Yizkor 5777

October 20, 2016

My relationship with mimes has been always ambivalent. Mimes are funny and sad at the same time.

They can make you laugh a lot and they can make you cry a lot. Mimes can entertain you and can scare you, too.

I had that type of relationship with mimes until this year. Because this year I read some facts I did not know about the most famous mime in the world, Marcel Marceau.

Marcel Marceau’s extraordinary talent for pantomime entertained audiences around the world for over sixty years.

Born to a Jewish family in Strasbourg, France in 1923, young Marcel Mangel discovered Charlie Chaplin at age five and became an avid fan. He entertained his friends with Chaplin imitations, and dreamed of starring in silent movies.

When Marcel was 16, the Nazis marched into France, and the Jews of Strasbourg – near the German border – had to flee for their lives. Marcel changed his last name to Marceau to avoid being identified as Jewish, and joined the French resistance movement.

Masquerading as a boy scout, Marcel evacuated a Jewish orphanage in eastern France. He told the children he was taking them on a vacation in the mountains, and led them to safety in Switzerland. Marcel made the dangerous journey three times, saving hundreds of Jewish orphans.

He was able to avoid detection by entertaining the children with silent pantomime.

Documentary filmmaker Phillipe Mora, whose father fought alongside Marcel in the French resistance, said, ”Marceau started miming to keep children quiet as they were escaping. It had nothing to do with show business. He was miming for his life.’’

It is recounted how, late in the war, near Limoges, a lone Marceau encountered a unit of more than 30 Germans. On the spot, he presented himself as an advance scout of a larger French regiment, and ordered the Germans to surrender their weapons. To a man, they did.

( http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/this-day-in-jewish-history/1.676996 )

Marcel’s father perished at Auschwitz. Marcel later said, “The people who came back from the camps were never able to talk about it. My name is Mangel. I am Jewish. Perhaps that, unconsciously, contributed towards my choice of silence.”

His gestures and his silences saved hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust.

Word spread throughout the Allied forces of Marcel’s remarkable talent as a mime. In his first major performance, Marcel entertained 3,000 US troops after the liberation of Paris in August 1944. Later in life, he expressed great pride that his first review was in the US Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes.

In 1947, Marcel created his beloved character, Bip, a childlike everyman with a stovepipe hat and a red carnation. For the next six decades, Marcel was the world’s foremost master of the art of silence. Pop star Michael Jackson credited Marcel with inspiring his famous moonwalk.

In 2001, Marcel was awarded the Wallenberg Medal for his acts of courage during the Holocaust. When the award was announced, people speculated on whether Marcel would give an acceptance speech. He replied, “Never get a mime talking, because he won’t stop.”

Until his death at age 84, Marcel performed 300 times a year and taught 4 hours a day at his pantomime school in Paris. He died silently and peacefully on Yom Kippur, 2007.

Yizkor is the time when we remember.

We remember those who made us smile and those whose departure made us cry.

We remember the gestures, the movements, the gesticulations.

We remember their silence as well.

We remember those who saved our lives, who made our lives richer, comfortable and pleasant.

We remember those who helped us grow and become better people.

And we remember in silence.

In silence we can hear their voices.

In silence we can express our gratitude.

In silence we can see their smiles and their tears.

In silence we can m’imic them.

In silence we can bring them back to life.

In silence we are going to remember them during Yizkor.