Haddonfield, NJ — When Katie Adler was in the fifth grade, she fell in love with author Lois Lowry's Newbery Medal-winning novel, "Number the Stars."
“It was a story of young girls my age helping their friends and Jewish community while having compassion during a horrifying time," said Adler. "It was my first real understanding of what Nazi Germany was like in the time of World War II.
Her love for this story unfurled a series of events that, twenty years later, shared this story and the stories of real-life Holocaust survivors with more than 20,000 school children.
For the past two decades, Haddonfield Plays & Players, a theater company in southern New Jersey, has been promoting youth awareness and education about the Holocaust through its groundbreaking "Number the Stars" Community Education Program started by Adler and her mother, Kim Adler.
In the late 90s, Adler discovered "Number the Stars" was becoming an Off-Broadway musical and auditioned for the lead role of Annemarie. She ultimately missed out on the role when it came down between the South Jersey-based Adler and another young actress already based in New York City.
"Looking back, it makes so much sense as to why that part wasn’t supposed to be mine," said Adler. "My family was meant to have a greater mission with 'Number The Stars' when my [parents] had the brilliant idea to ask the writers of the show if we could produce it on our own in South Jersey."
In 1999, The Adlers helped launch the "Number the Stars" Community Education Program at Haddonfield Plays & Players. The musical’s creator, Sean Hartley, was even in attendance at the first performance.
Over the years, the program has expanded to provide educational resources to teachers and schools that bring their students to see "Number the Stars" at Haddonfield Plays & Players and has included talk-backs with the cast and Holocaust survivors.
Following in Adler's footsteps is twelve-year-old Zoey Blackman, who is assisting a committee of dedicated volunteers in planning an anniversary gala as part of her bat mitzvah project.
"When I was young, I read 'Number the Stars' for the first time and instantly fell in love with the book," said Blackman. "I was in the show for two years at Haddonfield Plays & Players as well. I realized what an awful time the Holocaust was and got so interested in learning more."
The Number the Stars 20th Anniversary Gala will take place April 6, 2019, at the Betty & Milton Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The event will feature a performance of the show with alumni cast members like Adler and Blackman.
Valued partners for the program include the Esther Raab Holocaust Museum & Goodwin Education Center and the program is generously supported in part by the Camden County Cultural Heritage Foundation; Borger Matez, P.A.; and Gail and Richard Donner."
“Holocaust awareness is so important because it teaches kids and reminds adults about a terrible time in history where people were targeted because they were different,” said Blackman. “We must retell the stories from that time so it will never happen again.”