The things I’ve learned from Community Theater

mmcast

mmcastWordlessly, a bearded man dressed completely in black pointed at me and gave me directions.

“Hold this.” He whispered, shoving a clump of black curtain into my hand.

“When Frumma Sarah finishes singing, open the curtain from here very quickly so we can wheel her backstage,” the man in black ordered. “This will be your job at every performance.”

And just like that, I had my first job in community theater. While my son was doing his thing onstage being a shtetl boy, I had my part backstage helping Fume Sarah get offstage. And I did my job proudly, all the while pantomiming Frumma Sarah’s motions and words, with another stagehand who I had not met until that final tech dress rehearsal, every night I was not in the audience watching my son with pride.

I was a suburban mom. This other stagehand was a young woman at most in her 20’s. We had never met before that night, but though “The Dream,” we had an instant connection. And at that moment, I realized: I am not a soccer mom. I am a stage mom!

That was last year, the year my son came home buzzing about how he wanted to audition for Fiddler on The Roof with a local community theater group. He heard about it from a poster hung up at his new school. I drove him to every rehearsal and instead of dropping off and running home or going for coffee, I hung around.

This year, I was asked to serve on the board, and perform on stage, as a member of a long-standing mainly volunteer community theater group in the Detroit Metro Area.

As a transplant, getting involved in community theater has proven the best way for me to plug into a community. Now that the curtain has closed on our most recent production, here is a few things community theater has taught this newbie:

You cannot produce any old show you want – Planning to produce a show in community begins nearly a year before opening curtain. Music Theater International has strict licensing guidelines and a catalog of shows available for community theater production that is regularly updated. Nothing running on Broadway, or that is a Broadway national tour, can be produced. And licensing rights for some musicals, especially the Disney genre, are extremely costly. Being that our company is geared to be a family, multi-generational theater company also restricts our choices. Hair and R.E.N.T. are definitely no-nos.

 Everyone counts: To the untrained eye, a theatergoer might think that the female lead with the canary-like voice or the dancer with the highest kicks or the tenor with the sweetest crooning is the most important facet of a musical theater production. But the ones you see on the stage, we are just mere puppets. It is everyone else: the sound engineer who follows the script line by line during every performance, whose fingers fly across the soundboard making sure your mike is hot only when it needs to be,  the stage manager and their fearless tech crew who wheel stage sets around 180 degrees or pull the grand curtain open and shut within seconds, they are the backbone of any good production. As is the props master, whom months before opening curtain thought of every detail, and where it needs to be when not on stage, who matters. As is the costumer who hunts around at thrift stores and begs borrows and steals if she has to just the right costume from other community theater groups, who is up late at night sewing and resewing hemlines and taking in trousers, that’s who matters in a show. Not to mention (and OF COURSE they need mention!) the multi-piece orchestra that plays at your feet from the pit, whose musicians will even throw in their own laughter if a joke onstage falls flat. I don’t understand why they can’t join us on stage for a bow each night.

You gain an insane appreciation for people who actually want to do musical theater for a living  – As much as I loved being in a performance, towards closing night I was wiped. How do people do this and keep it fresh, some for 3,000 performances in a row? Maybe it is because most of our company is slightly older than professional Broadway stars. But Broadway stars, for eight performances a week, have to give it all to their audience, even when they may not have it all that night. Even if they are under the weather. Or had a fight with their boyfriend. One night, while driving to rehearsal, I heard Seth Rudetsky on the XM Broadway Channel interview an actor who passed a KIDNEY STONE on stage while he played Horton in Seussical the Musical. After all, the show must go on, and the paying audience does not care if you are passing a kidney stone. When you need to be on stage, you must be on stage. Even if you have to pass a kidney stone. Or even pee. Yes, perhaps of all the things I learned about being on stage is that performers do not get to use the bathroom any old zany time they want to. For thousands of performances. Yet, they have to keep themselves hydrated? How is that all supposed to even out?

Hair and Makeup – This again speaks to the immense appreciation I have gained for professional actors, because this business is way too high maintenance for me, an otherwise hermit-like writer, when it comes to tending to hair and makeup prep that is worthy of the stage. To get myself ready for performances, I spent hours watching Youtube videos on how to create the perfect Gibson Girl updo from the Edwardian era. I found videos on proper contouring and learned how to apply blush not to my cheekbones but underneath.  The first time I tried to apply my makeup, I looked more like a Geisha girl than someone who lived in River City, Iowa, but thanks to our volunteer makeup artist, a woman in her 40s who is also a national champion figure skater (!!), I got it looking just right.

Community Theater is not high school theater – You know where my favorite place in the theater is? Not on stage, under those hot bright lights, but deep backstage. Where the darkness is lit only by a string of lights. Where the smell of sawed wood and paint lingers in the air.  Where you can find random things like an old stove or a stripped down Chevy Convertible from shows past. Graffiti that says things like “Best Cast Ever Guys and Dolls ’86” Because if only for a second, I can pretend I am backstage in my own high school. But this is not high school theater, even if this may have been the high school of others for many decades. It wasn’t mine. And as a transplant, few, if any of the audience members knew me, let alone knew me from high school. I also got that lonely transplanted feeling after performances, watching my fellow cast mates surrounded by adoring family and friends, awkwardly balancing bunches of flower and candy in their arms while they posed for a picture. When you are a transplant, this post-performance shower of adoration can feel a bit thin.

*sigh*

But this post is not about being a transplant. It is about showbiz! So let’s move on:

Breath Support, Personal amplifier – Just as a choreographer tells a dancer how to move their body, a great vocal director will tell you how to move your lips, teeth, tongue in such a way that you would believe that you never knew how to move your lips, teeth,  tongue and even the roof of your mouth (did you know you can move the ROOF of your mouth?) before he taught you. Every note has choreography and a dynamic, and a good musical director will get this out of you if he has to beat it out of you to make sure you are sounding like a well-supported ensemble, a chorus capable of producing that building wall of sound. You might think that singing in the shower or singing in your car is singing, until you have taken actual formal instruction from a musical director. There really is a difference.

Community Theater truly is a community– My son discovered something that I learned this year. Yes, the cast and crew become like family. After all, in the intensive weeks leading up to opening curtain, you will see them more than your actual family. They are there for you – totally there – to celebrate your birthday, to say a community prayer of healing if you have a loved one in the hospital, to root for you if you are waiting on that job offer after months of unemployment. They are there for you to change you out of one costume and into another in under 90 seconds. Or loan you a favorite antique hatpin to keep your hat from flopping over your face, because, really, who owns hat pins in this century? They are there for you to hold your hand and wipe away a tear when it all becomes too overwhelming. And, if your cast is lucky enough to contain some medical professionals, they will do what they have to do to keep you healthy for those crucial last rehearsals leading up to opening night. Believe me. A month after closing curtain, and I am going through deep withdrawal missing my theater family. I cannot wait to do it all again next year!

Detroit’s oldest Holocaust Survivor, 101, Shares Story For Future generations

Photo Credit: Jerry Zdynsky

It really is eerie. 

As the unrest and violence continues in the Ukraine, once again, Jews are the scapegoats caught in the crossfire. 

Last week, though it was a “prank” by pro-Russian supporters in the Ukraine, Jews were handed out leaflets that they must register their names and property holdings with the government. 

