Maya Ben Yair, a senior at Loyola Marymount University, was the recipient of the first annual Joe Lumer Family Fellowship. A double major in film production and screenwriting, with a minor in Jewish Studies, Ben Yair has maintained nearly a 4.0 GPA every year of college. The Joe Lumer Family Fellowship allowed Maya to make the film, “Maydeleh and the Prisoner,” while giving her the opportunity to learn more about the Holocaust, and her own family. She was guided by Holli Levitsky, director of Jewish studies at Loyola Marymount University, and Mrs. Esther Lumer, who along with extended family, created the Fellowship to honor the memory of her late husband, Joe.
The film tells the story of Arie Weiss, a child survivor of the Holocaust who, following the war, developed a resilience and strength that allowed him to persevere. Now in his 80’s, Arie’s independence is compromised when he falls ill. Haruka arrives to the United States on mysterious circumstances to earn her wage as Arie’s live-in caregiver. Arie’s powerless situation and his mistrust of Haruka causes repressed memories of the war to resurface. As they struggle to understand one another, their story provides an insight into the compassion and empathy that can develop between two strangers. Given the generations of time that separate them, Arie and Haruka’s relationship addresses the difficult tasks of both sharing and asking questions about painful memories and the way in which they learn and grow from one another.
Ben Yair named the protagonist after her great-grandfather, Aryeh Wajslic.
The film project has been both a professional learning experience and a lesson in family history:
Everyone has that point in their life in which they realize the importance of connecting and honoring their past. For me, this point arrived unintentionally during my Fellowship. It inspired me to open the Pandora’s Box of painful subjects and delve into the history of my people during the Holocaust. More importantly, I started to discover elements of my Jewish identity that I didn’t know existed and that allowed me to connect with the never-discussed past of my family. I wanted to express this process of opening the box in the best way I know and bring it to a cinematic form. The Lumer Fellowship gave me the resources and guidance to do so.
Ben Yair is grateful for the opportunity to complete this capstone project which also honors the memory of Joe Lumer and his deep commitment to programs which focused on Holocaust education.