By MYRON LOVE Regular readers of The Jewish Post & News will no doubt be aware that this writer has been highlighting the outstanding achievement of younger members of our community competing in the annual Winnipeg Music Festival. This year, however, I am taking a slightly different approach with a focus on the other side of the equation – that is, on one of the judges.
Debbie Maslowsky has been a fixture of the musical theatre scene in Winnipeg for almost as long as I can remember. Her career started in high school and continued through Rainbow Stage, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre and much more – including numerous Yiddish concerts in partnership with her late brother, Jerry.
This year though, was the first time that she was asked to be an adjudicator for the Winnipeg Music Festival’s musical theatre category and, she confesses, she was blown away by the talent that was on display.
“It was soul-filling,” she says, “especially after these last couple of years. I was impressed by the commitment of the young performers. I also have to credit the accompanists and voice teachers in helping to choose the right material for the participants.”
Maslowsky herself notes that she has never competed in the Music Festival. “Music theatre wasn’t one of the categories when I was growing up,” she observes. “And I wasn’t that competitive.”
She came to the festival this year through a recommendation from a voice teacher, she reports, based on experience gained over many years as a teacher of musical theatre and coach.
“The adjudicators work within specific guidelines, she says. “We are not looking necessarily for the best singer, but rather, base our decisions on the overall performance including gestures, movement and confidence.”
She points out that songs today are more story-driven than they used to be. Reflecting that, she points out, the festival organizers this year, for the first time, separated the musical theatre category into songs written before 1995 and after –with more recent songs conveying a lot more information aimed at driving the story.
Maslowsky reports that she was overwhelmed by the sheer number of submissions – more than 200 – all of which were virtual performances. “They were all wonderful and interesting in different ways,” she says.
One of those performances that obviously got her eye was that of Yale Rayburn-Vander Hout who scored a first place standing in the CLASS 1257C MUSICALS 1965 TO 1999, UP TEMPO, 16 YEARS AND UNDER category with his interpretation of “Mr. Cellophane” from the musical “Chicago”.
He was also in the running for the Rainbow Stage Trophy.
Last year, the 15-year-old son of Samantha and Peter was runner-up in in two categories – Vocal Solo, Musical Theatre, Up Tempo and Ballad, for males, 16 and under.
The Grade 10 Gray Academy student has been studying voice with Kelly Robinson for six years and was scheduled to appear in Rainbow Stage’s 2020 production of “the Wizard of Oz”, which was, however, cancelled due to Covid. He has also taken part in his school’s musical productions.
“I feel real good about my performance at the Music Festival this year and am looking forward to competing again next year,” he says.
He adds that he is hoping to pursue a career in musical theatre.
Also under consideration for the Rainbow Stage Trophy this year was Hannah Schaeffer, who finished first in CLASS 1207E-14 MUSICALS 2000 TO PRESENT, UP TEMPO, 14 YEARS AND UNDER category – with a performance of “Watch What Happens” from the musical “Newsies” – and was runner up in the CLASS 1207D-14 MUSICALS 1965 TO 1999, BALLAD, 14 YEARS AND UNDER category for “Home” from “The Wiz”.
This is the fourth year that the older daughter of Marc Schaeffer and Kai Sasake has participated. Last year, the then Grade 8 Grant Park Student finished first in the Vocal Solo, Musical Theatre, Ballad, Girls, 14 and under and was recommended for the provincial competition. The year before, she had a second-place finish as part of a vocal trio. In 2019, she won gold in the Vocal Solo, TV and movie musicals at the Girls 12 and under category and scored a first place finish as part of a trio in the Musical Theatre Grade B level. That year, she was also the recipient of a Winnipeg Music Festival scholarship.
“I am looking forward to competing in next year’s festival, too,” she says.
The young singer has been taking singing lessons for six years and participates in her school’s musicals. She is scheduled to sing the role of Roxie Hart in the upcoming Grant Park High School production of “Chicago” in April.
New to the Festival winner’s circle this year is Zoe Reider, who finished first in the Class 1692 Vocal Duet, Musical Theatre, 16 years, and who has been singing under Geoffrey Heal. The 15-year-old Gray Academy student says that she feels good about her – and her partner’s – performance and is proud to have finished first in her category.
