Najla Said’s Performs Palestine at Interact Theatre


“We Don’t Listen to Each Other’s Stories”

Actress and playwright Najla Said is coming to Philadelphia to perform her one-woman show, Palestine, at the Interact Theatre as part of their Outside the Frame: Voice from the Other America series, March 27 – April 22. Voices from the Other America is a first-time, four-week theatre festival featuring presented works by leading nationally-known story-tellers, solo artists, and monologists, sharing their stories about identity in America.  

In April 2010, Najla completed an eight-week sold-out Off-Broadway run of her solo show, Palestine.  InterAct founder Seth Rozin says: She addresses the audience with a rare and refreshing blend of pride and self-deprecation, as she conveys the delicate balance between living a life of American privilege against the growing awareness of her identity as an Arab woman.”

I had the chance to speak to Ms. Said from her Upper West Side home. In Palestine, Said explores her identity as a “Palestinian-Lebanese-American-Christian woman.”   She  recounts how she shared bagels and lox with her best friend in Brooklyn on Sunday mornings and “was more likely to say ‘oy vay’ and ‘I’m schvitzing’  than any gentiles.”  

Ms.Said is the daughter of academic and public intellectual, Edward Said,  who, according to Ms. Said, described himself, somewhat facetiously, as one of the “last Jewish intellectuals”.   “Part of the journey of writing Palestine, was to explore my Arab-American identity.  I spent my childhood avoiding this part of myself.”  

“When people called me an Arab-American, I tried to embrace it, but I really didn’t know what that is.  It’s been a journey to become more self-aware.   I don’t fit into this or that definition.  I’m a little bit of all things.”

Interview of Najla Said follows the jump.

3 Performances Only:

  • Tuesday, April 17 @ 7:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 18 @ 7:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 19 @ 8:00 p.m.

Tickets: $25.00

Interact Theatre
2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA
Box Office: (215) 568 – 8079
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes
Appropriate for ages: 13 and Older

How has the play been received by Jewish and Arab audiences?  Do you find a difference?

NS: There’s a self-selected group of people who would go see an Off-Broadway play called Palestine in the first place.   What I have found is that the reception turns more on class and education levels than on ethnic or religious identity.  When I have performed the play for Arab communities who are more attached to their Muslim identity they don’t really get why this snooty, Upper West Side Arab girl was kissing Jewish boys.”

What was the process like of writing the play?

NS:  I structured it in a way so that people would listen and won’t stop listening to the story.   I tried to imagine I was having a conversation with a someone who didn’t know anything about me, maybe someone Jewish.  

What is your training as an actress?

NS: I attended Princeton as an undergraduate and majored in comparative literature.  In NYC I took many acting classes and studied at the Actor’s Center at the Public Theatre.  I love Shakespeare and Checkov – I’m a geek that way.  I love Genet too.

Palestine is your first play.  Do you see yourself writing more, or focusing more on your acting career?

NS:  Writing is very hard.  Through Palestine, I received a contract to write a memoir about my life as an Arab-American woman.   I have found writing the memoir extremely challenging and have learned a lot.  My editor wanted the book to be more about Arab-Americans as an ethnic group as there are not many books like this.  So it’s less about my Father, Edward Said, as the play is, and more about me as an Arab-American woman.  It’s coming out next year.

How did you come to write the play, Palestine?

NS: Part of the impulse to write Palestine was my feeling limited by roles for Arab women both in theatre and in Hollywood.  I wanted to show people I have other identities.  An actor should be a blank slate, and it’s difficult for me, because I’m always, Edward Said’s daughter.  It turns everything into a political event.  In Hollywood casting people would say, ‘Funny, you don’t look Arabic.’

Ms. Said performs the play at various high schools around the country.  When she performed Palestine at a private high school on the Upper East Side, to a predominantly Jewish group of boys and girls, the students loved the play.  

NS:  After the performance, a young woman told me that her grandmother told her she was anti-semitic because she didn’t approve of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. When I grew up on the Upper West Side, my Jewish friends’ grandparents were Holocaust survivors.  But now, these young people today, are more removed from the Holocaust and their main identity might not be Jewish. Or,  they may be so secure in their Jewish identity that they can criticize Israel without losing their strong sense of being Jewish.    

Regional Premiere of Microcrisis at Interact Theatre

Global Financial Crisis

If the bid for the Republican nomination has got you down, if spring time in February makes you wonder about global warming, if robo-calls during dinner time exasperate you, you might want to head to InterAct Theatre’s lively production of Microcrisis, a new satire written by Michael Lew and directed by Seth Rozin.   The play takes you from a Monaco casino to a Washington D.C racquetball court in a fast-paced 80 minute romp that follows characters through a corrupt microcredit investment scheme not unfamiliar to most Americans.    

