|Love Wins: Vigil for Reat Underwood and William Corporon, April, 2014|
Last night Eddie and I held a small fundraiser for the movie "Big Sonia." I've been doing the photography for this indie film, which is being produced by Sonia's granddaughter, Leah Warshawski. Sonia is a friend. I've known her for about 30 years. She's a fascinating, gracious, colorful woman who has lived an amazing life. The film is ultimately about survival - and the fact that in the end, love wins.
I really believe in this project and am hoping enough funds are raised so that the film can be finished before Sonia's 90th birthday in November. Please read the following remarks I gave last night and watch the three-minute trailer for "Big Sonia". If you think you might be interested in donating money toward the production of this film, please let me know. I happen to have the link to the 10 minute trailer we showed last night (it's phenomenal!), and I've been given permission to share it. So I can send that your way, if you like. Any amount of money will help, but if you give at least $250 your name will appear in the credits! You can donate on the website.
A little over 30 years ago, shortly after moving to Kansas City, Eddie and I were invited to a Passover Seder by our new friends Art and Diane Federman. Soon we were going to their house for Shabbat dinner and then again to help build the sukkah. The Federmans quickly became part of our extended family. Every time we celebrated a Jewish holiday at their house, there was always Aunt Sonia – a curvy, petite woman with big hair, a heavy Polish accent, lots of carefully applied make-up, a well-tailored brightly colored suit, a leopard print accessory and plenty of bling. Aunt Sonia was quiet, but when she spoke, every head turned. She always contributed something wise or funny and whip smart at some point during the dinner conversation. She also made a mean gefilte fish.
|Sonia Warshawski at John's Tailoring Shop, 2000|
I got to know Sonia even better in the year 2000 when I made her portrait for the book From the Heart, A Mosaic of Memories. That was the first time I ever went to her tailoring shop. I was seduced not only by Sonia, but by all the bits and scraps of herself that adorned the tables, walls, shelves and every nook and cranny of the small space where she – yes, WORKED – but also HELD COURT each day from 9 – 5. Sonia dispensed as much advice and good will as she did sewing services.
When I heard from the Federmans that there was a movie being made about Sonia, I jumped at the opportunity to help. I met the producer, Sonia’s granddaughter, Leah, and talked my way into the job as still photographer. I have believed in this film from the start, and I am proud to be part of it. I am donating all of my photographic services, and Eddie and I have made a financial contribution, as well. We believe in hope, tolerance, respect and love. We think you do, too, and that’s why we are asking for support of this film.
The movie being made by Leah is called “BIG SONIA,” which, of course is kind of funny when you consider that 89-year-old Sonia is only 4 foot 8 (not including her hair). I have grown to love and admire Leah and her very talented co-producer, filmmaker and husband Todd Soliday. They are telling Sonia’s story with humor, wit, style and heart – all qualities that describe the woman herself.
|Sonia in her car, 2014|
We’re very lucky tonight because we get to see a ten-minute trailer for the movie. Not many people have seen it yet. I think you’ll agree that the portrayal of this important and special woman – one of the last in Kansas City who continues to speak publicly about her experience during the Holocaust – is sweet and tender, yet very powerful. It’s a movie that needs to be seen by a wide audience. Sonia, the ultimate survivor in every way, preaches tolerance, respect and love. Which part of our society, and who among us, doesn’t need to be reminded of the importance of these virtues?
A coincidence happened this past weekend. (Well, my friend Shea would say there is no such thing as a coincidence.) Someone put me in touch with Mindy Corporon. On April13th last year, her 14-year-old son Reat and her father Bill were killed outside the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park. Simply on their way to Reat’s audition for a singing competition, they were victims of a hate crime, even though they were not Jewish. The words called out by the shooter, a white supremacist, were “Heil Hitler.”
When asked about the shootings last year, Sonia said to anyone who would listen: “We cannot let hate take over love.”
Or, as another Holocaust survivor, Bronia Roslawowski (of blessed memory), once told me: “If I am angry and live my life hating, then the haters will have imprisoned me, and they will have won.”
During my first email exchange with Mindy on Saturday afternoon, I learned that she had asked a woman named Sonia Warshawski, who she did not know yet, to speak at one of the events surrounding the one-year anniversary of the shooting. That’s when we discovered a whole string of connections.
It is so meaningful, and I am so honored that Mindy Corporon is here tonight. Her mantras are “FAITH WINS” and “LOVE WINS.” Well, so were Bronia’s, and so are Sonia’s. Mindy told me that she and her husband recently introduced their 12-year-old to the Holocaust during their visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. Their son learned for the first time that millions of people have already been killed and affected because of the same hate and ignorance that killed his brother and grandfather - and knowing that his family is not alone is helping him move forward. Mindy and Sonia haven’t met… yet. I believe she and I were introduced at just the right time, and I’m really grateful for that.
Now Leah, Sonia’s granddaughter, is going to show the trailer. Afterward, she’ll speak about the film and then answer any questions you may have. You know why you’re here – to learn about BIG SONIA and to offer financial support for its production. So after Leah is done, I will ask you to get out your checkbooks.
Thanks for coming. This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this, so you know it must have a very special place in my heart.
So… please check out the "Big Sonia" website, watch the trailer (and let me know if you'd like to see the longer one) and consider making a donation so the film can be completed. The folks in the room last night were totally won over by the Sonia and by the movie (when the trailer ended, there was applause and cries of "we want to see more!"). I hope you will be won over, too.