The daughter of Ray Reider has been studying musical theatre with Brenda Gorlick at Winnipeg Studio Theatre for the past six years, at the Theatre Dance Centre under the direction of Kathleen Henry, and at Meraki Theatre Productions, which was founded by Taylor Gregory. Zoe notes that she also teaches dance at Meraki.
She notes that she has acted in several Fringe Festival shows.
“My goal is to appear on Broadway,” she says
In the instrumental part of the Festival, Gregory Hyman once again shone. The 13-year-old son of Hartley and Rishona Hyman scored gold twice, playing classical guitar – Once in the category of Romantic Composers and a second time for a piece of his own choosing.
“I am happy to have won again,” says the Grade 8 St. John’s-Ravenscourt student. (This was the fifth year in a row that he has competed in the Festival.) “I enjoy the challenge of competing in the Festuival.”
Gregory has been studying guitar since he was five and has been taking voice lessons for the past five years.
Nor does he restrict his music making just to the yearly festival. Two years ago, he launched a career as a musician, producer and podcaster. His podcast, “Talk and Rock with Gregory Hyman,” now in its third season, features him interviewing various people in the music business across Canada. Two years ago the young talent, who has also taught himself electric and acoustic guitar, and who goes under the professional name “GMH Rocks”, released his first album, “Basement”, on all streaming platforms. He followed that with a single release in February 2021, and a new album this past February.
Working with late night talk show stars Colbert and Stewart dream job for former Winnipegger
By Myron Love When the Jewish Post last touched base with Raffie Rosenberg in the summer of 2020, she was back in Winnipeg for a few months during the Covid lockdown reconnecting with her father, Lewis Rosenberg (her mother, the late Dr. Fran Steinberg passed away ten years ago) and other relatives while looking forward to returning to New York in the fall to continue her studies at Columbia University.
As far back as she can remember, she noted in that earlier interview, she has had her sights squarely set on a career in the entertainment industry. “I started dancing lessons when I was two years old,” she recalled. “I loved it.”
She added that her interest in the theatre was also stimulated by her parents, both of whom had been involved in the arts. Prior to pursuing a career in medicine, her mother studied at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. She also taught dancing and further studied dance at York University. Her dad also has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree – Theatre Design and Technology – from the University of Minnesota.
Having graduated previously (in 2016) from Western University’s Ivey School of Business, Rosenberg earned her second degree – an MFA – with a focus on theatre management and producing – from Columbia in 2022.
And she is very happy to report that, over the past two years, she has had the opportunity to work behind the scenes with two of her heroes in the entertainment business – none other than the king of late night television, Stephen Colbert, and his predecessor, Jon Stewart.
She got on with Colbert’s “The Late Show” as a production intern during her final semester at Columbia shortly after graduation from Columbia for a five-month period (January-May, 2022) and followed up on that coup by being hired as a production assistant on Stewart’s return to the air waves via Apple TV with “the Problem with Jon Stewart,” a weekly series featuring hour-long single subject episodes. The show launched in the fall of 2021. Rosenberg joined the production team in the fall of 2022.
(The show was recently cancelled.)
Those were my dream jobs,” Rosenberg notes – “to work with both Stewart and Colbert on televised shows that include elements of live theatre (such as a studio audience and band).”
She points out that entertainment internships are difficult to get – especially in late night. “The team at Colbert is really proactive about interviewing a huge number of candidates and taking a look at people from the online applicant portal,” she reports. “I got lucky and the timing was right for that internship.”
She notes that, being in an entry level role at The Late Show and at The Problem, she didn’t work with either host directly. “The staff of The Late Show is over 100 people and at The Problem there were around 60 of us,” she says, “but both Jon and Stephen are incredible bosses. They’re kind, focused, and great leaders. Even though I never worked with either directly, being able to work on their shows was a huge highlight and definitely a childhood dream come true.”
Her role was different for each of the shows – reflecting the different responsibilities in her job titles and the fact that Colbert is nightly and Stewart’s show was weekly.
“As a production assistant, I was more involved in areas such as research, working on the podcast and deeper dives into current events ,” she points out. “Also, we were working with a longer lead time on Jon’s show – which gave us more room to expand on individual subjects.”
