By Cynthia Citron
Several hundred women — and a smattering of men — gathered at a lovely home in Brentwood this past Sunday to participate in the opening of the 11th season of the Jewish Women’s Theater. Abiding by its overall mission of “celebrating Jewish life onstage, one story at a time”, the JWT presented a program titled “Jews in America.”
Sadly, the program began with a moment of silence in commemoration of the 11 persons killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue the previous day. Followed by the “We, the People” preamble to the Constitution, delivered by the six actors of the day’s performing ensemble.
As Ronda Spinak, founder and artistic director of the JWT explained, the programs presented by the company are meant to identify “what unifies us” and “to provide a legacy for future generations.”
The first offering was the reading of an address delivered by Rabbi Moses Seixas in 1790 to George Washington on the occasion of Washington’s visit to the synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, followed by an answering letter from Washington to the “Hebrew Congregation” of the Newport synagogue. Both messages acknowledged the good fortune that Jews in America enjoyed.
Next, a nurse in a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, in 1862, told of the death of a wounded soldier after the Battle of Fredericksburg.
A letter from a mother, Getty Bechmann, written in 1880 to her son who was leaving for America, instructed him on how to behave in the new country and commented sadly that it was unlikely that she would ever see him again. This son, however, fared well enough to endow a hospital by the time he was 20.
In 1917 an address by Rabbi Krauskopf called for the women’s vote, noting that 1/4 of the wage earners in America at that time were women.
Lt. Frances Slanger of Roxbury, Massachusetts, in a moving letter from Normandy in 1944 noted that she had had to wade ankle deep in mud “while your men have to lie in it.” She was killed an hour after writing the letter by German gunfire.
The final selections, dated from the 1950s to the present, included “What it Means to be Jewish”, written by the celebrated Rabbi Laura Geller; “How Jose Ignacio Maria de Jesus San Juan e Yndurain Learned to Dance the Hora”, written by novelist Barbara Mujica, professor of Spanish literature at Georgetown University; a commission of the JWT entitled “Laughs, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness”, written and performed hilariously by TV, film, and stage writer and actor Shelly Goldstein; and “I, Citizen”, an incredibly beautiful and emotional declamation written by Susan Baskin as a commission of JWT.
The performers were AJ Meijer, Susan Morgenstern, Cliff Weissman, Shelly Goldstein, Rena Strober, and Andrew Fromer who, in addition to acting, provided background music and songs on his guitar.
Shelly Goldstein, in her comic monologue, had urged the crowd to “Walk softly and carry a big shtick”. And, as they say in Yiddish, a good time was had by all.
The JWT holds a series of salons in homes throughout Southern California as well as scheduled performances and art exhibits at The Braid, 2912 Colorado Ave. #102, in Santa Monica. Call (310) 315-1400 for reservations and information or visit www.jewishwomenstheatre.org.