On Wednesday night, October 5, the Anti-Defamation League‘s Young Professionals Division hosted a gathering of roughly two dozen members to watch the musical, Parade, in Ford’s Theater. The play is based on the trial and lynching of Leo Frank, a New York-born Jew who moved to live and work near Atlanta.
Mr. Frank was falsely accused of murdering a young factory girl named Mary Phagan. He was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. But when the governor commuted his sentence, a lynch mob broke into the prison where he was being kept and murdered him. This case helped give birth to the ADL, as Americans confronted anti-Jewish bigotry and discrimination.
Prior to the show, the ADL Young Professionals Division hosted a happy hour across the street at Bistro D’oc. At this gathering, Sophie Dornstreich of the DC chapter of ADL hosted a brief discussion about this case, its importance, and the resulting fallout.
While today many of us live openly and proudly as Jews with little fear of anti-Semitism, merely one hundred years ago this was not the case for many of our ancestors. It was a poignant reminder that, although much progress has been made, we cannot and should not take it for granted.
The musical itself was quite enjoyable and moving. It presented a South still obsessed with the Civil War, as the yearly Confederate Memorial Day parade is central to the plot. Many of the locals looked suspiciously at Leo Frank because he was guilty of being an outsider on two counts: Jewish and from New York.
The musical explores these themes, but I felt it could have done a better job digging a little deeper into the prejudices rather than display the Southerners as Confederate-flag waving, undereducated locals. One of the pleasant surprises was that the musical showed the strength of Leo’s wife, Lucille, as she tirelessly campaigned for his freedom. I was particularly moved at the ending of the play as the noose was around Leo’s neck and he began to say the Shema. Let’s just say it got a little dusty in the room for me at that part.
Overall, I recommend taking an evening to see the show. It is enjoyable and a reminder of the struggles we faced as Jews not too long ago.
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