In her independent work as a creative producer, she points out, she is more involved in sourcing funding to help get the project off the ground, crafting the narrative, working with the script writers and hiring lead actors and the director.
For the past two summers, Rosenberg has produced the Arts in Action Festivals for the Broadway Advocacy Coalition. The BAC was founded in 2016 by a group of actors and activists with the goal of using the arts to try to create as a vehicle to help create a more just world. The two-day Arts in Action festivals present workshops, performances, panels and screenings in furtherance of its goals.
With the conclusion of production for the “The Problem With Jon Stewart” last fall, Rosenberg is open to new projects – one of which is a collaboration with a couple of other Jewish artists on a coming-of-age comedy.
It would seem that Raffie Rosenberg has a bright future to look forward to in theatre and film production.
Husband and wife team of Russel and Rori Picker Neiss bringing different aspects of Jewish learning to Limmud Winnipeg
By MYRON LOVE Rori Picker and Rusell Neiss say they are excited about their upcoming first visit to Winnipeg. The couple, Jewish educators – originally from New York, who have been living and working in St. Louis for the past ten years – will be here on the weekend of March 9-10 – as presenters at our community’s 14th annual Limmud Fest.
Russel Neiss is promising Limmud attendees that those attending his presentation will be in the first audience to view the digitized version of “The Story of Purim,” an award winning Jewish educational filmstrip which is part of a recently rediscovered lost cache produced by the NY Bureau of Jewish Education in the 1950s.
“We’ll view the slides and table-read the script together as we see how much the field of Jewish engagement and education has (and hasn’t) changed over the last 70 year,” notes Russel Neiss.
Russel is a 2005 graduate of City University of New York. The recipient – in 2020, of the prestigious Covenant Award (which recognizes educators who have made a noticeable impact on Jewish lives through innovative educational practices and models), served for several years as vice-principal of a Jewish day school in the New York area.
In 2014, Russel changed careers. He became a software engineer specializing in the development of software programming for Jewish educators for an organization called Sefaria. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to digitizing the entire body of Jewish religious writings in order to make them available so that anyone can engage with the textual treasures of our tradition.
“A couple of years ago,” he reports, “I came across a cache of film strips produced by the New York Bureau of Jewish Education in the 1950s. These films would have been shown to students in the 1950s and ‘60s. They have not been viewed for more than 60 years.”
At Limmud, he will be showing a film called “The Story of Purim.” “We’ll view the slides and table-read the script together as we see how much the field of Jewish engagement and education has (and hasn’t) changed over the years,” he says.
His second presentation – on Sunday afternoon – will focus on “what the atheist computer scientist Richard Stallman can teach us about how Torah learning can thrive in the world today while delving into the interplay between Hacker Culture, the Free Software Movement and the teachings of great Jewish thinkers like Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.”
Rori Picker Neiss will also be doing two presentations – one of which will be a study of leadership as exhibited by Moshe Rabbenu in the matter of the Golden Calf. For those who may not know or remember the story in the Torah, some days after leaving Egypt, Moshe climbed Mount Sinai to commune with Hashem. After some time had gone by and he didn’t return, the frightened Hebrews, believing that he wasn’t coming back, gathered together everything they had that was made of gold and created a golden calf to worship – an act of blasphemy that resulted in severe divine consequences – including the Israelites having to wander in the desert for 40 years until the last of the offending generation had died out.
“What we can take away from this episode,” Rori observes, “and what Hashem made clear to Moshe- is that leadership is not about the leader and fame and glory. Leadership should be about doing what is in the best interests of the people.”
Her second presentation will be an exploration of what the early rabbis thought about Jesus and Christianity as seen through a censored Rabbinic passage.
Rori Picker Reiss has the distinction of being one of the first half dozen Orthodox women to be ordained – through the Yeshivat Maharat organization – founded in 2009 – to serve as clergy.
“I welcomed the opportunity to study Talmud and our religious texts,” she says of her decision to enroll in the Maharat program. ‘My ordination presented me with a number of different ways to serve our community.”