Last week, just as this week, a synagogue in the Ukraine was firebombed. Not just vandalized. Firebombed. 

This is why “Never Forget” must not just be uttered or whispered in a prayer but be a call to action. 

I am sure that Henry Upfall would agree. Here is his story. 

In the weeks leading up to his 101st birthday on April 14, Henry Upfall was hoping to start a men’s poker night at Meer Apartments in West Bloomfield, where he lives. Just returning from spending the winter at his condominium in Florida, he missed his regular poker game at the clubhouse, and the ladies at Meer won’t deal the men into their game.

According to his devoted daughter, Dina Pinsky of Bloomfield Hills, Upfall believes in living in the present by making new friends and maintaining close family ties. Pinsky adorns his apartment with plenty of family photos of Upfall’s late wife, Dora, their children, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

His daughter said living in the present — loving life, surrounding themselves with family, friends and many social gatherings — was the way her parents coped with the very dark past of surviving the Holocaust.

At 101, Upfall is Metro Detroit‘s oldest living Holocaust survivor. Like many children and grandchildren of Holocaust 

Like many second and third generation survivors, Pinsky is in a race against time  to preserve her loved one’s stories for the  coming generations.

“As a kid, my brother Yale and I remember  lots of laughter and joking around,”  Pinsky said. “We heard stories of Europe  in bits and pieces. We knew there were  subjects that were off-limits; we just didn’t  go there because it caused my parents too  much pain.”

Stephen Goldman, executive director at  the Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC) in  Farmington Hills, said that in the immediate  years after the Holocaust, many  parents were afraid to tell and children  were afraid to ask about the horrors of the  Holocaust. As time passed, more survivors  began to tell their stories. They must be  told and recorded to preserve their memory,  he said.  “As survivors age, it becomes more  urgent for us to preserve their stories,”  Goldman said.

“If we don’t capture their  memories now, they will be lost to the  ages.”

Upfall’s story, retold here, was pieced  together from a recent interview at his  apartment and a 2006 video testimony he  gave at the HMC. There, Upfall’s account,  along with 500 additional area survivors,  are recorded with attention to the most  accurate detail.

Henry Upfall was born Gedalye  Augustowski on April 14, 1913. As a child,  he grew up in a comfortable and “cosmopolitan”  household in Warsaw with his  mother, sister and maternal grandparents.  His parents divorced and his father left to  settle in Detroit in the 1920s.

He was an athletic teenager and an avid  boxer. For a time, he traveled from town to  town competing in boxing tournaments,  where he eventually suffered an injury to  his right eye causing permanent blindness  in it. When retelling even a few sentences  of his story, that eye swells shut under the  weight of its tears.

“We had good lives,” Upfall said. “We  were well dressed. My sister never left the  apartment without a fine hat on her head.”

In 1938, Upfall met his future wife, Dora  Rajf, through one of her six brothers. After  a year of courting, the two set a wedding  date for Sept. 6, 1939. Through the help  of their families, they purchased a small  building where they would work as a barber  and a beautician and live in the apartment upstairs.

Coming Of War

Then, in September of 1939, the Nazis  invaded Poland.

Upfall, like all other able-bodied young  Polish men, was ordered at age 26 to the  border at Bialystok in an attempt to thwart  the Nazi invasion.  Two months later, Upfall returned to  Warsaw and reunited with Dora.

In just  those short months away, Upfall recalls the  shock of seeing a change in Dora’s physical  state and the destruction in the city.

“I didn’t recognize her,” Upfall said. “In  only two months, her face was so drawn,  so black from the soot of the bombings.”

On Nov. 6, 1939, Upfall and Dora broke  the 7 p.m. curfew imposed on all Warsaw  Jews to sneak away to the rabbi’s study at  Nozyk Synagogue. There, with no guests  or witnesses, a rabbi married them in a  secret ceremony. An engagement photo  and a ketubah bearing the date and their  names, survives to this day, lovingly preserved  in a frame in Upfall’s apartment.

“There were just the rabbi, Dora and I,”  Upfall tearfully recalled.  The two fled that evening from Warsaw  and headed back to Bialystok, walking the  whole way at night, hiding by day in the  woods and in barns. Upfall still has painful  regrets about leaving his sister, grandparents  and mother. That next year, in the  fall of 1940, the Nazis ordered all Jews into  the Warsaw Ghetto.

“He just had no idea how bad things  were going to get,” Pinsky said.

After making it back to Bialystok,  he and Dora were arrested and sent to  Posolek, a Russian labor camp near the  town of Vologda in White Russia to work  harvesting trees in the forest.  Conditions were harsh. There was little  food and only straw to sleep on in the barracks.

Upfall, raised in an Orthodox home,  recalls feigning illness and fever with some  other men in the camp so they would not  have to work on Yom Kippur.  Though they were under the watchful  eye of Russian guards, somehow Henry  and Dora escaped through a passage in the  forest. After traveling, they were reunited  with Dora’s parents in Vitebsk in Belarus.

For a while, they lived in relative peace.  Henry worked as a barber and the couple  had a child, Yale, born in 1941.  Shortly after Yale was born, Upfall’s family  again uprooted as Soviet forces evacuated  civilians to Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan.  Here Soviet authorities demanded that  civilians acquire Russian passports.  Refusing to get a passport because he knew  it meant he would be forced into the army,  Upfall was imprisoned.  Dora begged for his release under the  condition that he would  take a passport.

Sure  enough, within days of  accepting a Russian passport,  Upfall was drafted  into the army and put  onto a train headed for  the frontline of the war.

“I remember sitting  next to another Jewish  guy named Moskowitz,”  Upfall said. “In Yiddish,  he joked with me, ‘They  are sending us to the  slaughterhouse.’ So,  when the train stopped  at a station, I said I  was getting off to get a  hot drink. At the station,  there was stopped  another train going west.  I got on it and deserted  the Russian army. I never  saw Moskowitz again.”

Somehow, he made  his way to Jambul,  Kazakhstan, where he  was reunited with his  family. They remained there until the end  of the war.

Post-War Life

When the war ended, Upfall, his wife and  son went back to Poland, first to Kracow,  then Warsaw, where they were spirited out  of Poland by Betar, the Revisionist Zionist  youth movement, and taken to Vienna,  Austria. Dina was born in Vienna in 1947.  From there they went to a displaced persons  camp, Munchenberg, in Germany.

In 1949, the family immigrated to the  United States, joining his father in Detroit.  After receiving his license, he operated a  barber shop. He became a U.S. citizen and  changed his name to Henry in 1954.  Upfall said it is important to tell stories  like his for the future because “people  who are free do not understand how we  endured what we went through during the  Holocaust.”

“The Jewish nation is strong,” Upfall  said. “We have to stick together no matter  what. As long as we have places like  America and Israel, a Jew will never have  to ask again ‘vu ahin zol ikh geyn’ (Where  can I go?)”

 

 

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Sitting on the Floor. Thinking about Jerusalem’s ashes of yesterday and tomorrow. But please not tomorrow.