More after the jump.
Microcrisis imagines a global lending scheme run amok when a hard-partying financial entrepreneur bites off more than he can chew.  Playwright Lew says,

When the financial first hit, I was shocked to see the global economy evaporating, and I wanted to look at the root causes of a quickly-evolving , complex manmade disaster.  While global finance might not seem like rife ground for comedy, the more I researched, the more the bankers’ behavior and government complicity struck me as being absurd.

Rozin’s direction is superb as is the acting and the sets, designed by Caitlin Lainoff. As the corrupt investment banker, Bennett, played by Kevin Bergen, is a character you love to hate.  The actor Frank X plays Acquah, a man in Ghana running a tiny mobile-phone leasing business – as well as Frankfurt, Bennett’s corrupt insider boss, who now has a cushy Washington job.  

Rozin says,

I knew when I first read Microcrisis that I wanted to produce and direct it.  The play was so funny, so smart, so theatrical and so incredibly timely.  We had no idea, however, that several months later the play would be so much timelier in the midst of Occupy Wall Street movement.  Current events have put Microcrisis in a whole new light.

The play premiered in New York City at the Ma-Yi Theater in Fall 2012.  

Following the second and third Tuesday and Wednesday performances of every production, patrons are invited to stay for Coffee Conversations, informal discussion with company artists.  During Microcrisis, Coffee Conversations are scheduled for Tuesday, February 7 and Wednesday, February 8.   A thought provoking play like Microcrisis would seem to welcome a some smart post-performance coffee talk.  

Individual Tickets for Microcrisis are on sale now.  Subscriptions and tickets may be purchased by calling InterAct’s box office at 215-568-8079 or by dropping by the theatre at The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia or by visiting InterAct’s website.

What Does Normal Feel Like


Christopher Durang’s Why Torture is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them

New City Stage Company’s 2011-2012 season began on December 10th at the Adrienne Theatre Main Stage with a Philadelphia premiere of Christopher Durang’s satire Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them, directed by Michael K. Brophy.   The play is part of season called The Terror Within, a body of work that considers political and ethical questions posed a decade after 9/11.  What does it mean to live in a world of terrorists?  

More after the jump.

Why Torture is Wrong is a fast-paced comedy/tragedy about America’s ongoing “war on terror.”  A young woman, Felicity (played beautifully by Ginger Dayle, the founder and Producing Artistic Director of New City Stage) wakes up to a strange man, Zamir (perfectly cast Sam Henderson) – to discover that at a drunken evening at Hooters she married this would-be terrorist, or alcoholic or man on parole.  Seeking comfort at her parents New Jersey home, we encounter her crazy mother Luella (played magnificently by Marcia Saunders) and her alleged butterfly raising Republican, Jane Fonda hating Father, Leonard (played by Paul L. Nolan).   Durang doesn’t stop there but pushes us to a dark place where our fears of the sociopath next door make us squirm in our seats.  

The play deftly explores how political issues like terrorism and torture get played out in the private space of home.   At one point, Luella puts down her needlepoint and retreats to the kitchen to make French toast: You can postpone angry exchanges until your stomach is nice and full.   Leonard, who we learn is involved in a Shadow Government plot to overthrow terrorists – wants to rename French toast Freedom Toast.  Head to the Adrienne if only to meet the “porn again” Revered Mike in a superb performance by Russ Widdall and Hidegarde, aka Scooby Doo, played by Sonja Robson, and The Voice, played by Ed Swidey.  The acting and pacing of this production are spot-on.  The sets, designed by S. Corey Palmer also deserve mention, as they are understated and effective.  

Durang, who currently co-chairs with Marsha Norman, the Playwriting Program at the Juillard School, has a large body of work which have received Tony nominations and Obie awards, including A History of the American Film, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, and Durang/Durang.    

In an otherwise provocative two hours of theatre, the final scene seems to want to end on a lighter, sweeter, more hopeful note than the previous 90 minutes we’ve spent with these zany, lost, disturbed characters who “identify with bullies.”  In the final scene, Felicity returns to the scene of the crime at Hooters, in an effort to reverse time.  This is part of the play’s clever internal commentary about the theatre itself, linear time, and “unspeakable things that happen at night.”    Luella says: “I go to the theatre to learn what normal is.”   Durang’s play asks us to consider what is normal is a post 9/11 world.  

