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'RISE': Rock musical honoring Jewish resistance fighters hopes to inspire today's battle for democracy

Just as the Broadway hit "Hamilton" used hip-hop to tell the story of a Founding Father, a new modern rock musical conveys the true stories of young Jewish women who risked their lives to fight the Nazis during the Holocaust.

"RISE" makes its world premiere at the JCC CenterStage Theatre this weekend.

The composer, Joshua Hershfield, was compelled to bring the history to life in response to the rise of anti-Semitism across the world and to address Holocaust denial and lack of awareness.

“I also think there’s a very real sense of complacency that we have in… I would say, the United States and Europe to certain extent…we think that democracy is…we kind of take it for granted," he said. "Germany was a progressive republic before it collapsed into Nazism and that descent is not an impossibility for our modern world.”

Hershfield was unaware there were female resistance fighters during the Nazi regime until he was in a graduate program for Holocaust Studies.

"It just seemed crazy to me," he said. "These are some of the most courageous women that I've ever heard about. They did unbelievable things, and who knows their names?"

Their word for themselves was "kashariyot," a Hebrew word that was roughly translated to 'courier' in English, though Hershfield admits that term seems weak when one considers their brave acts.

One example he gave was a 17-year old Jewish girl moving through a Nazi checkpoint with revolvers and grenades under her dress to deliver to the resistance.

"I can't even imagine the level of courage it would take to do that," he said.

Since the characters in "RISE" are mostly in their teens and early 20s, local high school and college students participating in the JCC's summer arts program were cast in the roles.

Director Madeleine Snow believes audiences will gain a better understanding of history by empathizing with the characters and hearing the music.

"Warrior" is a rousing ballad sung by Addison Rando, a senior at Wayne Central High School.

Rando plays Sarah, the main character who summons her courage as she decides to leave the ghetto and fight back against the Nazis after witnessing their atrocities and losing her own family.

"The rock score really speaks to the sense of revolt and resistance that the couriers and all of the Jews in the ghetto brought to these uprisings," Snow said. "We can take some of that spirit and bring it to our contemporary society to fight for what we believe is just."

"RISE" runs from July 9 to July 17 at The Louis S. Wolk Jewish Community Center, 1200 Edgewood Ave. in Brighton.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.