An Ultra-orthodox Jewish man puts his head in his hands, inside a synagogue that was attacked by two Palestinians earlier in the morning in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem on November 18, 2014. Two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and killed four Israelis before being shot dead in the bloodiest attack in the city in years. AFP PHOTO/ JACK GUEZ        (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
An Ultra-orthodox Jewish man puts his head in his hands, inside a synagogue that was attacked by two Palestinians earlier in the morning in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem on November 18, 2014. Two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and killed four Israelis before being shot dead in the bloodiest attack in the city in years. AFP PHOTO/ JACK GUEZ        (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

An Ultra-orthodox Jewish man puts his head in his hands, inside a synagogue that was attacked by two Palestinians earlier in the morning in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem on November 18, 2014. Two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and killed four Israelis before being shot dead in the bloodiest attack in the city in years. AFP PHOTO/ JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Today is Tisha B’Av. I am well into my fast.

Now is the time of the day when the stomach really starts to grumble. Mornings of a fast are okay. That is the time when the faster says to themselves: What is eating anyway? Eating is more habitual than anything. I even made it to my garden to do some work this morning.

I am not observing an absolute fast this Tisha B’Av – literally meaning, the ninth of the month of Av. I’ve been drinking water and coffee throughout the day. But still, now that late afternoon is here, the hunger is sinking in. But I will dig in deeper. Mentally, I have not taken a fast from thinking deeply, and my troubled thoughts I allow to linger on this day, the saddest of the entire Jewish calendar.

Last year’s memories of Gaza’s war with Israel linger. Last week’s agreement with Iran, and what disasters it could hold for the future of not just Israel but the whole world, weigh heavily on my mind. As it should with yours, dear reader, however or wherever this lovely summer day finds you.

The outsider must see observers of this fast day pretty much as religious fanatics out of their mind.

Are you the average outsider? I’ll test out my theory. Check it out; Here is the crux of this day and the reason why some Jews fast and mourn today:

Over two thousand years ago, we the Jews had the Great Temple in Jerusalem.

On this day, a bit over two thousand years ago, on this very same day a few hundred years before that, not one but BOTH Great Temples were destroyed. One built by King Solomon, then another one five centuries later, built by King Herod . Both destroyed. The city of Jerusalem ransacked, on the same day.

Lots of other bad stuff happened to Jews on or around this day.

Through the centuries, some of our greatest leaders were killed in and around this date.

Through the centures Jews were expelled, from Jerusalem, from England, France and Spain, in and around on this date.

Because of that, that is why we fast. And in the days leading up to the fast, we don’t have fun in pools. Or chow down on burgers at barbecues. At the height of the summer.

So now is your turn to respond: You are in mourning in 2015, in modern times, for the destruction of a building? And the destruction happened

HOW many years ago? But that was then and this is now. That has NOTHING to do with today. Seriously, get over it! 

My I am getting dizzy now. 

I’m a religious nut, right? You’re thinking this. But the older I get, the more the messages of Tisha B’Av have to do with today.

In all honesty, I didn’t even know about Tisha B’av when I was a kid growing up in Staten Island. It was a summer holiday, and let’s just say that with an afternoon congregational Hebrew school education, it is safe to say that any Jewish commemoration that takes place in the summer is glossed over. Even not taught.

I only learned about it from friends who went to Jewish summer camp. So when my own kids went to summer camp, I decided to observe Tisha B’av.

You start the fast at synagogue sitting on the floor. Mourning brings you mentally to a lower, less comfortable place and you want to match this mood physically.  So you sit on the floor.

It is customary for the sanctuary lights to dim. Some bring flashlights or light candles to follow along in their prayer books.

Then, in a mournful melody, a leader or a group of leaders chant the entire book of Lamentations. Eicha in Hebrew.

The imagery in Lamentations is so very sad and graphic. There is no comfort. Gd has abandoned His Chosen People to be starved, stoned, burned, raped and humiliated by our worst enemies. There is no one to comfort them and no one to answer Jerusalem’s cries.

There are mothers sitting in the ashes of what were once the glorious golden-paved streets of Jerusalem. The passage of babies suckling the empty breasts of their starving mothers always gets to me. I can hear the cries of the starving in the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem as the Romans attempted to starve them out from behind the walls. You can smell the burning and feel the heat.

“The tongue of the suckling cleaves to its palate for thirst. Little children beg for bread. None gives them a morsel.” 

Fast forward a few centuries. Are the images that the author of Lamentations paints in the reader’s head any different or remote than those from the ghettos of Rome? Prague? Warsaw?

The foes set upon our sanctuaries…Our steps were checked. We could not walk in our squares.

Is it any different now? As Jews are afraid to openly show their Jewish identity and safely walk in the streets  In Paris? In Brooklyn? Even Jerusalem?

And the hardest lesson to swallow from the book of Ecclesiastes, is that the Jews of Jerusalem had no one but themselves to blame for their destruction. Gd turned His face from the because of their baseless hatred and pettiness towards one another. We were punished because, according to the author, we showed no regard for priests (we had priests, not rabbis during the time of the Temple) and no respect for tradition or our elders.

And how is this different now? In an age where commitment to Jewish education falls to the bottom of priorities, upstaged by everything else from soccer to scouting? Where learning about Jewish history has been scrapped for a bare-bones Jewish education that leaves nothing more than some tutoring lessons to learn how to pronounce some transliterated gibberish for a kid’s big day on the bimah?

I am hungry now. But the hunger has not made me melodramatic. I’m speaking from true experience here. And this is going widely unreported, why I don’t understand. Are we afraid to admit that in our comfortable complacency we are failing to transmit to the next generation their rich heritage?

Ask your typical Jewish kid if they can name one Jewish leader from modern times or ancient times. Ask if they know what countries border Israel, Ask them what Hebrew letters spell basic words like Shalom, Shabbat, and even Moses, and you might get a lot of blank stares.

Will these same kids, once they get off the bimah and for the most part, exit their Jewish education and find themselves in college five years, will they know how to answer in college to cries that Israel is a pariah of a nation, an apartheid state? Who will teach them their heritage and history then?

“The mouthings and pratings of my adversaries…Our pursuers were swifter than the eagles in the sky.” 

And now, we are faced with Iran becoming legitimized as a playing power, as a nuclear entity, in the eyes of the world. You don’t have to read every page of this deal to know this deal is a bad one. Will the world wake up in time?

“Our doom is near our days are done – Alas our doom has come.” 

The way I see it, those words could have easily been written today.

Who’s Gonna Drive you Home, Part I: Prom

teen-prom-stats

teen-prom-stats

As I write this, my oldest child, an adult in the legal sense now at 18, is safely away at her summer job as a counselor at an overnight camp.

She will not be behind the wheel of a car, or maybe will hardly even be in a car, for the next 8 weeks. And the weeks of the summer, according to the American Automobile Association, are the deadliest for teenagers.

This is the tale of me, a mom, who went against the grain and put her foot down because she did not want her daughter or her friends to become another summer statistic.

Late to the game in the car-crazed culture of the Metro Detroit Area, my daughter got her license nearly a good two years after most teens get theirs.

I was completely fine with that. Even though sometimes I could feel my very bottom turning to mush at the amount of time I spent behind the wheel picking up and driving her to and from sports and band rehearsals.

So, come prom time, my daugher assured me that when it came to transportation to and from the prom, she and her friends – all sweet, all good and smart, and all drivers – “had this” in terms of the driving.

