Dust of Europe
Submitted by: Michael Category: Ensuring the Jewish Future
The Big Idea
Dust of Europe is a multimedia project whose goal is to reach out to and to inspire young members of the Jewish community to dig into their families’ history. Shakespeare said, “What is Past is Prologue.” History is not irrelevant. The documentary portion of the project follows me, a 29-year-old as I track the path of my great-grandfather, Joseph Kershner, as he journeyed from Burlington, Vermont back to Turysk, Ukraine to save family members. Tracking the exciting story has also been a personal journey that has helped me to discover how I can use my career to have a greater impact on the world.
In 1908 Joseph Kershner arrived in the United States, a Jewish immigrant from Europe hoping to forget about where he came from, what he called the land of “blood and mudd.” But in 1920, upon receiving a desperate plea for help from his wife’s family, Joseph sold his successful tailoring business and embarked on a dangerous three month journey across Europe and back to save the lives of 17 family members hiding in cellars in Turysk. In the process various factions imprisoned him three different times.
This is only one family’s story, but there are literally hundreds of thousands of stories of great interest. That is why we plan on transforming our DustofEurope.com site into a forum for people to share their families’ immigration and survival stories and connect to others’ experiences. DustofEurope.com would expand upon the idea of genealogical websites like Ancestory.com and jewishgen.org. While such websites do exist for people to research their ancestry, we would take this idea further by incorporating social media, as demonstrated by the blogging and interactive nature of our site during the filming of the documentary, Dust of Europe. DustofEurope.com will become the place where Jewish people from all over the world can easily post multi-media stories including videos and pictures about their families' history. Due to the social networking aspect of the site, members will be able to comment and possibly even connect with long lost relatives. Too many important family stories are lost and this website will preserve for future generations individuals’ accounts of their family stories. People will even be able to blog about their experiences in researching their family’s history, similar to what we did during our documentary trip.
The current generation of young Americans has shown a disinterest in their past partly because they don’t need family to actually survive as they have in the past. Using contemporary footage, music and innovative animation, our goal is to encourage younger generations to examine and feel pride in the sacrifice of those that came before us. The accompanying documentary, Dust of Europe, will also be a tool to market the website as well as to raise awareness about our project and to appreciate that genealogy is not merely dry research.
Having a large entertainment industry network in LA makes it likely that this project will get off the ground quickly in the LA community. Michael has applied to be a part of the EILI program at the Jewish Federation and hopefully can become more involved with the federation and in turn the Jewish community in and around Los Angeles. Our goal is to build up a network and try to inspire each one of them to look into their families’ past, even if it is just to find out the names of their great grandparents or the town their grandparents were from.
In addition to my personal network, the initial funding for the Dust of Europe documentary was raised through a website called kickstarter.com. This website helps you fundraise through micro-donations from many people. This type of fundraising builds a larger audience than usual, because so many people donate, even just a few dollars to your project. In the case of our documentary, we raised over $10,000 from over 150 people. Those 150 or more people are our base supporters and most of them live right here in LA, because they are friends or friends of friends of Michael’s.
Our film will create quite a “buzz” in the industry because of its style and that we are treating it with much more uptempo and laid out approach as a narrative feature. By having a more modern style and stepping far away from the usual historical documentary, we hope to reach the younger community, from ages 18-35. It is people over 40 or 50 years old that are usually interested in genealogy and to whom more traditional documentaries about these type of stories are aimed. We witnessed this first hand, when we were asked to speak at the National Genealogy Conference in L.A. last year about our project and were the youngest people there.
Our goal to reach people closer to our age is very important, because they are the ones that can find out information from the older generations before them. If you wait until you are older, then there is no one older than you to find out information about your family. This is one thing we have learned from researching for our project and what we find so important to make younger generations understand. If I had started this project 15 years ago I could have interviewed my grandfather and found out an amazing amount more information than I know now.
Our website will have a longer lasting effect on the Los Angeles Jewish community and beyond as it continues to grow and gain members. DustofEurope.com will teach young and old people through their own relatives’ stories that people struggled before them, and that the pace of change that now seem to happen in the blink of an eye took much longer in the past. The website will be a reminder for all of us to appreciate what we have through compelling stories.
This Is A Great Idea Because
Who uses and understands social media and forum websites better than people, ages 18-35? That is why our concept for our website is so innovative, because most genealogy websites are geared towards the older generation, which are mostly looking for documents and/or research. DustofEurope.com will make it so that people can take their own personal journeys through the process of researching and posting about their families. They will be able to interact with other families and possibly help them with research they may have found. It is a new way of approaching genealogy ensuring the Jewish future by reaching the ones that will make our future. It will not just be for the young though. Imagine if a survivor of the Holocaust found someone who was in one of the camps with them and could reunite after surviving such a horrible experience together. Connecting people is what Dust of Europe is about and what will strengthen the Jewish community all over the world.
Furthermore, the documentary also has a very new style to it and is not like usual historical documentaries or personal journey films. By using modern music and a faster pace, the film will attract a younger audience and a different audience than most documentaries of this kind. We also plan to incorporate some animation based on an artist from the 1920’s that was based in Antwerp, Belgium and created charcoal paintings of the Jewish immigration happening there. Intertwining animation and real footage isn’t done too often and is the future of film-making with how technology is advancing.
Embracing the use of technology and understanding the psychology of what makes people want to get involved in projects are our biggest strengths. Our unique approach to film-making, fundraising and creating a following is what will make our project successful in this modern society. The Jewish genealogy world needs young leaders to inspire the other young adults to take an interest in their heritage. The Jewish community’s leaders are all of the older generation and don’t always know how to engage the newer ones. We plan to use creative technology tools to reach a vast number of people through the internet in order to change the the younger generations’ outlook on their past and their future. By using these creative tools, we will take a new approach at reaching the younger generation, with not just a film or a website, but a franchise of different medias to reach people from all different directions.