The play runs through January 8th.
Adrienne Theatre Main Stage
2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA

King Lear of a Role: Tovah Feldshuh in Bristol Riverside’s Gypsy


Broadway veteran and four time Tony nominee Tovah Feldshuh will star as Momma Rose in the Julie Styne-Sondheim-Arthur Laurents musical Gypsy at the Bristol Riverside Theatre December 6, 2011—January 15, 2012.    I had the chance to interview Ms. Feldshuh about the upcoming show and her life as a performer.  

Gypsy opens on December 8, which is a good omen, as Tovah noted it’s the yahrzeit (anniversary) of Golda Meir’s passing as well as the date of her own Bat Mitzvah.    Tovah performed Golda’s Balcony, the longest running one-woman show on Broadway, at the Bristol Riverside in 2010.  

Tovah was not always called Tovah: “I was named after my Aunt Tilley who died in her 30s from tuberculosis.  The Sue comes from my Great Grandmother.”  After she changed her name from Terry Sue to Tovah, her Hebrew name, and began her performance career Tovah said that “it changed the landscape of my life.”  She starred in Yentl on Broadway and in Golda’s Balcony on Broadway, the longest running one-woman show.  But interestingly, she has worked hard not to let her notable Jewish name typecast her: “I’ve played all kinds of roles from Diana Vreeland to judge Danielle Melnick in Law & Order and now, Rose in Gypsy.  What’s in a name? Everything.”

Gypsy is loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist, and focuses on her mother, Rose, whose name has become synonymous with “the ultimate show business mother.”  Following the dreams and efforts of Rose to raise two daughters to perform onstage, the musical contains many popular standards, including

Interview follows the jump.

LG:   When I look at the all the things you do between Law and Order and your one-woman shows, films, and now Gypsy, I wonder how you do it all.  Would you consider yourself a driven person?

TF:  I’m at the prime of my faculties as an artist.   I’ve worked hard for my achievements.  As I get older, the process slows down, but the wisdom increases

LG: Gypsy is a play about a lot of things, but at its heart, it explores the mother-daughter relationship.   How has being a mother and a daughter shaped your life?

TF:  Gypsy is a King Lear role for a woman.  I’m trying not to be derivative in my performance.  Rose is a woman of flesh and blood and guts, not a beast.   She’s driven.  I think the abandonment of her mother is the key to her character.   From the moment you have children, they come first.  So you necessarily have to slow down.   But I think my husband and I did ok – as Amanda’s at MIT studying physics and Brandon is at Harvard studying economics.  

Tovah began to sing some lines from the song, Rose’s Turn for me.    

LG: Did you encourage your own daughter, Amanda, to become an actress?

TF:  I discouraged my own children from going into show business.  

LG:  Why?

TF:  I’m very bourgeois.  

LG: What would you have been, if not an actress?

TF: I came into the theatre after I was wait-listed at Harvard Law School.   My Father went to Harvard Law, and it just so happens so did my husband, who I adore.  You don’t need Freud to figure out how this work!.   It was my brother, (David Feldshuh a Pulitzer price nominated playwright for Miss Evers’ Boy) who encouraged me to apply for the McKnight Fellowship, which I received, and this launched my career.

LG: You have worked in show business for 37 years.    You have done film, television, musical theater, drama – how does this fit into your bourgeois bias?

TF:  I’ve been on my own since I was 21.  I had to live life on a budget and worry whether I had enough money for cab fare in NYC.  At 23, when I was starring in Yentl on Broadway, I decided I didn’t want to be poor.    I was committed to making enough money so I could have some freedom.   I have always tried to balance more commercial jobs with more artistic projects.   I also married a Harvard trained lawyer, which helps!

LG:  Do you have stage fright?

TF:  No, I’m at home on the stage.    Being on the stage is like a warm bath.  I let the gold dust settle where it settles.  I try to remain very loose on the stage and let the truth of the character bubble up.  I hope audiences will see my full skill set in action in this performance of Gypsy at the Bristol.  

LG:  What are you currently reading?

TF:  I’m listening to the book American Rose about Gypsy Lee Rose’s life.  I’m also listening to my voice teacher on an Ipod, as I have to stay focused on my singing.  

Tovah sang a few more bars of Rose’s Turn for me and had to return to rehearsal.  