“Had this?” What did “Had this” mean? Was there a known limo vendor the school works with to get kids to the prom destination – which was a Downtown Detroit nightclub?  Had the school chartered some luxury busses to whisk them to and from the night of their lives? Was it included in the price of the ticket?

No. Turns out, they planned to drive themselves to prom.

Now, maybe it was the fact that I grew up in New York City, where everything is different, but no one drove themselves to prom. There was just too much risk of someone getting into an alcohol-related accident.

Plus, who among us in working-class Staten Island had their license, plus their own car, by Senior Year, let alone sophomore year? I didn’t.

It was just too easy to take the bus or the train or bum a ride from the one or two friends who had a car. (Thanks for the many rides, old friends, and you know who you are!)

And when it came to prom, it was a sure thing you were going in a limo.

Because the prom wasn’t really about being at the prom, it was about that limo. Should it be black? White? Stretch? And how many couples can we squeeze in to make it as cheap as possible?

Because the prom part of prom was not the main event. It was leaving the cheesy banquet hall of the Sheraton in Jersey, piling into the limo, which you had saved up for for about a year with your after school job or selling candy bars, and heading into New York City. To the nightclubs. And the carriage ride in Central Park.

Pity to the teens who do not grow up in the Metro area who don’t get a NYC prom.

But back to the present, in Metro Detroit.

Like many of you who have been following my blog know, I am a transplant to Metro Detroit by only two years. So, in the social circles of the high school parents, I am a complete outsider. Nope, I didn’t grow up here or go to high school here, and I didn’t move here when my kids were babies. So contact with parents for me has been all but minimal.

So  when my daughter, working so hard to fit in and not make waves and play it cool, told me that she could not ask her loosely formed group of about 22 kids all planning to leave for prom from the same house to spend ANOTHER PENNY on prom, I didn’t push it. After all, I was not familiar with many of these kids’ parents, and didn’t want to impose my views of getting a limo.

I tried to play it cool. These were good kids. Smart kids. Kids who were going to attend some of the country’s best colleges in the fall.

I was actually starting to come around to this plan when I asked the son of a friend of mine, who had already gone to his prom, how his big night was.

“Oh, it was interesting.”

Interesting? How so?

“A friend of the family offered to do us a favor and drove us to prom,” he calmly told me. “He seemed a bit out of it when he picked us up, but no one said anything. He was on his cell phone the whole drive. We got in an accident on the way to prom. We made it there alright, but we had an adult drive us and HE got in an accident.”

No Shit?!

So there you go. Is that ironic or what? So they had an adult drive them and even then they got in an accident. So who’s to say they wouldn’t be safer driving themselves.

Then again….

It would be dark when they were coming home.

And they’d be wired and tired from a night of dancing.

And excited and way distracted.

And they’d  be driving at night on unfamiliar streets and highways.

And not to mention those statistics.

So, I put my foot down. From my trusty high school directory, I looked up phone numbers and emails and expressed my plea to keep our kids safe and fork out the cash to find a driver. It didn’t have to be a fancy limo. It could be car service or an airport towncar.

I got mixed surprised responses. Each parent said they would be okay with the kids driving themselves, yet no parent said they wanted their kid to be responsible for driving.

Some parents balked at the extra expense.

Some parents got eye rolls from their children at the thought of hiring a driver.

Let ’em roll, I say. Roll the eyes at me all you want. I’ve been eyerolled. I can take it.

Another parent said they were greatly relieved that another parent had the guts to take the initiative to find a professional driver.

Prom night:

All 22 people in the prom party and their parents, were invited to a pre-prom party at the home of one of the kids. Luxury cars parked in the driveway. Original art hung on the walls. I did so appreciate the catered hors D’oeuvres and wheatgrass apple ginger shots and mini smoothies served with wedges of lime. But I could not see how these same families could not spend “another penny” on hiring drivers for peace of mind, according to my daughter.

As the pre-party went on, the parents who were in on our car, settled up.

Then another parent approached me. Her son was not a senior but an underclassman from another school, the guest of a senior. She only found out that there indeed WERE no limos, and her son would be driven to prom by a kid unknown to her. She was a wreck.

“There’s room in my daughter’s car for one more couple…” I just put it out there. She said she would gladly pay – as well as the date of the other girl’s mom. They nearly kissed my hand in gratitude.

In the end, all the kids, driven or not driven by a professional driver, all got to and from prom safe and sound.  They all looked fabulous and had a wonderful time. There was no drinking going on at the actual prom. Yet still, there was plenty of texting and chatting as the night wore on of how much drinking was going on at all the “after prom” parties. It’s a good thing most of these parties were sleepovers.

So, in the end, and keep this in mind for next year if you’ve got a rising senior – when your independence-seeking have-it-all-together-teen says “they are handling” transportation for prom, don’t let them handle it.

Step up. Be an intrusive parent. Butt in. Make calls. Hire a driver. And savor that peace of mind.

A most strange and beautiful dream on the eve of a most horrible morning

victorian

Last night I had a dream. 

Now, I know that sounds cliché, especially on a morning such as this where the world is waking up to the horrible event in Charleston, S.C.

It has been a long time since I have posted on anything outside my feature stories. But sometimes you have a dream so vivid which juxtaposes the events of reality so much I just had to write it down so I would not forget.

I was going to investigate some old house in Detroit that was said to have been part of the underground railroad.

It was a huge old tutor styled home with a wall around it, a circular driveway with ivy-covered landscape.

I knocked on the door and a very tall slender black woman in her 50s opened it to greet me. She had a dark purple dress on with flowers on it, very old-fashioned, as a dress taken from the 1940’s. Her hair was in corn rows and then coiled into a neat bun. She wore wired spectacles. She welcomed me in with a warm smile.

I told her I wanted to learn about this house’s history with the Underground Railroad.

She said she would give me a tour of the house, but first, invited me in for Shabbat lunch.

Told you this was a strange dream. 

The house was a series of elaborately decorated rooms, all in the Victorian style. Think flowered wallpaper and intricately carved crown molding along the ceiling.

Each room was filled with people, black and white, seated around huge dining tables eating cholent (a thick stew served on Saturday afternoons) served in large silver tureens and studying Hebrew.

It was not clear if all those there were all Jewish, but they were all studying, singing, laughing and eating in complete harmony.

After a while, I approached the woman to tour the house again.

She led me up a broad staircase, and then a narrow one up to the attic.

We climbed up another ladder, and there, in a loft, were bunk beds where slaves would hide for a few nights or days on their journey to freedom to Canada. It was quite hot and the air stuffy in the attic and I imagined those who hid in that attic and how uncomfortable they must have been, hiding for their lives on their way to freedom.

I woke up this morning only to learn that a white man shot and killed nine worshippers at the Emanuel A.M.E. church, a church described by the Washington Post as a “site of struggle, resistance and change” for the past two hundred years.

The murderer sat there for an hour among his victims before he opened fire. What was going through his head in that hour? How could he not have a change of heart as he sat and listened to people studying the Bible?

Perfect Prom

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How can it be? Prom season has come and gone. My kids’ included. I’ll be writing more about that in the near future, about prom, about when to let their kids stretch their independence, and when to step in and protect when it comes to the literal roads of life, and boy is it hard to distinguish the difference. 

In the meantime, for a little while longer, let them enjoy the innocence of being a kid and read a story of how some high school kids reached out to fellow students who never dreamed about going to prom and how they had the time of their lives.

