.php/events/233-the-story-of-sosua-in-music-and-film. For more information on Sosúa, contact Victoria at VNeznansky@ywashhts.org or at (212)-569-6200 ext. 204.

About the Y
Established in 1917, the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood (the Y) is Northern Manhattan’s premier Jewish community center — serving an ethnically and socio-economically diverse constituency — improving the quality of life for people of all ages through critical social services and innovative programs in health, wellness, education, and social justice, while promoting diversity and inclusion, and caring for those in need.

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