Tovah Feldshuh stars in Gypsy at Bristol Riverside Theatre as part of its 25th Anniversary Season on December 6-January 15.  With music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents, the production is directed by Keith Baker and also features Robert Newman, Amanda Rose, Brittney Lee Hamilton, Joe Grandy, Bethe B. Austin, Kathryn Kendall, and Demetria Joyce Bailey.

Previews begin Tuesday, December 6 with opening night on Thursday, December 8.  Performances run Tuesday through Sunday until January 15.  Tickets start at $40, with discounts for students and groups.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 215-785-0100.  Bristol Riverside Theatre is located at 120 Radcliffe Street in Bristol, PA.

A Prisoner of Hope

Irish Poet Micheal O’Siadhai’s Response to the Shoah

West Chester University Poetry Conference is an international poetry conference that has been held annually since 1995 at West Chester University, Pennsylvania.  It hosts various panel discussions and poetry craft workshops, which focus primarily on formal poetry and narrative poetry. The conference was founded in 1995 by West Chester professor Michael Peich and poet Dana Gioia with 85 poets and scholars in attendance.  

On June 9th, Former poet Laureate Robert Pinsky was interviewed by Dana Gioia.  Pinsky emphasized the visceral nature of poetry, stating, “like dancing or singing, I produce it even when reading silently – it’s physical.”   Pinsky spoke of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing in Long Branch, New Jersey and how, despite the beauty of the cantorial singing, he grew bored sitting through three hours of praying on Shabbat.   If we are to start with The Sounds of Poetry, the title of his 1998 prose collection, we need look no further than Irish poet Micheal O’ Siadhail, whose 2002 poetry book, The Gossamer Wall, is composed of a sequence of poems about the Holocaust.

More after the jump.
Michael O’Siadhail (pronounced, mee-hawl o’sheel) is an Irish poet who has published ten collections of poetry. He was awarded an Irish American Cultural Institute prize for poetry in 1982 and in 1998 the Marten Toonder prize for Literature.  He has given poetry readings and broadcast extensively in Ireland, Britain, Europe and North America. He has been a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin and a professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. Among his many academic works are Learning Irish and Modern Irish.

At the West Chester Poetry Conference, I spent over an hour with O’Siadhail speaking about poetry, writing, language, history, bearing witness, Judaism, Ireland, teaching – and I must say being in his presence, I felt I was in the company of a man who lives poetry and language viscerally in his body, through his body.  To spend just a few minutes in the company of O’Siadhail, is to spend time with a poet who embodies Pinsky’s dictum that poetry is physical.   A tall, intense man in his 60s, O’Siadhail exudes a nervous energy and was generous with his responses to my questions.  I was, at times,  overwhelmed by the spark – the daimon — of language that erupts from him – for it seems to come, as does his poetry, from a place of unabashed necessity.   Micheal O’Siadhail does not only write poetry, he lives and breathes poetry with his every word.

In The Gossamer Wall, which takes its title from Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces, O’Siadhail has written a 124 page book filled with elegantly structured poems on the many facets of the Holocaust, inspired by testimonies such as Primo Levi’s If This is a Man, and Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life. O’Siadhail spent over four years immersed in the literature of the Holocaust (which he lists in his extensive acknowledgments) researching his subject.  When I first came across O’Siadhail’s work, I thought – what voice could an Irish man contribute to post-Holocaust literature.  

LG: How did you, an Irish man, come to write The Gossamer Wall: Poems in Witness to the Holocaust?  

MO: There are two levels – visceral and intellectual – which inspired my to write about the Holocaust.  Intellectually,  my youth was overshadowed by writers such as Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Bertolt Brecht, and Harold Pinter who were pessimistic and had lost faith in humanity.  I came from the other side.  During my youth in the 1950s I was searching for a celebratory note.  As a goy, I understand that you could feel that I’m muscling in on your suffering!  

On the visceral level, I had seen a survivor’s tattoo, a friend of mine – and this struck me deeply.  I also read Etty Hillesum’s memoir, An Interrupted Life – an account of her last years in Amsterdam before being sent to Auschwitz in 1943. Finally, there was an incident in Norway where I had studied as a student.  When I returned to meet a friend, I got off the train to be accosted by a group of drunken Neo-Nazis who began to heckle me.  I realized this could happen again.

LG: In The Irish Times, Patsy McGarry, writes The Gossamer Wall “is an exceptional achievement, evidence of the poet’s wounded fascination before such human evil and testifying to a painstaking labour of something akin to outraged love for all those who suffered.” The German critic Theodor Adorno famously said “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”  Clearly, you don’t agree.  How did you need become embittered by your immersion in this literature?

