Grace’s Cheap-Chocolate Day Tradition

choc1Grace here. Today is one of my favorite unofficial holidays: Cheap Chocolate Day (CCD), when heart-shaped candy becomes obsolete, and therefore, deliciously discounted.  I have two CCD Traditions. The first is to try to re-write a scene from a famous play using only Found Text from Conversation Hearts. Please feel free to join me in this quest, and post your attempts below.

The second is to buy Valentine’s candy for women who have inspired, befriended, mentored, or just impressed me.  So today when I purchased my on-sale sweets, I was thinking of lots of amazing women. One of whom readers of this blog know quite well.


And since she was featured in this profile in the Washington Jewish Week, many others have been introduced to Theater J’s remarkable Associate Artistic Director (nee Director of Literary and Public Programming) Shirley Serotsky.  Washington Jewish Week writer Lisa Traiger discusses Shirley’s colorful past as a musical theatre actress, assistant to “Orthodox rabbi-to-the-stars Shmuley Boteach” [author of Kosher Sex and The Kosher Sutra] and attendee of a “prominent African-American church.”

You should check out the whole piece, but I’ll take the liberty of sharing my favorite line:

“Just like Judaism wonders if your grandchildren will be Jewish,” Serotsky stated, “theater makers worry will our grandchildren ever think to go to the theater?” 

Catherine CatherineAnd speaking of going to the theater, I want to share another piece about the significance of theatre, written by another one of my CCD candy recipient she-idols, Catherine Crum (though Catherine’s healthy habits mean that I should probably consider a less sugary alternative for her. Suggestions appreciated).

In her stunning essay “Because We Matter” Catherine, who is the Deputy Director of Miriam’s Kitchen, –as as well as an avid literature and theatre-lover—writes, “Theater matters because it allows our group of Miriam’s Kitchen guests to be theatergoers, not just people who are experiencing homelessness.

Theater matters because it gives us insight into other people’s minds and issues, and takes us out of our own worlds.  Brandon likes going to Theater J because he studied acting in college and dreams of being on the stage one day. Rocky loved The Whipping Man because he was able to focus on it, since he had a sandwich in his belly and his things were locked up for a few hours. Raymond hadn’t seen a play since 5th grade, and he is 38 now; After the Fall was his re-introduction, and he hasn’t missed a performance since. For Cynthia, theater is a way to get out of the cold.”

Definitely check out the rest of the piece on   Catherine spends her life doing such beautiful work, and this piece does a great job of showing her warmth and love of the arts.

Carole-ZawatskyAnd as long as I’m bragging about the wonderful women in my life whom I am plying with candy, let’s not forget Carole R. Zawatsky, the CEO of the DCJCC, and her brainchild of an Arts & Ideas Festival. Thanks to her, we will be spending the weekend answering the question that David Mamet raises in his play Race, “Do you know what you can say? To a black man [or woman]. On the subject of race?” You can check out an interview she gave on WUSA this morning with this clip. Or you can just come to the symposium and meet her yourself!

I may even have some left-over Cheap Chocolate to share…


conversation-heartsAngels in America: Millennium Approaches Act 3, Scene 7

Stage Directions and Plot by Tony Kushner. Script by Conversation Hearts ©

(Louis appears. He looks gorgeous. The music builds gradually into a full-blooded, romantic dance tune)

Louis: Dance W/ Me

Prior: Get Real

Louis: Dance W/ Me. I love you.

 (Prior stands up. The leg stops hurting. They begin to dance. The music is beautiful)

Prior: Call Me

Louis: Let’s Kiss

Prior: Be My Man

Louis: One Kiss

Prior: I love you

Louis: See ya


Women and Israel

On Sunday, January 6 Theater J and The Forward hosted a Post Show Panel Discussion titled Women and Israel. We welcomed to our stage:

  • Moderated by Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of The Forward
  • Rachel Lerner, Vice President of J Street Education Fund
  • Susan Weidman Schneider, a founding mother of Lilith, the award-winning Jewish women’s magazine, where she has been Editor-in-Chief since its debut in 1976
  • Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman, Author of The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World and Executive Director of The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA)

Drop in on the conversation at Vimeo…

Post Show Panel Discussion: Women and Israel from Theater J on Vimeo.

As always, you can access our full list of Theater J programming (discussions, talk backs, and readings) here.

Voices from a Changing Middle East — The Conversation Begins

Shirley here.

Our VOICES festival always lends itself to much conversation, and this year is no exception.

We officially launched our series of panel discussions this past Sunday, with a powerhouse group of women ruminating on the topic of “Women and Religious Tradition” and covering a wide variety of subjects ranging from the glass ceiling within the Jewish Not-for-Profit world to the harassment of an eight-year-old girl in the Ultra Orthodox community of Beit Shemesh.