It was a pleasure to write this one in the midst of making arrangements for my own child’s prom night. It was a pleasant surprise to find out it had made it to a cover story:

Perfect Prom

Posted on June 10, 2015, 12:29 PM . Filed in Uncategorized. Tagged . Be the first to comment!

A night to cherish —for students of all abilities

Spencer Cohn of West Bloomfield had his heart set on going to his prom to seal his lasting memories of high school with a fun night out on the town. He knew just whom he wanted to ask, and with the help of a teacher and supportive friends, he had a night to remember at West Bloomfield High School’s Senior Prom, held at the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle in Detroit.

Going to prom was also a dream come true for Spencer’s mom, Melanie Cohn. Like all parents raising kids with special needs, the thing she wanted most for her son was acceptance by his peers.

“When you have a child on the autism spectrum, you always feel like your kids are on the outside,” said Melanie, who is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Farmington Hills. “When I found out there was a way that Spencer could go to prom, I was so pleased. He went and felt accepted as part of a group of friends. Isn’t that how we all want to feel?”

Six couples show their prom spirit before heading off to the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle for the big dance.

This acceptance in part came from a course offered in several area high schools called LINK. Also known as Peer-to-Peer Support, LINK is a course where general education students assist students with learning disabilities in classroom and social settings. The course’s goals include improving social, independence and/or academic skills for students with disabilities as well as helping students in the general population develop an understanding of individuals with disabilities. Students who enroll in the course may eventually pursue careers in social work, teaching or psychology.

For about three years now, through LINK, WBHS seniors with special needs have been transported to prom in their own limousine bus, thanks to a generous anonymous donor in the Jewish community.

Spencer’s prom date was Dalia Rubenstein, 16, a WBHS junior who took the LINK course this spring semester. Volunteering with those with special developmental needs comes naturally for her. Ever since she could remember, she has accompanied her mother, Shoshana Rubenstein, ACSW, to help out at JARC events for adults.

Through LINK, Dalia gained experience with learning how to more patiently interact with teens on the Autism spectrum and not to “rush to judgment” when conversations do not go exactly as planned. For example, sarcasm does not go over very well to those with very literal minds.

“You have to watch what you say, especially if you want to joke around,” Dalia said. “Sarcasm doesn’t work so you have to say exactly what you mean.”

Harry Cohn adjusts his son’s tie before he heads off to the WBHS prom.

Though their families had been friends for many years, Dalia became better acquainted with Spencer through LINK.

“People dream about going to the prom because it is the highlight of high school,” Dalia said. So, when he asked me, I said, ‘Of course, I would love to go with you!’ Since then, he hasn’t stopped smiling and talking about the prom.”

After Spencer asked Dalia, she asked a few of her friends — some were part of LINK, others were not — if they would like to go to prom with other kids with special needs. Altogether, six couples dressed up, met in the school parking lot to have their parents kvell over them and take their photographs before they boarded the limo bus to prom.

Even though he prefers wearing shorts and a T-shirt most of the time, Spencer sported a tuxedo for the occasion. He said Dalia looked “great” in her navy blue prom dress. He gave her a white corsage. At his request, Dalia gave Spencer two picture frames: one to hold a picture of them at the prom and one saved for a graduation photo.

Dalia Rubenstein and Spencer Cohn

“It was pretty fancy at the yacht club and I loved the music,” Spencer said the day after prom. “I wanted to go to prom because I knew it was going to be a great memory to have forever from my senior year of high school.”

Accompanying them on the limo bus was Janis Schiffer, a school social worker and a coordinator of the LINK program. Schiffer said that these couples going to prom together is proof positive of how LINK bridges the gap between students of all abilities.

In the end, Schiffer knew her students with special needs were in good hands with their LINK buddies at the prom. She didn’t need to be with them at all times to be their “friend.” Instead, she was present at the prom just like any other adult chaperone, hanging in the background and watching the kids having fun.

“I was overjoyed to see them all having a wonderful time,” Schiffer said. “After a while, you really couldn’t tell which of the kids had special needs and which didn’t. It is just what one would expect from prom night.”

By: Stacy Gittleman, Contributing Writer

The Future is Bright for Detroit’s Conservative Jews. Motor City Youth Group is “Chapter of the Year”

MCUSYchapterofyear

When I taught Hebrew school and looked at the sweet yet glazed-over faces of my students, I would gently yet firmly reassure them: “KIds, please. I get it. Hebrew school may not be your thing. But don’t ever let your feelings about Hebrew school cloud your love for being Jewish. There is a better Jewish life after Hebrew school and it is youth group.”

Personally, I owe my life to United Synagogue Youth’s high school and middle school programming. Whether it was learning how to do The Time Warp or Rock Lobster at a dance, or finally mastering the WHOLE Birkat Hamazon (Grace after meals) while singing it with hundreds of my closest friends, It taught me how to life Jewishly joyfully. Kudos to the Motor City Chapter of USY for winning for the second year in a row Chapter of the Year for the organization’s Central region. 

This ran in the May 21, 2015 issue of the Detroit Jewish News. Please subscribe.

Motor City USY wins honor for second year running

| Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer

Recently recognized by the Central Region of United Synagogue Youth for membership growth and inter-generational religious programming such as “McKabbalat Shabbat,” members of Detroit’s chapter of United Synagogue Youth recently arrived home from their regional spring convention in Cleveland bleary-eyed yet happy to have clinched the “Chapter of the Year” award for the second year running.

Motor City USY, affectionately known as “MCUSY,” is witnessing a resurgence in membership growth and dynamic programming designed to engage and energize the youngest members of Metro Detroit’s Conservative Jewish movement.

The chapter has attracted about 65 official members in grades 6-12, and a little over 100 individuals have attended at least one USY or Kadima program in the past year, according to adviser David Lerner. Highlights of the year included a Purim limousine scavenger hunt, monthly volunteering at bingo games with adults with developmental disabilities in cooperation with JARC, and an “Iron Chef ” kosher cooking contest for students in the middle school grades.ironchef

The Conservative movement in Detroit has invested much in its youth engagement and informal education in the last several years with its Ramah Fellowship and by hiring a full-time USY adviser. For the past two years, this post was filled by David Lerner. Lerner is stepping down from his post, and this summer will begin his rabbinical studies at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.
david-lerner
“I have been so inspired working with the teens and witnessing their passion and ability to form a community around Jewish life and values,” Lerner, 32, said.
“I have merely served as the facilitator and supporter to all their passion and great ideas. They have worked hard through their frustrations to create so many positive outcomes over the past two years.”

Lerner hopes the organization will choose a new adviser who has an established relationship with the organization and can continue its upward direction.

In the last two years, Lerner said he focused on growing and strengthening programming and outreach at the high school level. In coming years, he said the focus should be on growing the organization’s Kadima group for grades 6-8 and Junior Kadima for grades 3-5.

Local area Conservative rabbis also place a high value on the way USY blends social and religious aspects to get teens enthused about Judaism.
Rabbi Aaron Bergman at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills attributes the chapter’s recent success to collaboration across all of Detroit’s Conservative synagogues and professional staff who are connected and invested in the teens.

Rabbi Aaron Starr of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield — where Lerner also worked as director of youth and young adult programming — echoed this sentiment of working together to create meaningful experiences of Jewish learning and fostering friendships for teens.