MO: I am a prisoner of hope.  I wouldn’t let the Nazis have the last word.  I also identify very closely with the Jewish people. When I was on tour with the book, and visited many synagogues to speak about the book, I was very well received by the Jewish community. Happiness is, in the end, a decision. I’m not a grey person either.  If I were to give into despair, I knew I would become suicidal. And my wife was worried about my immersion into these dark realms.  So I took up sailing on the weekends as an antidote.

LG: I see you have read Philip Hallie’s, book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, about the Holocaust.  He was immersed in the archives and read about the operations done on children and he became suicidal.  Le Chambon was a remarkable community of French Huguenots who provided shelter to approximately four thousand Jews, many of them children, during the war. You devote an entire sequence of poems to telling the story of Le Chambon. Pastor Trocme was a pacifist who led the community’s movement of resistance.  

In the poem “Pastor Trocme”, you paint a portrait of the pastor in a small village in France called Le Chambon:

Death, death, death, his sigh on arrival,
‘I’m entrusted with helping a tiny village die.’
Through the ashen stonewalls of a presbytery
deep slanted windows ration their sunlight
on a Basque style tablecloth.  Yellow, red, black.

Can you discuss the tone of the poems in this volume?

MO: I wanted to strike a factual tone in The Gossamer Wall.  To discuss another man’s wounds is a very delicate thing.  I wanted to avoid histrionics, to tell the story with a flat voice.  This story does not need embellishment.  I employed a zig-zag internal rhyme scheme between the lines to create unity.   I wanted to get out of the way of the poems as much as possible.

LG: Are you a man of faith?

MO: I am a practicing Catholic.   But this is, in a sense, a sect of Judaism!  I love the Psalms and the Song of Songs, and I say the Amidah, the main Jewish prayer, daily.  

LG: It is evident you have a love affair with language and culture.

MO: I was trained as a linguist and can read in 10 languages, including Japanese.  How can a poet not love and celebrate language?  

LG: I find a lot of hope in the formal nature of the poems, particularly the sonnet sequence in the middle section on the camps called Figures.   The writer Sander Gilman said, “the language damaged in the Holocaust was the universal language of humanity, not merely the language of the Jews.”   Although some people might protest that writing about the Holocaust can aestheticize the experience of suffering, that the Shoah is untranslatable into language, I feel you have managed to bear witness in your formal poems.  

MO: Thank you.  I am, as I said, a prisoner of hope.  I have the madness of devotion too which costs nothing less than one’s life, if taken seriously.   I was fortunate that over 20 years ago, I was able to retire from teaching and devote myself full-time to writing.   After this book, I wrote a long erotic sequence called Love Life, about my 35-year relationship, a sustained romance, with my wife.  

LG: Contrary to Adorno’s bleak statement about not being able to write poetry after the Holocaust, Edward Jabes said we must write poetry but “with wounded words”.   This seems to be more along the lines of your project here in The Gossamer Wall.

MO: Yes, I’m holding up a community.  Hope involves other people.

LG: In your poem “Waking” you write:

No closure.  No Babel’s towering interview;
with each fugitive testimony to begin anew.

Memory a frequent waking out of forgetfulness;
Dissonant cries of silence refuse to quiesce.

The West Chester Poetry Conference allowed me to re-visit critical questions about poetry, community and bearing witness. Who will bear witness for the witness is a critical question we must, as Jews, and as citizens of the world, continue to ask ourselves. From Jewish poet Robert Pinsky to Irish poet Micheal O’Siadhail I was a willing prisoner of hope celebrating language, culture and memory this spring.    

Win Up To $9,000 in Prizes from the Philadelphia Jewish Voice

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice will be giving away a fabulous commitment ceremony/wedding package and other prizes this month! For a chance to win, simply join our free mailing list or update your registration. You can register online at http://www.pjvoice.com/subscribe.htm or sign up in person at the Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s table at the Philadelphia Pride Parade this Sunday, June 12 from noon to 6pm on Penn’s Landing.

The grand prize is transferable, so even if you are not personally planning on tying the knot, this prize is a terrific present to celebrate the union of your friends.

