(New York Jewish Week) — As a Hasidic mom raising a family in Houston, Leah Lax had seven children ages 9 and under — including an infant, and a toddler with health issues, born just 11 months apart. When she found herself unexpectedly pregnant again, she realized she needed to have an abortion.
That scene — and the ensuing conflict with her husband, who viewed abortion as murder — is an emotional climax in “Uncovered: A Chamber Opera in One Act,” which is based on Lax’s acclaimed memoir, “Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home.” When the book was published in 2015, the New York Jewish Week called it “the first ex-Hasidic gay memoir.”
Produced by City Lyric Opera, it opens Wednesday at Manhattan’s HERE Arts Center, and runs through Saturday night.
Raised in a secular Jewish family, Lax connected with the Chabad Hasidic movement at age 16 and married a grad student when she was 19. Today, Lax, 66, still lives in Houston, but with her wife, with whom she has been partnered for 17 years. Her children — some of whom have remained religious and some who have not — are spread around the country. Lax has 13 grandchildren “and counting,” she says with audible delight.
Lax wrote the libretto for “Uncovered,” as she has for other operas; the music was composed by Lori Laitman. Lax’s next book, “Not From Here,” is based on a libretto she wrote for Houston Grand Opera for which she spent a year interviewing dozens of refugees and immigrants in the Texas city. It is slated for publication in summer 2023 by Pegasus Press. Interviewing those people led Lax to realize that she felt like an immigrant to her own life, she said.
Lax and I have known each other since I reviewed the book “Uncovered” shortly after publication.
This interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.
New York Jewish Week: What did your eighth pregnancy represent?
Leah Lax: It was the wakeup call of my life. Before that I was inured to everything except following what I was expected to do. Before that my body didn’t belong to me. It belonged to God, and what is God? Halacha [Jewish law] is the voice of God.
Then I realized that this pregnancy could kill me. My body was telling me something that nobody else was hearing, and I realized that I am the authority of my body. I decided to get an abortion. When I told my husband it sparked a huge crisis. He said “If you do, I will divorce you.” To soothe him, I said let’s ask a rav [a rabbi]. I knew I would do it anyway, but if a rav said yes I wouldn’t be out on the street or lose my children [in a divorce]. The rav spoke to my doctor, who said he thought I was at risk. The rav came back and said, “You have to do this thing and do not speak of it to anyone.” Today Christian values have taken over the abortion issue and it really is stomping on our freedom of religion. [Most Jewish sources do not consider that life begins at conception, and Jewish tradition allows room to prioritize the life of the mother when there is a danger to her physical or emotional health.]
I had the abortion, but it came between my husband and me. He grieved and would not speak of it. I was alone with my secret. But I was awake. I changed. That’s when I started writing. It set off a process that led me out the door.
You stayed in Houston, where you raised your family. What was it like to come out as gay and non-religious there?
I was having an affair with a woman. The whole community figured it out and erupted in gossip. I was followed. There’s a confrontation scene in the opera about it. I crossed town to be with my lover and didn’t come out formally until I moved out of the house and left the community. The community shunned me to the point where I began grocery shopping on Saturdays to avoid people. I had been the first- and third-grade teacher at their Chabad day school, and I lost those relationships. Now I’ve reconciled with many of them.
What impact did the publication of “Uncovered” have?
It caused tension with some of my religious kids. They were OK with our differences as long as it was private. Putting it in print, that radical freedom of speech was a departure for them. I really seek to heal that — we have, to some extent. Being an artist is an act of radical free speech. Artists are dangerous people. If I had it to do over again, I would talk it through with my children in advance. I didn’t know to prepare them for it, and I don’t know if it would have helped.
Writing it, I had to delve into memories and keep renewing that story. I became a person living both my past and present. It moved me forward. It led into the next project, “Not From Here: The Song of America,” this awareness of the past and how it forms us.
What do you want viewers to take away from “Uncovered” the opera?
I want my work to break down religious walls. I want people to find through this work that these issues that are looked as abstract by movements are personal and individual, whether it’s abortion, sexuality or religious choice. It is within us, or between us and God.
“Uncovered” runs at the HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Ave. Wednesday-Friday, Nov. 16-18, 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 19, 4:00 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 19, 8:30 p.m. $35. Get ticket information here.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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