Panelists Jennifer Breger, Sara Rose Gorfinkel, Naomi Malka, Rabbi Esther L. Lederman, and moderator Shirley Serotsky

Panelists Jennifer Breger, Sara Rose Gorfinkel, Naomi Malka, Rabbi Esther L. Lederman, and moderator Shirley Serotsky

It was an honor to share the stage with this impressive brain trust:

  • Jennifer Breger, author, JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) Board member  and editor of the JOFA Journal
  • Sara Rose Gorfinkel, Executive Director, Tikkun Olam Women’s Foundation of Greater Washington
  • Naomi Malka, Coordinator of the Adas Israel Community Mikvah
  • Rabbi Esther Lederman, Associate Rabbi at Temple Micah

Next up, Theater J Council Member Stephen Stern will be talking with Hazzan Dr. Ramón Tasat (vocalist, composer, arranger, and choral conductor of Sephardic, Ladino, Israeli, and Classical Italian music) for An Encounter with Sephardic Identity through Music.

Check out our complete schedule of Voices from a Changing Middle East programming here; the schedule will be updated regularly to reflect additions and changes. As always–Theater J patrons can attend any and all panels–we invite you to join in on the conversation!

With Sadness, We Reflect

I just want you to know that I’m so happy you’re my friends.

And I hope we’ll be together until we’re old.

We’ll be freaky old-ladies, always together, holding each other’s hand so we don’t fall.  We’ll be like a secret sect with its own language that no one else can understand,  members only.  And everyone will know that our friendship is above everything, above boys, above children, and above grandchildren…

– Tirzah, from Anat Gov’s BEST FRIENDS

Anat Gov, Professor Gad Kaynar, and Edna Mazya at IsraDrama 2011.

Anat Gov, Professor Gad Kaynar, and Edna Mazya at IsraDrama 2011.

Shirley here.

On the fourth day of our IsraDrama experience last year, Ari, Stephen, Jen and I  sat down to the first conversation that gave voice to the many women writing and creating theater in Israel. Sitting before us was Anat Gov, looking stylish and sleek in jeans and a short haircut; and Enda Mazya, distinguished and composed in silk and slacks. The two worked as a team in every respect. Not only has Mazya (a playwright in her own right) directed nearly every one of Gov’s popular comedies, but she served as her mouth piece even now, in a relatively intimate conversation. Questions went to Anat, she’d speak quietly in response to Edna, and then Edna would share the response with the gathered audience (all members of the IsraDrama gathering).  Mazya (and Anat–via Mazya) explained that it had nothing to do with Gov’s familiarity with English, but was rather a result of her extreme shyness. And–perhaps just as important–it was the way they liked to do this, the method they preferred to speak about their work. I was struck, even a little taken aback, by the intimacy of this relationship. What collaborator would I ever trust to be my mouthpiece? Who could ever know me that well? Who would I ever want to know me that well?

The discussion was led by one of the male conference heads, from whom we’d already heard quite a bit during the first several days of the conference. They were strong voices, these men of Israeli theater, and our moderator faced this discussion with an already familiar assertiveness. The pair talked about their working dynamic; their commitment to  left-leaning politics and how that plays into their work; and mostly about the very personal experience that inspired Anat’s most recent play–her ongoing battle with Cancer. The moderator pushed harder, “Tell us about a disagreement you’ve had while working together? Tell us about a fight you’ve had”. Both women smiled cryptically. They didn’t have to go in that direction, and they knew it. “He’s trying to create drama here!” Anat/Edna said with a smile and an under-lying subtext that I couldn’t help but fill in: “We prefer to keep our drama on the stage”.

It was one of my favorite–and for me one of the most revealing–moments of the conference. I’d been looking to better understand Israeli society and gender politics. This exchange said a lot.

We went on to see Gov’s “musical fantasy” about cancer, HAPPY END. Ari wrote of the piece:

And the work?  How’s the work? Well, it’s funny; it’s emotional; and it cleverly, deftly touches upon tough issues but in, almost always, warm and humane ways.

We received the very sad new today that Anat Gov’s battle with cancer ended this weekend.  Profiles of the writer are online here and here. Theater J mourns this loss, made even more poignant by the recent death of the brilliant Israeli actress Rozina Kambos, who appeared here in Washington, DC as Miriam in RETURN TO HAIFA. Rozina received a much deserved nomination for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Non-Resident production, making her the first Israeli actress ever to be nominated for a Helen Hayes  Award.  

Suheil Haddad and Rozina Kambos in the Cameri Production of RETURN TO HAIFA, presented by Theater J in 2011.

Suheil Haddad and Rozina Kambos in the Cameri Production of RETURN TO HAIFA, presented by Theater J in 2011.

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