By Eli Freund ~
Imagine being 17 years old and hearing whispers of anti-Semitism. Think of the terror of seeing high school students hailing Hitler in the hallway, contrasting Jews to the baking of pizza in an oven and feeling sick with anxiety. Adam Dimanshteyn, a teenager at Farmington High School, fed up with the ignorance and indifference demonstrated at his high school towards Jewish students, decided to take a stand and educate his friends.
For nearly four months beginning in the summer of 2011, Dimanshteyn worked tirelessly to create a memorial to the countless Jews victimized by antisemitism. He cleverly named his video “The Bystanders.”
“This was a personal project; I made it completely on my own in response to the experiences I had during the school year and also because I enjoy making film,” Dimanshteyn told the Ledger. “My parents encouraged me to make it over the summer.”
Growing up in the Former Soviet Union (FSU), Dimanshteyn’s parents, Irene Zalevsky and Vladimir Dimanshteyn, as well as his grandfather, endured antisemitism not only from their peers, but also from their own government. In the documentary, his mother reccounts how antisemitic acts were “institutionalized” — meaning that they were government-sanctioned activities — which led to inherent hatred and indifference by the people towards their Jewish neighbors. Vladimir Dimanshteyn and countless other Jews were even restricted in the kind of professions they could pursue. Universities rejected countless Jewish applicants, simply because of their heritage, and the ones that did accept these applicants did so for majors that non-Jews showed indifference to.
But the ultimate show of antisemitism occurred during World War II, when Hitler and his army exterminated six million Jews. In the documentary, Kurt Warner of Bloomfield, an immigrant from Germany, recalls how he experienced the wrath of Hitler first hand. “As a kid, I didn’t really realize what was going on until my parents had financial difficulties, since we had a store and people were no longer allowed to buy from Jews,” says Warner.
But Dimanshteyn wasn’t just aiming to provide an education for his seemingly ignorant peers; he also wanted to feel a deeper spiritual connection to his own Jewish heritage.
“Speaking to my family members, who come from Ukraine but were always labeled ‘Jew’ as a separate nationality, reminded me how much even my own family has suffered as a result of antisemitism and
that we are Jews before anything else,” he says.
“Interviewing Holocaust survivors — Kurt Warner for my film and then Margot Jeremias afterward — was an incredible experience which took me to the depths of historical Jewish suffering and reminded me of how
much the Jews as a whole have been through. It made me even more proud to be a part of the Jewish people.”