By Michele Justic
Hashavas aveidah, returning lost items, is a hallmark of Jewish observance, serving as a foundation for complex laws of business and personal transactions. The producers at the Oprah Winfrey Network intuitively understood the importance of this societal tenet and have created a show about it, called Lost and Found, which will premiere on January 3. The series promises to “take you on an emotional journey of discovery that showcases the stories of unforgettable and inspiring people, places, and precious items that have, against incredible odds, been lost and surprisingly once again found.”
In the first episode, an author’s presentation as part of the Holocaust-education curriculum in a Naperville, Illinois, public middle school leads to a life-transforming reunion. Fern Schumer Chapman told Mrs. O’ Boyle’s eighth-grade class that the subject of her book, Is It Night Or Day, is her mother Edith. In the late 1930s, religious groups in America saved enough money to rescue around 1,200 young children from the Holocaust, in small groups. There wasn’t enough money to bring whole families over, so these children had to leave behind their parents, siblings, and the only way of life they had ever known in order to come. It was an incredibly scary, lonely time to leave home in such a final way. The children formed their own bond; in this case, Edith befriended another 12-year-old girl, named Gerda. They became like sisters and supported each other during this hard time on the boat and for a few days in America. Once the girls were scheduled to go their own ways, one was sent to Seattle and the other to Chicago. They had no way of keeping in touch, and their new lives became even more lonely. Life went on and Edith accepted her new life, marrying, having children, and telling her children about her former life.
But the middle school students did not accept it. “Where is Gerda?” they demanded to know. Children born in the Google age believe all information is accessible. They searched and found their answer. A newspaper article led to a contact, which led to an emotional reunion. The story doesn’t end there, but it’s much more meaningful to watch it play out than to read about it.
The show also features the search for the owner of an abandoned jacket and two lives that became entwined after a whimsical balloon release drew them together. The subjects do not sound as racy or exciting as popular shows nowadays. But the emotional impact that plays out after the items or people are reunited makes for a riveting and uplifting time. As Corinne, one of the students who brought together Edith and Gerda, remarked, “This has changed my life for the better and taught me what friendship means.” v