Prizes:

  • Grand Prize: Commitment Ceremony Package ($9,000+ value) including:
    • Commitment Ritual conducted by Philadelphia Jewish Voice Living Judaism editor Rabbi Goldie Milgram.
    • Preparation Sessions Six free hour-long planning sessions with Rabbi Milgram for the couple (and wedding planners, musicians, garment, food and invitation designers, etc. if desired), in person or phone/Skype/webcam depending on availability. Rabbi Milgram will facilitate creation of custom-designed ritual, vows and contract of spiritual commitment to complement your legal documents. These sessions will include spiritual support for your relationship which can be an open non-religion-specific spirituality or Jewish.
    • Wedding Cake designed and donated by Ciao Bella Cakes.
    • $1,000 in Flowers provided by Vandergrift Floral.
    • Dress or Accessories. $150 gift certificate to Paris Chic Bridal Boutique.
    • Honeymoon. One night stay at The Lippincott House Bed & Breakfast.
    • Cocktails for rehearsal party (up to 10 people) by Foodwerx.
    • Hair, Make-up and/or Hot Lather Shave (on-site) courtesy of Jacen Bowman.
    • Pillows engineered for your body weight and size by Pittman Pillows.
    • Photography with images on DVD by Kim Volcy Photography.
    • Five Hours of Party Service to staff your party courtesy of Beth’s Party Service.
    • Entertainment Services for your wedding with DJ and Karoke for five hours from Two Sisters Entertainment.
    • And More…. Additional details will be announced on the Philadelphia Jewish Voice as they become available.
  • Second Prize: Free Yoga lesson from Philadelphia Jewish Voice Art & Culture editor Lisa Grunberger.
  • Third Prize: Two free tickets to Theatre Ariel’s performance of ten 10-minute never-before-produced plays, 7pm this Sunday evening, June 12 at the Bristol Riverside Theatre. This prize will be awarded at the Pride Parade. Please indicate your cell phone number so we can notify you if you win.
  • Consolation Prizes: All subscribers who enter their complete address will be mailing an I read the Philadelphia Jewish Voice” bumper sticker, so that you can show your support of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Details follow the jump.


Rules:

  • Deadline: June 30, 2011
  • Eligibility: Limit one entry per person. Multiple entries will disqualify you. No purchase required. Staff and board members of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice and the Deal Monitor and their immediate families are not eligible.
  • Commitment Ceremony:
    • The couple must obtain their own attorney and execute any relevant legal documents to secure the flow of your estate and health-care rights under the jurisdiction where they reside. If their marriage is legal where this ritual will take place, then they will need to register accordingly prior to this ritual.
    • If the couple is Jewish, then Rabbi Goldie Milgram must approve or provide the Hebrew language that will appear in your ketubah (marriage contract). The couple must pay and secure their own artist to illustrate their ketubah.
    • The couple is responsible for the cost of Rabbi Milgram’s lodging, meals and transport for the weekend of your ritual from wherever she happens to be in the world at that time to wherever her next assignment happens to be.
    • Rabbi Milgram does not co-officiate with other clergy.

Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Creating beautiful, meaningful, spiritually authentic rites of passage, including Commitment Ceremonies has long been an important part of Rabbi Goldie Milgram’s life as a clergy person and we are fortunate to be able to share her experience with you.
Secularly, Dr. Goldie Milgram has long been a gender-rights activist. She also travels internationally as a teacher of spiritual health and non-profit leadership. She received the American Cancer Society Most Distinguished Couple Award for her work in publication education during a previous marriage where she anchored and invented the first public health talk television for NBC TV 40. She has offered programs under the auspices of the United Nations, Esalen, Rancho La Puerta, the New York Open Center, 92Y, universities and communities world-wide.  Wearing her Jewish hat, “Reb Goldie” as her students affectionately call her, holds a doctorate from New York Theological Seminary and is a twice ordained rabbi – a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and she also holds the private smichah (ordination) of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of Jewish Renewal. Dr. Milgram directs, ReclaimingJudaism.org and is author of numerous works including the first fully gender-inclusive work on Jewish ritual: Living Jewish Life Cycle: How to Create Meaningful Jewish Rites of Passage at Every Stage of Life (Jewish Lights Publishing).
Rabbi Goldie Milgram can be contacted at [email protected]

Good luck.

New Arts and Culture Editor!

Lisa GrunbergerI am honored to join the Jewish Voice as the new Arts and Culture Editor.  I welcome you to send me any news you might have regarding the vibrant arts and culture scene here in Philadelphia.  If you have books to review, theatre productions, music, museum exhibits please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

I moved to Philadelphia from Manhattan four years ago to work at Temple University where I am an Assistant Professor in English. I teach creative writing in poetry and literature.   I grew up in Long Island and always dreamed of moving to New York City, but to quote short story writer, Anne Beattie, “I became disenchanted with New York when I realized that I felt as if I had accomplished something when I picked up the laundry, and got the Times and a quart of milk.”   In Philadelphia, it’s just easier to get things done — a walkable, beautiful city brimming with culture and art.  

