Taking My “Suitcase” Throughout the South

A performer reflects on his time in Southern Jewish communities

In 2016, a suitcase was found in a little antique store in the Czech Republic. From there, it miraculously made its way to me in Nashville, Tennessee. The suitcase has the name “Julius Israel Lorsch” inscribed inside along with a transport number.

Julius was my great-uncle.

How could I not share that story?

I have been a musician my whole life and I’ve always wanted to create a work to honor my parents and grandparents that made it possible. The real-life suitcase inspired “The Suitcase,” a show that tells my family’s story of their experience of the Holocaust, how they fled the Nazis and how they were able to establish a new life as immigrants in America. I share their experience through narrative storytelling and live looping on violin, octave violin and cello.

I travel all over with my show one-man show “The Suitcase,” but had a particularly meaningful circuit recently. To commemorate Yom HaShoah, this past May I took “The Suitcase” to several communities in Texas and Louisiana with the help of the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL). To present the show during Yom Hashoah was especially meaningful, as my family lost many members to the Nazi atrocities.

The first stop on the road was Alexandria, a river town in central Louisiana. The show was a community event sponsored by Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim and Emmanuel Baptist Church, where the program was held. The music reverberated beautifully in the high ceilings of the Gothic revival church. I was amazed to find out that Gemiluth Chassodim’s rabbi, Raina Siroty, is both a Rabbi and a Cantor. That’s how it’s done in smaller Jewish communities.

In Corpus Christi, I performed at the Jewish Community Center. On arrival, I could feel the energy of their active preschool and kindergarten programs. We were puzzled as to how to connect my instruments to the auditorium’s speakers, but a six-dollar part from a nearby guitar store saved the day.

The final show was another community event at the McAllen, Texas, Public Library. It was sponsored by Temple Emanuel and the City of McAllen. The performance, to an overflow crowd of 300, took place in a in a converted Wal-Mart, which is the largest library on a single floor in the country. Since the biggest immigration processing center in the country is in McAllen, performing a show about the plight of immigrants there felt all the more poignant.

I am impressed with how close-knit and active these southern communities are. Having been raised in the Northeast, I was never aware of the strong Jewish presence in the South before I came down here. Audience members lined up after the show to share with me their experience of hearing the music and stories of loss, survival, tragedy and triumph. They were so appreciative of the show being brought to their community.

The ISJL was instrumental in promoting and supporting each of these events. Ann Zivitz Kientz, Director of Cultural Programming for the ISJL, contacted all the venues, booked the shows and made all transportation and lodging arrangements. The ISJL is doing important work, not only by keeping our shared history of the Holocaust alive, but in supporting art that touches our humanity to remind us of the plight of refugees the world over.

I am humbled to be able to share my show with these communities, and hope to continue traveling with “The Suitcase” for years to come.


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