“As Conservative Jews, we are committed to developing passionate, educated young adults devoted to finding spirituality within Jewish ritual, meaning within Jewish life, and a commitment to repairing our broken world,” Starr said.
“Most of all, the teens who are part of MCUSY are exceptional leaders and, in them, I see a bright future for the Jewish people.”

Jacklawson MCUSYchapterofyear

Never Too Late

batmitzvahadult

batmitzvahadult

Adult b’nai mitzvah classes represent
a different coming of age.

Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer

A group of students sits immersed in  Torah study on a recent Wednesday  at Adat Shalom Synagogue in  Farmington Hills. Their teacher, Rabbi Rachel  Shere, guides the lesson based on carefully  selected texts that delve into the theme of  coming of age. In preparation for their b’nai  mitzvah, the students listen intently and offer  their insights about what it means to become  a full-fledged member of a community.

No one squirms, asks to go to the bathroom  or raises their hand to take a break for a drink  of water. Some sip coffee. Others have a tinge  of gray in their hair or beards.DSCN2211

Decades older than their teen counter-parts, there is a sizeable population of Jews  in the Detroit Metropolitan Area as well  as around the nation who are choosing to have a bar or bat mitzvah later in life. While  learning Hebrew and the complexities of  chanting Torah may be a bit more challeng-ing, older b’nai mitzvah students can bring a  wealth of perspective and life experiences and  a deeper appreciation for Jewish study than  their younger counterparts.

Nationwide, there has been some discus-sion in Jewish circles as to whether or not  the traditional age of becoming a bar or bat  mitzvah — 12 for girls and 13 for boys — is  outdated. Many teens and families see the  ceremony as the final day of involvement  with Jewish education, rather than as an  entry point of a fully participating adult in  Jewish communal life.

Additionally, the status  of becoming a Jewish adult and taking on  the mitzvot of Judaism is recognized with or  without a ceremony and all its extra fanfare.   The first “belated” b’nai mitzvah ceremo-nies were held at Brandeis University in the  1970s, according to MyJewishLearning.com.  Recently, Reboot, a New York City-based  organization doing outreach to unaffiliated  Jewish millennials, launched an initiative  called reBar that asks this age group to re-examine their Jewish identities and their own  Jewish coming-of-age ceremony — if they  had one at all.  If it did not have much meaning the first  time around, would they give it another try,  along Jewish learning and living, now that  they are at an age when they may be thinking about starting families?

Though reBar is  active in several U.S. cities, the initiative does  not have any activity in Detroit yet.  Whether they never had a bar or bat mitzvah, as in the case of women of older generations, Jewish converts or those looking to  recharge their Jewish identities, Jewish adults  in Detroit are dedicating themselves to study,  finding community and being recognized on  the bimah in a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony.

For those seeking adult b’nai mitzvah  instruction in Detroit, Adat Shalom and  Temple Israel of West Bloomfield have established two-year courses. The clergy take turns  teaching weekly courses in a group setting.  Subjects include basic Judaism, laws, customs  and holidays, and Jewish ethics as well as  Hebrew literacy and reading the Hebrew of  the selected Torah portion and learning Torah  trope in the final six months. Temple Emanu-El of Oak Park is planning an adult b’nai  mitzvah program in late 2015 or early 2016.

Adat Shalom’s current class is preparing for  a ceremony May 24 in time for Shavuot. The  next group of students will start classes in  January 2016; new students are welcome.  Hazzan Dan Gross teaches with his fellow clergy at Adat Shalom. He said having  an adult b’nai mitzvah ceremony timed to  Shavuot is symbolic for a group of adults  publicly demonstrating their commitment to  their Jewish identity and their role in synagogue life as well as their efforts to learn an  ancient tradition and carry it into the future.  Adults come from a wide range of religious  backgrounds. Gross said he is very appreciative of the effort students put into learning  Hebrew and chanting Torah.

“Everyone comes to class with different lev-els of reading Hebrew,” he said. “As teachers,  we have to be cognizant that everyone is at a  different pace and sensitive to the fact that, as  an adult, it may be harder to memorize the  musical motifs of the trope. But what makes  learning with adults enjoyable is that they  truly form a chavruta, a community of learn-ers who support one another.”  Continued Commitment A few of the course’s graduates have gone on  to become regular leaders of daily services or  regular Torah readers.

Allison Lee, 54, of Walled Lake, a graduate  of the 2013 Adat Shalom class, takes pride  in her newly acquired skill of chanting the  Ten Commandments. Growing up, Lee had a  minimal Jewish education and rarely attend-ed synagogue with her family. Several years  into marriage, her husband, son of a Lutheran  minister, strongly urged that she delve into  the teachings and traditions of Judaism. The  desire to raise their daughter, Lydia, as a Jew  also accelerated the rate at which she learned.

“Through the years, it was my husband  who encouraged me to explore my religion,  and little by little we would take on traditions,  like lighting Shabbat candles, having holiday  meals and keeping a kosher home.”

Lee and Lydia became fast study partners.  Both mother and daughter celebrated their  bat mitzvot within the last two years.  “I feel such pride when I chant Torah,” Lee  said. “I think, ‘Wow, I get to read the voice of  God.’”

She offers this advice to adults on the fence  about having an adult bar or bat mitzvah  ceremony:

“If you have the slightest modicum  of curiosity, go for it. You will be swept away  by the amount of knowledge and a feeling of  identity and community you will gain.”

The adult bar/bat mitzvah preparations at  Temple Israel involve weekly two-hour classes  with concentrations on Jewish study, celebrating Jewish holidays as a class and improving  Hebrew literacy. The second year focuses on  the Torah service, learning its prayers and  preparing a Torah service, according to Rabbi  Arianna Gordon. Approximately 21 students  are involved in each learning cycle.

The current group of students will have a service to  celebrate their emergence into Jewish adult-hood in October 2016.

“We have learners at all levels, including some who have recently converted to  Judaism, and then some Hebrew school dropouts who are circling back to Judaism later in  life,” Gordon said. “A lot of the classes involve  personal reflective writing on their relation-ship with God and what about this journey to  Jewish adulthood is important to them.”

Gordon said the most important aspect  she wants her adult students to gain is a creation of their own smaller Jewish community  within the larger scope of Temple Israel.

Exploring Judaism

Jim Rawlinson, 75, of West Bloomfield was  very excited to get a new tallit from his life  partner, Paula Weberman, when he celebrated his bar mitzvah in 2014. Jim, raised as  a Protestant in Vicksburgh, Mich., said  he never met a Jewish person until his  sophomore year of college.  Though he regularly attended church  as an adult, he disagreed with much of its  teachings.

With little exposure to Jews or  Judaism, reading Survival in Auschwitz by Primo  Levi had an enormous impact on him as  a high school student.

“It made me so curious to find out  who were these people the Nazis wanted  to eliminate,” Rawlinson said. “Later on,  in my 20s, the Six-Day War broke out  and it made me very upset that so many  Arab nations wanted to attack the Jews.”

He spent his professional life as a photographer and learned more about Jewish  life-cycle events after he moved to Metro  Detroit and documented Jewish weddings and b’nai mitzvah celebrations.

