(New York Jewish Week) — Despite being named for a Jewish bill of divorce, ‘The Gett” is a new off-Broadway play that began as a marriage between a Reform synagogue in Brooklyn and a West Village theater company that specializes in “diverse, challenging and provocative” works.
At Park Slope’s Congregation Beth Elohim, Associate Rabbi Matt Green had been trying to expand programming for “cultural Jews” — those who don’t necessarily feel religious or connected to a denomination, yet know they are Jewish and want to be Jewish.
Meanwhile, at the Rattlestick Theater, artistic director Daniella Topol had just put on a play about the Catholic nuns who started downtown’s St. Vincent’s Hospital in the 19th century, and wanted to direct a play about Judaism for her next project.
When Topol and Green were introduced in 2018 by Rosalee Lovett, who sat on the boards of both institutions, co-commissioning a play seemed like a natural fit — however unconventional.
The result is “The Gett: Or How a Woman Created Herself,” an original play produced by Congregation Beth Elohim and showing at the Rattlestick through Dec. 11. The 95-minute production — written by and starring Liba Vaynberg — centers on Ida, a recent divorceé navigating her relationship with herself, her mother, her ex-husband Baal, Judaism and God. With the plot points structured around the seven days of creation, Ida’s relationship with her Baal (in Hebrew the word can mean “master” or “husband”) is laced with a double meanings. The viewer can see the couple’s sometimes dangerous and sometimes loving relationship as a metaphor for the Jewish people’s relationship with God.
“These are organizations that have gone deeply into what they do and do it well,” Vaynberg told the New York Jewish Week. “CBE is bringing the best it has and Rattlestick is bringing the best it has — as opposed to a situation where everybody’s bringing half. It’s a very full marriage.”
“What’s powerful about this play is that it has been a really community-based development and a really thoughtful development in partnership between a synagogue and a theater,” said Topol, noting that this is the Rattlestick’s first-ever Jewish play, and first partnership with a synagogue.
Despite the biblical trappings in “The Gett” — which also stars Jennifer Westfeldt, Ben Edelman and Luis Vega — the play is funny and modern. “We’ve tried a number of different things, but so far, this is one of our greatest successes to offer content that’s serious for people who call themselves culturally Jewish,” Green told the New York Jewish Week. “It’s really important to me that this play fosters a broader conversation, even in some small way, about what our institutions can be doing differently.”
Performances have been full so far at the 99-seat theater, with CBE encouraging congregants to see the show by offering group trips and programming surrounding the play, including talkbacks with Rabbi Green that explore the Jewish themes in the show. On Friday night performances, CBE holds Kabbalat Shabbat gatherings with the audience before the show.
“We tend to deride cultural Judaism as if it’s somehow flimsy, or unserious, but if you look at the Pew study, it’s the fastest growing self-identified demographic in our community,” added Green, who also leads Congregation Beth Elohim’s “Brooklyn Jews” cohort, which is a community of younger congregants who are looking to engage Judaism through culture, food and ritual. “Yet we spend very little time as a Jewish establishment trying to really understand what cultural Judaism is.”
Other recent efforts to include these “cultural Jews” include reading and discussion seminars on queer Jewish writers, a meditation group and, perhaps most notably, an “intergenerational mixer” held in partnership with the lifestyle brand “Old Jewish Men of New York,” which got a write-up in the New York Times Styles section.
As for theater, the play really stemmed from CBE and Rattlestick’s desire to work together after realizing their mutual ambitions and interests.
At the Rattlestick, “We really focus as a theater on finding ways to look at stories that deal with the complexity of our culture,” Topol said. “I had been thinking for a while that we wanted to do something that related to the complexity of the American Jewish experience.”
It was something the theater community clearly was interested in as well: When Topol and Green opened a call for submissions, they received over 100. Vaynberg’s play was selected in early 2020.
For Topol, who is Jewish but always saw her Judaism as separate from her directing career, it was a theme close to her heart. “In terms of what Jewish stories are represented on the stage, it feels like there’s some room to really explore some of those key questions that American Jews are wrestling with: identity, intermarriage, having children, ritual, how much do you carry on ritual or not, what your affiliation is or isn’t with Israel, with the Holocaust, with politics,” she said.
“It’s a swirl of all of those sorts of questions that felt kind of worth some creative expression in terms of the theater,” Topol added. (As it happens, “The Gett” will be the last play Topol directs in her six-year career with the Rattlestick — next, she will switch careers and study to become a nurse.)
Once Vaynberg’s play was selected in early 2020, the playwright unexpectedly had extra time to finesse the show. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rattlestick closed temporarily and put the production on pause.
Vaynberg used the extra time to increase community involvement. She spoke with several women who are synagogue members who had gone through a divorce. She and Green conducted several roundtable discussions and focus groups to further explore congregants’ Jewish identities and how it has manifested in their relationships.
Vaynberg and Green created a “chavrusa,” a study partnership, to explore biblical and religious implications of the questions she had about creation, Jewish marriage and divorce and how much power a person has in their relationship with God.
Some themes in the play probe the same questions about cultural Judaism that Green had been asking at CBE. Protagonist Ida, for example, deeply cares about her Judaism and Jewish identity, and yet has trouble explaining just why and how it’s so important to her on a date with a non-Jewish man.
“By going to this play, you are engaging with Judaism,” Green said. “It’s not just about inspiring people to be involved with Judaism, but actually, it is a Jewish act to see this play.”
“This isn’t something synagogues do — it’s sort of strange,” Green remarked. “We want to do things differently and we as a congregation, want to inspire other congregations, other Jews, to do things differently.”
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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