From the Israeli film festival to the new Jewish Museum, from the World Cafe to the Kimmel Center, I feel fortunate to call Philadelphia my home.  

Lisa Grunberger is the author of an illustrated humor book, Yiddish Yoga: Ruthie’s Adventures of Love, Loss and the Lotus Position (Newmarket Press, 2009) which she has adapted into a musical (stay tuned!).  She teaches yoga and writing classes in Philadelphia.  

The Odd Couple of Kabul: Two Jews Walk Into a War

In playwright Seth Rozin’s dramatic comedy, Two Jews Walk into a War, two middle-aged Afghani Jews exchange schtick and tsuris over their being the two last Jews of Kabul following the overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001.  The two men — Ishaq and Zeblyan — hate each other – but agree to work together to write a new torah in order to find a rabbi who will convert a couple of Afghan women to Judaism so the procreation of Jewish babies ma proceed.  This is a delightful farce masterfully acted by Tom Teti and John Pietrowski, directed by James Glassman and currently playing at Interact Theatre (2030 Sansom Street).

More after the jump.

Rozin explains that “It started out as an existential comedy, then moved to more of a vaudeville comedy, and finally toward a drama.  I did not anticipate where the play ended up.”  The playbill comes with some notes on Jewish text and ritual in the play.  In one of the more poignant scenes Ishaq  mimes wrapping tefillin because all the tefillin has been absconded by the Taliban.  Judaism survives despite all the obstacles.  

“As with most of my plays, I use factual events, situations and characters as a launching pad to explore some larger theme or answer a larger question,”  Rozin explains.  When I asked Rozin what kind of research he did to prepare to write the play he said, “I had never read the Torah, so when I decided that was going to be the key to the story I needed to read at least some of it.  I focused my research on the Book of Leviticus, which includes all the laws, and read a number of interpretations of the controversial sections (lesbians, spilling seed, etc.).”   You must go see this amusing, irreverent play which, in its final scene, goes beyond light comedic fare to reach a well-earned dramatic end.  The play goes beyond a borsch-belt type schtick which makes it easily accessible and enters into another realm altogether in the final scene.  

Playwright and founder of Interact Theatre asks the following question in Two Jews: “Why are so many people whose circumstances are so terrible, and whose families have endured the same suffering for generations, so devout in their belief in a higher power?  Why wouldn’t their faith have weakened, as opposed to strengthened, as a result of their suffering?  The answer came to me in the writing of Two Jews: in the absence of such strongly held faith, they would have nothing; they might as well give up.  I never understood that.”  

On Sunday May 1, Dr. Hanoch Guy, Emeritus Professor of Jewish Studies at Temple University, will lead a post-performance discussion of Two Jews Walk Into a War.

Two Jews Walk Into a War.  On the Mainstage of The Adrienne through Mother’s Day, May 8, 2011.
2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia (215) 568-8079.   http://www.interacttheatre.org…

Yoga and Writing: The Play’s the Thing

— Dr. Lisa Grunberger

What does yoga mean? It comes from the Sanskrit root yuj (pronounce it backwards!) which means to unite or yolk. “But when you crack an egg you break the yoke so it’s really the opposite,” said a little girl at the Children’s Yoga class I was teaching at Limmud Philly 2011 held at the Gershman Y. This might be a tough crowd I thought, when a little boy chimed in: “Or maybe there’s more than one meaning.”

I’ve been teaching yoga for ten years, and “playing” yoga with children always returns me to the uninhibited imaginative world that unites the world of children and yoga.

Sunday was a rainy day in Philadelphia. All my classes begin with sun salutations so we turned to the window that faces Broad Street and we greeted the sun: “Good afternoon sun!” I explained how yoga teaches us to connect with the natural world. “Maybe if we really focus the sun will come out!” “That would be cool,” one boy said.

More after the jump.
What holiday do we dress up and play different roles? “Purim,” they all shouted. What’s the connection between yoga and Purim? We celebrate how Persian Jews were saved from extermination through Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai’s sechel. What better captures the yogic state of mind then dressing up in costumes to change your habitual appearance? In yoga, we wear the locust mask, the lion mask, the frog mask, as we move in and out of poses.