“I noticed at these occasions, there  was a stronger pull to family and community, a greater warmth than I had ever  encountered in the non-Jewish community,” he said.

In 2009, Rawlinson began to attend  services at Temple Israel when he  decided this would become his spiritual  “home.” As he explored the possibility of  converting, he took introductory classes  in Judaism and Hebrew.  “At a certain point, I realized I wanted  to explore Judaism from the inside  instead of being an outsider.”

He enrolled in the class, where he  felt accepted by his classmates. Alone at  night, he studied Hebrew and his Torah  reading for hours every night. And come  this year’s High Holiday season, he will  chant Torah on Yom Kippur morning.

“Becoming a bar mitzvah at this stage  of my life has been fabulous,” he said.  “I consider Temple Israel my home and  could not ever imagine living in a community where I would have to travel a  long way to get to a temple.”

Women Role Models

Doreen Millman, 81, of West Bloomfield  was one of the first women to become a  bat mitzvah at Temple Israel in the 1980s.  Born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., when  girls received a minimal Jewish education  and only boys were called to the Torah,  she credits the memory of conversations  with her grandfather as an inspiration for  picking up her Jewish studies later in life  and becoming a bat mitzvah.

“He was born in a shtetl, yet he was  a very forward-thinking person who  believed girls as well as boys should have  a Jewish education,” Millman said. “I  thought I was crazy for doing it — I was  up to my elbows raising my children —  but I had a lot of encouragement to take  on this challenge.”  Milman said she enjoyed studying  Jewish history and learning how to read  Torah. Since her bat mitzvah, she has  read Torah at Temple Israel on other  occasions, including on Yom Kippur.

“I feel much more comfortable in  services now,” said Millman, who attends  a weekly Torah study group at Temple  Israel. “When I go to services on a  Shabbat morning, I can comfortably fol-low along with the Torah reading.”  Other women also expressed pride in  ownership of their Jewish learning and  becoming a bat mitzvah to serve as a role  model, and a study resource, for their  own daughters.

Shari Stein of West Bloomfield grew  up at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in  Southfield, also at a time when girls  were not called to the Torah. It was only  well into adulthood, and a few years shy  of her own daughters beginning their  bat mitzvah studies, that she decided to  become a bat mitzvah in 2006 at age 41.  She said she did it not only to deepen her  connection to her own spirituality, but  also to serve as a feminist role model of  “breaking barriers” for her children.  “[A bat mitzvah] can be much more  meaningful as an adult,” said Stein, who  admits her years of Jewish education at  Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills  equipped her with the skills to quickly  learn and chant from the Torah and  glean insights into the sacred texts.

Stein said that 10 years later, the significance of being publicly welcomed  into the Jewish community has much  meaning and carries through in her spiritual and professional life. A partner at a  Birmingham design firm, she has given  her talents to many charitable projects,  including Yad Ezra.

“Judaism is a constant process of  learning and growth, a practice of tikkun  olam and of asking yourself what, as a  Jew, can I do for my community?”  ■

Pothole City

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stacylynngittleman:

potholeToday is the day. Raise the sales tax by 1 percent to fix our roads and bridges. It baffles me each time I traverse the worst potholed intersection on Middlebelt and Maple Road and there is a sign to vote NO on Prop 1. Today, get out the vote. Vote yes for our roads and schools.

Originally posted on Stacy Gittleman's blog:

“She’s been training for this for years, and this course is as difficult as they come.”

“Wow, look how she swerves and still can maintain that SPEED and control!!”

“Oh, she is really fighting to stay on the course as she goes around that curve, it’s so difficult but she makes it look so easy.”

Have I just returned from Sochi, competing in the giant slalom?

No.

I’ve just returned from grocery shopping.  In suburban Detroit. And there is a pothole that could accommodate  a baby elephant on the road between my house and the dairy aisle.

To say that Michigan’s roads have a pothole problem is an understatement.  We don’t really have roads here anymore. Neglect of Michigan’s roads have been decades in the making and it’s more like Michigan has miles of potholes with some bits of road holding them together.

Now, I know many of you living…

View original 442 more words

The Very Versatile Dudu Fisher Will Perform in Detroit April 19

Dudu Fisher


Dudu Fisher
It was a bit of a challenge to pin down this world-famous Israeli entertainer, most known in America for his performances on Broadway as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Lessons to publicists out there: Always set up a time between your client and the reporter. Do not just give them your client’s phone number and tell the reporter to “just keep trying.” Also, make sure your client has a working cell phone with voice mail. I am just saying this as kindly as I can.

In the end, it all worked out and I got my story. Here it is, as printed in last week’s Detroit Jewish News. 

The Israeli entertainer does it all — and brings it to Metro Detroit.

Stacy Gittleman Contributing Writer

According to world-renowned Israeli entertainer Dudu Fisher, no other Broadway musical — not even Fiddler on the Roof — speaks as well of the psyche of the Israeli people, with its themes of going to battle and losing loved ones in war, than Les Miserables.
On many different levels, Fisher says it translates very well to Hebrew.

“When I first heard [the song] Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, I was thinking of all my friends killed in battle,” Fisher, 64, says. “After the Israeli premiere, [producer] Cameron Mackintosh said he sensed a response from the audience that he never felt from audiences in other countries. I had to explain to him that 99 percent of the people sitting in the theater were serving in the army or have someone close serving. I told him not one of us does not know people wounded or killed during the time of Israel’s existence.”

Fisher, who tours the world sharing his love and talents for Hebrew, Yiddish and cantorial music, as well as operatic, reggae, pop and country, will perform 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 19, at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.

After service in the Israel Defense Forces, Fisher studied at the Tel Aviv Academy of Music and, at age 22, he became the cantor of the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv. For three decades, his cantorial services have been sought throughout the world, from South Africa and Brazil to the United States. To date, the tenor, who speaks three languages and sings in 10, has recorded upwards of 40 albums, plus a number of children’s DVDs, teaching Jewish customs and traditions.

On a 1986 trip to London, he caught a performance of the then-new musical Les Miserables and was enamored. When news spread that a Hebrew-language Israeli production of the show was in the works, Fisher, with no theater experience, landed the leading role of Jean Valjean.
He performed for three years in Israel, plus lengthy stints on Broadway and London’s West End.

Fisher’s Hebrew performances launched him to international fame, and his 2008 PBS special Dudu Fisher: In . Concert from Israel was enormously pop ular. But performing on Broadway as an Orthodox Jew came with its challenges.

He was able to negotiate a contract for Les Miz which made him the first observant Jew on Broadway and the West End to be excused from performing Friday nights, Saturday matinees and all Jewish holi days, but his observance impeded him from landing additional roles. He wanted to audition for Phantom of the Opera and still dreams of playing Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha.

“[Observant Jews in show business] should be mentally prepared to be met with many setbacks,” he says. However, setbacks often lead to inspiration. When Fisher sings at Shaarey Zedek, he will perform songs from his 1999 autobio graphical off-Broadway musical, Never on Friday — an anecdotal work exploring the complications of his experience on Broadway as an observant Jew. The tenor also will perform pieces from his 2008 show, Jerusalem, based on a collection of songs and stories that tell the history of the ancient and holy city.

Fisher has a passion for sharing the music of what he calls “his most beloved city” with audience members Jewish and non-Jewish alike. His own father and other family members survived the Holocaust when a Christian couple hid them in a bunker in Poland.

