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Fresh Meadows teen draws inspiration from Holocaust museum internship

Fresh Meadows resident George Itzhak has found his voice.

After Itzhak, 18, began the High School Apprenticeship Program at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Lower Manhattan, the teenager, who will attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts this fall, quickly learned that he had something he wanted to say to the world.

“Prior to doing this internship, I felt like, ‘I’m going to film school, I’m going to become a creative professional and I need to have something to say about something,’” said Itzhak, a graduate of the Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Astoria. “I can’t make movies just to make movies. I need a moral goal and I found that here, where I learned a great appreciation of what social justice means and that will influence what I do in the future.”

The Fresh Meadows student was one of 15 to be chosen for the prestigious paid internship program, for which about 100 public school students applied this year. As part of the program, Itzhak learned about Jewish heritage and the Holocaust through a series of biweekly, after-school seminars from February to May. He is now giving tours about Jewish heritage to younger students and is also working in a variety of museum departments, including collections and exhibitions, administrations, operations and education.

“The students are not only walking in the footsteps of those who keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, but those who keep their own heritage alive,” said Jamie Kenney, a museum educator. “Part of our program is talking about students’ heritage with them.”

The 15 interns come from a wide variety of backgrounds — Itzhak, for example, is a Bukharian Jew who came to the United States from Uzbekistan when he was a little more than a year old in 1993. Other students and their families hail from Sierra Leone, China, Guyana and Egypt.

“It’s important for us to have many different perspectives,” Kenney said.

Having heard his parents’ and grandparents’ stories about the hardships of being part of the minority in Uzbekistan and from his time at the museum, Itzhak said he has gained special insight into the importance of social justice and hopes to promote the theme in future films.

For example, he said he may be interested in filming documentaries about minorities living in other countries, such as the Turks in Germany, Palestinians in Israel or Muslims in Denmark.

“This has been a really stimulating experience,” he said. “Before I was accepted to the program, I was looking at my program at NYU and they stressed finding your voice and it made me nervous. But going through this program, I realize I have experiences to draw from and I have a voice.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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