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Leah Friedman gives a stunning performance of her play at the Shelter Island School

When Leah Friedman performed her latest theater piece, “A Bronx Shabbas,” at the Shelter Island Library in January, she called it a work-in-progress.

Ms. Friedman said the same thing when she performed it again last week for a small group assembled to watch the filming of the work, produced by Peter Waldner and John Kaasik.

But it’s hard to say how 25 minutes of theater could be a more honest, moving, and personal experience of the Holocaust. Judging from the awed, and tearful audience reaction, she has achieved perfection. 

Ms. Friedman is a 92-year-old playwright and artist who has lived on Shelter Island for many years. She grew up in the Bronx, the daughter of a woman who left Poland when she was 16. The family she left behind was murdered by Nazis. Ms. Friedman’s work is informed by her childhood in the Bronx and haunted by the ghosts of her family’s past.

In “A Bronx Shabbas,” she tries to connect with one of these ghosts, her cousin Ruchel, a girl she never met, who died at the hands of Nazis along with her father, brother and mother, Ms. Friedman’s aunt. The last words of “A Bronx Shabbas” are Rachel’s, a plea to her long-dead cousin: “Let me sleep.”

Her performance is an imagined conversation between American-born Rachel (age 92) and her Polish-born cousin Ruchel (age 12). Ms. Friedman’s work is a conversation that ranges from dolls and dresses to gas chambers in a Sabbath ceremony with candles and chanting of Hebrew prayers.

If young people know what happened during the Holocaust, Ms. Friedman believes it will not happen again in this country. But she’s disturbed by a recent increase in antisemitic incidents.

“I wear a Jewish star,” she said. “I bought it for myself when I was bat mitzvahed at 80. I know some people who wear a Jewish star, will tuck it in. There are men who wear a yarmulke and take it off when they are on the street, and they are religious, so that is painful. We must pay attention. We have to let the next generation know. My fear is that what is possible in human beings, we have to watch and teach and be aware.” 

Ms. Friedman had the barest facts about her cousin’s life to work with. “A little photograph of her with her mother, her father and her brother, when she was just a little girl, so I knew that they could afford to go to a studio and have a picture made,” she said. Most of the other details of Ruchel’s history are from Ms. Friedman’s imagination. “She had been in my mind all my life. It’s my way of telling the story of the Holocaust.”

“A Bronx Shabbas” is the achievement of a lifetime.

But Ms. Friedman is an artist, and she doesn’t see it that way. “I’m still working on it,” she told the audience. “There’s always something more, whether it’s the right thing or the wrong thing, there’s always something that keeps those juices flowing. And you are part of this, hearing me reading it out loud. I can’t wait to get back to it.”