One of my favorite poses is vrksasana or tree pose. After I taught the kids the basic alignment and reminded them to use their “bunny breathing” (rapid inhalations and exhalations through their nose) I asked: what kind of tree are you? We went around in a circle that transformed into a magical forest of trees: “I’m an apple tree! I’m a family tree!” A shy girl said, “I’m a Japanese Maple, like the one in my backyard.” I’m a “love my
Mommy and Bubby and Zayde tree!”

“You are all amazing. When I ask grown-up yoga students what kind of tree they are, they aren’t as creative as you all.”

“Why, what happens to grown-ups. Ms. Lisa? Are you a grown-up?”

“She’s a yoga-grown-up.”

After cow pose, cat stretch, lion roar, and downward dog pose, we needed a rest, so we sat in a circle in seated cross-legged pose holding hands. Everyone closed their eyes. “Listen to the music of your breath. This is called pranayama in Sanskrit. Can everyone say Sanskrit? Breathe in and out through your nose so it tickles a little.”

The room was strangely quiet and parents who sat at the periphery of the circle seemed stunned in wonder at this silence with sixteen kids in the room.

I often wonder what happens when creativity becomes “grown-up” after a certain age. Teaching yoga and poetry writing to children, I have found that until the age of about 12 or 13, they are spontaneous, gifted and natural yoginis and poets. I have never encountered ‘yoga block’ in a yoga-kids class. Maybe I could unite how to “play” yoga with kids with a course on how to “play” writing with adults?

This is precisely the approach to a class I taught later that afternoon called “Facing the Blank Page, Facing the Yoga Mat.” When we move our bodies on the yoga mat we are taking risks and leaps of rejuvenation. When we are writing, our minds make leaps of imagination. I explained that the Jewish tradition sees the breath and speech as a privileged vehicle for creative expression.

When I wrote my humor book, Yiddish Yoga: Ruthie’s Adventures in Love, Loss and the Lotus Position, I was practicing a lot of yoga. My mother, a feisty Israeli who had passed away years ago, came to me one day while I was in headstand pose: “For this you got a Ph.D. — to stand on your head?” And so my character Ruthie was born! It was through practicing yoga that this voice came to me. I am suggesting an intimate connection between yoga and writing that is well worth exploring.

At Limmud, one woman shared that she had suffered from writer’s block her entire life. “I recently took a long train trip. I just know I have stories to tell inside me, but I’m blocked; they just won’t come out.” I felt her frustration in my own body. It was time to shut the lights and begin the meditation exercises.

After 15 minutes I invited students to open their eyes, take pen in hand and begin to move their hands across the page. “Write about a body part. Give it a voice. If you’re writing about your liver, name it. Is it kvetching? What about it’s neighbor? The only rule here is to keep your pen moving. Even if you’re stuck writing ‘I’m stuck and I hate this class I should have gone to the challah-making workshop or the Dead Sea Scrolls one. Oy. I wish she would stop talking. I wish it wasn’t raining.'”

I’m moved by how brave students are in yoga and writing workshops, pushing themselves to take risks, and get out of their comfort zone. I turned on the lights and invited students to share some of their work. The woman who had expressed such frustration with writer’s block volunteered to go first. Her face was a relaxed glow. She shared a beautiful story describing a train station in clear, vivid language. I could feel her joy, as could others. She had used her writer’s block as a yoga block and found the support to tell her story.

It returned me to my yoga kids, who are gifted with this spontaneous, inhibited joy of discovery. It made me want to rename tree pose, Hillel’s Pose. It seems as if Rabbi Hillel was a great yogi himself. He stood on one foot while explaining the whole of Judaism to a skeptic: “that which you don’t want done to yourself, don’t do to others. This is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go study it.” Hillel was being spontaneous and playful in the face of life’s greatest questions. The Torah is called a “Tree of Life”. “Nu,” maybe the Torah is asking, “What kind of tree are you?” I’m a flexible Jewish bamboo!


Author of the illustrated humor book, Yiddish Yoga: Ruthie’s Adventures in Love, Loss and the Lotus Position (Newmarket Press, 2009), Dr. Lisa Grunberger is an Assistant Professor in English at Temple University. If you are interested in her Yoga of Writing Workshop, Facing the Blank Page, Facing the Yoga Mat, you can contact her at [email protected] She is available for Yoga Kids Birthday Parties, & adult yoga classes in Philadelphia. She is also available to speak at JCCs, Hadassahs and synagogues about life as a Jewish writer, scholar of religion and literature, and her interesting background as the only daughter of an Israeli mother and a Viennese Father to whom she dedicates Yiddish Yoga. You can call: (646) 369-2350.