Thursday, November 22, 2012

Columnist Greer Fay Cashman Praises ESTHER

Journalists present at the opening of ESTHER last week, B"H, loved it.
Jerusalem Post journalist Greer Fay Cashman attended with fellow writer and columnist Barbara Sofer. Photographer Rebecca FLASH Kowalsky of was there to catch the moment.
Greer wrote a wonderful article for the Jerusalem Post, Grapevine: When the Spirit Moves You.
It can be accessed here:
You can read it here:
In December 2001, Jerusalem Post columnist Barbara Sofer wrote in her regular column about the formation of a group of female performers who had found a great way in which to raise their spirits and those of other women. What she wrote then was, “Last summer, the careworn women of the Gush Etzion were seeking a Joseph-like solution to the tough question of how to face the combination of bleak current events with no discernible solution and maintain optimism.

Seven members of the community had already been killed. Even close relatives made excuses for not traveling to the Gush to celebrate bar mitzva parties or make shiva calls.

Cars traveling on the once picturesque tunnel roads had become moving targets for snipers. A new gemah, a free-lending society, was offering bullet-proof vests. Each new government plan felt more like a clinical trial than an inspired solution kept in a drawer for just this problem. The old arguments between Right and Left that used to liven up Shabbat dinners had succumbed to gloominess.

“That extra dimension of Jewish womanhood – the need to be a fountain of optimism even in dark times – ruled out slumping into downheartedness. Busy though they were with large families and challenging careers, they decided to do something about it.

“The women of Gush Etzion started by sending out emails on the Efrat internal list suggesting different activities like bringing a circus to town, game days, or screening old episodes of Wagon Train. Then Sharon Katz, a magazine editor and mother of five, suggested putting on an all-women production of Joseph [and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat].

She was joined by Toby Klein Greenwald, editor-in-chief of, a mother of six with a lot of drama experience from American summer camps, and by Arlene Chertoff, a professional choreographer and assistant director and a mother of three. Any girl or woman who wanted to act or sing could join the huge cast. There were several caveats. Because these were women who observed stringent rules of modesty, they would perform before audiences of only women. No performance would be cancelled because of a terrorist attack. Not even the September 11 show was called off, although it was preceded by the reading of psalms, and followed by a public singing of Ani Ma’amin, (“I believe”), our somber Jewish hymn of faith.

The few scheduled summer performances stretched through the winter to sold-out audiences, arriving by bullet-proof buses along beleaguered roads and by more conventional conveyances. But the play went way beyond community therapy. It was simply sensational, a great night at the theater with the elation and catharsis that good theater brings. ‘Joseph,’ a ketuba artist and mother of six by day, and her 11 siblings infused the story with so much effervescence and conviviality that one had to wonder how the original story would have been different if it had focused on 12 daughters.

The happiest surprise was that the acting and singing were superior to much of the socalled professional productions at city theaters and much-touted festivals. Nor did the show bear the slightest resemblance to the stiff and over-serious plays parents endure at schools and youth movement celebrations, or in that new ubiquitous genre of “religious theater.”

Although most of the staff members lacked professional resumes, they brought along experience of the arts from countries where school and informal educational systems afforded a more laid back setting. They could dance, they could sing and they could act.”

This week, the Raise Your Spirits Theater presented a 10th-anniversary premiere of another of their productions – Esther, with a multi-talented cast playing to a packed house in the attractive Gush Etzion Community Center, where facilities include a fully equipped theater. Sofer, who has written about Raise Your Spirits several times over the past decade, was sitting in the front row to receive a special honor from Greenwald in appreciation of having put the ensemble on the English-speaking map. A similar honor was accorded to Hebrew language author, editor and journalist Dr. Hatuya Deutsch.

Alluding to the almost déjà vu atmosphere in the country, Greenwald said: “The situation is what it is, and we’re still here.”

Sofer would have liked to have been there for the whole of the brilliant performance as she has been at other performances, but she had to be at Hadassah Hospital before midnight – not because she is the Israel director of public relations of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, but because she was having serious surgery first thing the next morning and she had to check in the night before.

There were people in the audience from Ra’anana, Modi’in, Rehovot, Efrat, Jerusalem and Ramat Beit Shemesh, among other places. For them, solidarity is more than a word; it’s personal commitment through action.

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