Fisher, who wants to let his listeners know that Jerusalem is holy to all reli gions, tries to reach audiences outside the Jewish community, too — and fans in Branson, Mo. (known as the Las Vegas of the Bible Belt), welcome his annual visit.

“It is important for the State of Israel to have non-Jewish people hear the true story of Israel’s history and current issues,” he says. “Not only what they see on the news.” Dudu Fisher performs 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 19, atCongregation Shaarey Zedekin Southfield.

Free to CSZ members;$36-$236. (248) 357-5544.

Feel the Beat

Sherry Kraft of Southfield, Bert Green of West Bloomfield, Tessa Goldberg of
Farmington, “Mambo” Marci Iwrey of Novi and Laura Segal of Franklin

An all-volunteer Salsa Dance group is heating up the salsa dance scene in Detroit.  I am not exactly all left feet (you can actually see my left foot in one of the photos below taken by the very talented Jerry Zolynsky), but gave it a try one freezing February night. Here is what I found out for my cover story from the March 26 issue of the Detroit Jewish News

Feel The Beat

Jewish dancers join the crowd for weekly salsa dance parties

by Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer

Photos by Jerry Zolynsky

kraftdancing

Jeff Abrams of Wixom and Sherry Kraft of Southfield share a laugh and a dance.

groupsalsa

Sherry Kraft of Southfield, Bert Green of West Bloomfield, Tessa Goldberg of Farmington, “Mambo” Marci Iwrey of Novi and Laura Segal of Franklin

The temperatures outside the American Legion hall in Farmington, where YA Salsa holds its monthly socials, plummeted into the single digits on a Sunday evening this past winter. But with the dance floor heating up with more than 200 dancers, no one inside seemed to mind that a door had been propped open to let in the chill. On the last Sunday of each month, salsa enthusiasts gather for a dance social organized by YA Salsa, an allvolunteer organization dedicated to the growth of this dance style in Detroit. Within its circles is a dedicated group of Jews who love Latin dancing. They have found a great sense of camaraderie and exercise in the years they have danced and are always welcoming beginners to try it. To widen the appeal to the Jewish community, YA Salsa will host free workshops led by international salsadancing stars to JCC members March 27-28 at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield before its next social in Farmington. For more information go to www.yasalsa.org. Evening Of Fun YA Salsa socials start with beginner and intermediate lessons.

In the center of a circle of rotating beginner couples, “Mambo” Marci Iwrey, 52, of Novi capably leads the beginners though basic steps and how to work with a partner, when to hold hands and when to let go. A dancer all her life, she fell in love with the rhythms of Latin music around 15 years ago. Private and group lessons in studios around town eventually led her to salsa dance floors and workshops around the world. Now a longtime professional and volunteer teacher of salsa dancing, she defies anyone who hears this infectious music to sit still.

mambomarci

“Mambo” Marci Iwrey

“We are all here to dance,” she instructs. “Don’t be shy to introduce yourself to someone else and say you are a beginner as the evening goes on.” On the other side of the room, more advanced dancers, who seem to be more attached to the partners with whom they arrived, review dips and more complex dance combinations.

“The volunteers work very hard to put on these socials,” said Iwrey, who, when not dancing, works at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield as b’nai mitzvah coordinator. “We are all bonded here for the love of what we do, to bring the joy of dance no matter your race, religion or age.”

After an hour of instruction, the floor opens up for three hours of dancing. Some beginners hang around the sides watching the eclectic gathering of dancers while others brave it out and look for a dance partner.

Sherry Kraft, 34, of Southfield has a background in swing and ballroom dancing. She enjoys the social and less-formal aspects of salsa dancing compared to ballroom and started taking lessons in 2006. “When I started out, I had no idea there was such a large salsa community here in Detroit,” says Kraft, a photographer-turned ultrasound technologist from Southfield who says she enjoys meeting people of all backgrounds who have come together to dance and socialize.

Jeff Abrams describes himself as an “advanced beginner.” The 37-year-old computer technician said he has been attending salsa socials for two years now. “Dancing helps me relax from the stresses of everyday life,” Abrams says as he takes a break between dancing partners. “I love connecting with people through the nonverbal medium of music.” Abrams admits it does take some time to gain experience and confidence in this type of dancing, especially when you are the man.

“The pressure can be on because you are always thinking of what steps you want to try to lead next instead of just relaxing and enjoying the music.” Still, Abrams would rather be dancing over any other kinds of exercise because of its social aspects. “When you dance, you can forget everything else that is going on in your life,” Abrams says. “When I get home, my mind is clearer.”

■ For times, cost, address and upcoming events, go to the websites www.yasalsa.org or www.mambomarci.com.

 

West Hills Middle Schooler is all Smiles about helping Special Needs Children

lindsey

lindseyWith an astute understanding of the power of delivering a smile, Lindsey Zousmer, a fifth-grader at West Hills Middle School, has got “magic” to do for disabled children receiving physical therapy at local hospitals.

Last month, she started a community service project called “Projects 4 Smiles” and is asking other kids her age to create small craft projects, such as bookmarks, bracelets or pins to give as gifts of encouragement.

To kick off Project 4 Smiles, Zousmer invited WHMS classmates in the fourth and fifth grades to come to school on Jan. 16 wearing funny hats and donating a dollar for supplies. Commun ity members may also donate any extra craft supplies they may have at home: decorative duct tape, buttons, extra scrapbooking supplies, glitter, beads, glue, markers, cardstock or string will do the trick. Drop off these supplies at the office at West Hills Middle School, 2601 Lone Pine Road in West Bloomfield, where a special Project 4 Smiles box has been set aside.

The idea came to Zousmer after shadowing her mother Stacy Agree Zousmer, a pediatric physical therapist, at work at Beaumont Hospitals on days she had no school. It was there that she watched children with disabilities struggle to accomplish simple tasks that most children her age can do with ease.

“My mom explained to me how some of these kids can be very successful even with the disabilities and/or the conditions they have,” Lindsey wrote in a letter to the entire West Hills Middle School community. “We want to encourage them and make them aware that they are just as capable as we are.”

Ultimately, she wants to collect enough crafted gifts and then video or photograph the expression of joy on the children’s faces to show her classmates back at school “just how happy they can make others when they give a small gift.”

The project is a product of Bloomfield Schools’ Primary Years Programme (PYP), which engages children in the district’s primary grades to be socially aware and responsible through action. Kathy Janelle, the district’s PYP coordinator, explained “education must extend beyond the intellectual to include not only socially responsible attitudes, but also thoughtful and appropriate action.”

Stacy Agree Zousmer saw how important it was for her own children to meet her patients and also to volunteer at the Friendship Circle.

Lindsey’s family extends many generations in Detroit. She is a descendant of the founders of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, who established the congregation on the principles of social consciousness.  She attends religious school at Temple Israel, where she learned about the Jewish obligation to help those in need through g’milut chasadim, acts of loving kindness. In her letter, she said her mom serves as her biggest example for caring for others.

“Not only is Lindsey a natural caretaker, but she also finds common interests with these kids because they are her peers,” her mom says. “She loves to help them realize their potential and feel good about themselves. At the young age of 10, Lindsey is truly beginning to understand what it means to pay it forward.”

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