In St. Louis Maharat Rori served as Director of Programming, Education and Community Engagement at the modern Orthodox Bais Abraham Congregation. She was also Rabbi in Residence at Holy Communion Episcopal Church, chair of the cabinet of Interfaith partnership of Greater St. Louis and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Previously, she worked as acting Executive Director for Religions for Peace-USA, program coordinator for the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, assistant director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, and secretary for the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations.
While there may be some among the Orthodox community who may be uncomfortable with the concept of women serving as clergy, Rori reports that she was generally well-received in St. Louis and was able to build many relationships both within the Orthodox and the wider communities.
Rori and Russel have recently moved back to New York City where Rori has been appointed the Senior Vice-President for Community Relations for the Jewish Council for Public affairs.
Three organizations join forces to mount Mission to Israel in May
By BERNIE BELLAN In response to many requests received from members of Winnipeg’s Jewish community to organize a volunteer mission to Israel, for the first time ever three different organizations have joined together to organize just such a mission – from May 20-28.
Titled “HINENI 2024,” the mission is being mounted by the Jewish National Fund, Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, and Bridges for Peace.
The mission will include five days of intensive volunteering and visits to various sites in Israel. It will also include three meals a day and ground transportation.
There will be an information night at the Asper Campus on February 28 but, in advance of that information night, we contacted JNF Manitoba-Saskatchewan Executive Director David Greaves to ask whether he could provide some details about the planned mission prior to that information meeting and describe how it all came about.
Greaves said that both the JNF and the Federation were thinking of organizing missions in May, so it was only natural that they would combine efforts.
“The Federation has organizational experience, and they’ll be able to handle the registration process,” Greaves explained, while “the JNF will be able to handle the logistics on the ground,” such as arranging accommodation, transportation, and meals.
And Bridges for Peace was able to step up and negotiate some very good pricing for air fares for anyone who would want to fly on specific flights – details for which will be announced in the coming days. (Greaves noted that flights have not been included as part of the package as many individuals indicated that they wanted to make their own arrangements getting to Israel.)
Yet, unlike any other mission that the JNF has mounted in years past, Greaves wanted to make it clear that the May mission will be a “volunteer” mission, during which participants will be expected to “be on their feet four-five hours a day” engaging in tasks whose exact nature is still being formulated – in conjunction with various Israeli organizations.
“We’re looking at volunteering primarily in the south,” Greaves said, including picking fruit and vegetables. As of this moment, he added: “We’re still investigating various volunteer possibilities.”
Included in the mission tentatively, accordiing to Greaves, will be visits to the site of the Nova music festival, where 364 primarily young Israelis were massacred (along with 40 abducted), as well as visits with families of hostages and a visit with the mayor of Sderot.
As far as accommodation is concerned, Greaves wanted to make it clear that mission participants will not be staying in four or five star hotels.”Most likely they will be three star hotels,” he noted. And, when you take into account the cost of providing three meals a day along with bus transportation and other ancillary costs, Greaves suggested that the mission cost, which will be no more than $3,000 (exclusive of air fare), is quite reasonable, especially when you take into account typical costs associated with visiting Israel and the relatively low Canadian dollar. As well, Greaves said that couples travelling together will probably pay somewhat less per person – around $2500 per person, he suggested is likely.
I asked Greaves how many people they were hoping to have participate in the mission. He said that they’re looking at around 40. Although it would be great if there were a larger response, he added, the logistics of having to hire an additional bus would make it difficult to plan a mission with two buses unless the number of participants warranted that.
“If response is overwhelming, we’d get a second bus,” he added though.
I asked Greaves whether there are JNF missions of a similar nature being planned in other Canadian cities and he said there were – “in Toronto and Vancouver,” but he also wanted to emphasize that they are both being planned locally – unlike every other JNF mission, which has always been planned at the national level – until now.
In addition to the combined organizational efforts of the JNF, Jewish Federation, and Bridges for Peace, five Winnipeg congregations are also lending their support to the mission, helping to promote it among their respective congregants.
If you would like to obtain further information about the mission and are unable to attend the February 28 information evening, contact either David Greaves at the JNF at firstname.lastname@example.org or Abby Flackman at the Jewish Federation at email@example.com.