Here’s a United Jewish Communities GA tale from our Avital Sharansky, Laura Giannarelli (with a shout out to Karen Carbone of Carbone Entertainment, who cast the ensemble and costumed them so well).
“Thanks, Karen, for sending the photos from the event this evening. They look great. I was particularly pleased to see the photo of myself with the Rabbi and the second photo of Joe Peck, the Rabbi and me. I want to remember the gentleman. For thereby hangs a tale….
You know, of course, where we were all stationed in the ballroom throughout the evening. After the dancers exited, and after having been up on stage ourselves and introduced by that member of the Likud party (What was his name?!), we all filed off and began to try to ‘mingle’ as the Capitol Steps performed. Well, Joe Peck, a.k.a. Menachem Begin, and I were paired up. We decided to get a decaf coffee first.
As we stood by the coffee station, I said ‘Hello’ as Avital to a passing gentleman in a yarmulke. Unlike several other folks, who had avoided meeting our eyes and strode past, this gentleman paused and engaged us. I began with a version of the beginning of my ‘remarks’ – “My name is Avital Sharansky…” Well, he interrupted me right away and said that he had heard ‘my husband’ speak earlier that day. I nodded and smiled, and tried to continue by saying something along the lines of “I would like to tell you my story. Do you know my story?” He broke in again and said that he didn’t know mine, but he knew my husband’s story quite well. He talked a bit about how moved he had been by the plight of the refuseniks and how they had inspired him. I said that ‘my husband’ and I had been separated for thirteen years, how I had met with VP Bush and with President Reagan and that “my goal throughout our ordeal had simply been to get my husband back.” He nodded approvingly and then he said, “I think my wife knows someone who knows you well. Do you still live…?….and he mentioned an Israeli neighborhood amidst a small flood of Hebrew. Not wanting to panic, I just smiled and nodded. He said he needed to go meet someone, but then he didn’t depart right away. A bit more Hebrew, to which I tried to smile as noncommittally as I could. He then asked if Natan and I had had children. When I said (remembering my script!) “two daughters”, he asked “How old are they?” Eek. That wasn’t in my script, so I just smiled broadly and said they were ”all grown up now”..figuring that if the Sharanskys had indeed had their two children ‘quickly’ as your script indicated, Ari, they would be in their 20s now. So, the Rabbi then congratulated me on “…being a Bubbe now!” For he had by then introduced himself as a Rabbi when he made that ‘gotta-go-meet-someone’ false exit, in the process declining to shake my hand, saying “What would I tell my wife if I shook hands with a lovely woman?” How gallant, eh!
It was then that the vague suspicion that had been nagging at me broke through. I realized that this man must have been absent from the ballroom during the portion of the evening when we characters were all up on stage. He really thought I was Avital Sharansky! I tried to think quickly of a way to clue him in without embarrassing him. I shifted gears and offered to introduce him to my companion. He turned to Joe and asked his name. Joe (who, as an observer to our exchange, had caught on sooner than I that the poor Rabbi thought I was really she) played it cool and said his name was “Menachem”. Said the Rabbi, “Oh, Menachem what?” Joe cleared his throat and went for it: “Menachem Begin.” Okay, so the Rabbi did a double-take. One presumes he was aware that the former Prime Minister has been dead for quite some time now. But he rallied and asked (I almost choked, as I’m sure did Joe.), “Oh….you’re Benny Begin?” Said Joe, “No….um, Menachem Begin.” Our Rabbi then looked from Joe to me and back again. He then peered more closely at me in the very dim light and said, “Oh, wait, you’re not really….” At which point, I smiled as sweetly as I could and Joe and I both jumped in and confessed that we were part of the ‘living museum’ and had just been introduced from the stage a few moments earlier.
The most extraordinary thing about the whole episode was that the Rabbi didn’t get angry, as I had feared he might. He laughed and wagged his finger at us, but then he talked with us for almost five minutes more, about how important the UJC gathering was, how moved he had been by Sharansky’s story and by his talk earlier in the day, and then finally he left us to go meet his friend(s) with a big smile on his face.
I thought you might like to know, Karen and Ari, that you actually had at least one person totally fooled! Meeting the Rabbi was certainly the highlight of my evening.
Thanks again for the photos and for thinking of me for the role, and I’ll hope to see you both again sometime soon. (And if there is ever a next time, I’ll make sure I know ‘my’ daughters names and how old they are now!)
–Laura, a.k.a. Avital