Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Where You Can Let Your Hair Down

Last night, I went on a "Women's Night Only" date with a gal pal. We were promised cocktails, wisdom about creative hair-styling, and a play billed as "the funniest play ever to make you cry."

I fell in love with Steel Magnolias thirty years ago, when Robert Harling's movie inspired by his beloved sister came out with a cast including Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts. The movie was funny, witty, a little bit raunchy, and sad enough to make an armadillo cry crocodile tears. Having lost my dear Mama to diabetes back in 2002, I have always felt a keen affection for the tenderness of this play and its handling of this disease, and how it affects all of those around the sweet, suffering soul.

When I heard auditions were coming up for a local production of this marvelous story, I was tempted, for the first time in my adult life, to give it a try. Happily for me (and for the audience), being a Mrs. Coach of American football kept me too busy to even think about all the back-breaking rehearsals necessary for a play. (Indeed, during intermission, I heard more than one audience member wondering how the performers could remember so many lines!) So I looked forward to attending the production from a first-row center seat instead.

A couple of asides, before I speak about last night's performance. Remember the TV show Cheers? Remember what made it such a hit? It wasn't just that it was funny and witty and sometimes sad. It was that we all wanted to find a pub just like that, "where everybody knows your name." Where when you walk in, just a regular "Norm," everyone greets you, and is happy you showed up. I think that is part of the allure of Steel Magnolias: during much of the movie (and through this entire production of the play), the action takes place in a local hair salon, where everyone knows everyone, and is invested in each other's lives. Where all the ladies can "let their hair down," and be absolutely real with one another.

One thing that matters a lot to me in any story is that I like the characters. Not all of them -- bad guys are bad guys -- but at least some of the characters must be likable, and all of them must be believable. I can't watch or read a story unless the characters matter to me.

I purposely avoided watching the movie again before seeing the AACI J-Town Playhouse Theater Project version of Steel Magnolias. Just to give the local talent a fair chance.

These ladies came through, with flying (pink! Did I say pink??? Yes, PINK!!!) colors. I liked them. I believed them. They made me cry, and laugh, and guffaw... and cry. I wanted to hang out in Truvy's beauty parlor, and swap stories and barbs with these lovable and sometimes contrary women.

Thank you to Sorah Grotsky, Abigail Ellis, Tova Rubenstein, Talya Bem, Miriam Metzinger, and Andrea Katz, for a lovable, endearing onstage presence. Thank you to Shiri Berzack & Co. for everything backstage that made this sweet and sad and funny little story work.

There are still tickets available for remaining performances, but they're going fast. And lest you think this is "chick flick" material, let me tell you that Mr. Harling's witty, daring, funny, and touching material will appeal to women and to men.

May Robert Harling find comfort in having touched so many hearts in his effort to honor his dear sister Susan.

One way to get ticket information for remaining performances (March 23, 27 and 28)! Click here!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Israel: Where We All Have Something to Give

6 Adar I 5779.

There I was, enjoying my very rich and busy retirement – publishing books, babysitting delightful grandchildren, playing “Mrs. Coach” to an adult American football team, participating in classes in Torah, Hebrew, painting, yoga and music – when Andy Armon’s letter appeared in the Neve Daniel chat list. She was seeking volunteers for a new program to help young ladies at the Orot Etzion Girls’ School to improve their English conversation skills.

I am very shy where public speaking is concerned. I have never been trained as a teacher. I am only a “boy mom,” meaning I’m learning about dealing with the personalities of girls fairly late in life, through my granddaughters. And I’m happily busy, meaning I’m not looking for more to do.

But I like Andy, and I respect her efforts at helping the community. And a little tzedakah b’guf seemed like a good idea – and it happened that Thursday mornings were free. I couldn’t talk myself out of it.

I am so glad I couldn’t. I’m having the time of my life!

The program doesn’t require the structure that scares people away from “teaching.” It’s more like mentoring. I volunteer for two sessions: I work with one 5th grade girl who has very good English that just needs a bit of polishing; and I have a group of six 6th grade girls who have very little English but lots of enthusiasm. My job is to get them to speak English with increasing confidence. No one is expecting me to make them fluent. I just have to help them to get rid of the fear of looking foolish, and to simply be willing to try.

Much like what I went through in ulpan. In fact, my Hebrew ulpan experience helps me to understand and to help these girls. I know exactly what they are feeling. They listen to my poor Hebrew as I try to explain difficult concepts; and they are receptive to my lesson that just as they don’t laugh at me, I won’t laugh at them. Week by week, they are gaining courage, and even some proficiency. (They are very proud of knowing when to add “s” to the end of a verb, and when not to, something that often stumps even adults.)

We have fun together playing word games, singing songs, playing “grocery store,” reading easy stories. For this exercise, I am permitted by the program either to use the book provided, or to come up with my own plan. I’m rather proud of this: I have taken an easy Hebrew children’s book and translated it to English for them. First, we read the Hebrew version. It is full of moral lessons, and the girls happily debate where they stand on the issues. Then, we painstakingly make our way through the English version. As I remind them that they already understand the story, they gain faith in themselves, and struggle on. Last week, I said that I look forward to when we can debate this story in English. Unexpectedly, my initially most reticent student led a discussion in very simple English, wherein each girl stated her case! I am so proud of my girls!

After our classes (which are currently 30 minutes and 50 minutes in length), we volunteers meet, each week, to share concerns and ideas. I have gained so much wisdom from these fellow volunteers. Very often, next week’s plan starts with something learned during this meeting. Best of all, the girls, the English program teachers, and especially Andy and Yael Ben-Pazi, the principal, are so supportive of our efforts.

I love this program. It is very rewarding to give back to a community that patiently helps me with my Hebrew. It feels good to be respected for something that is part of the definition of who I am: an English-language-proficient Anglo with a lot to give the next generation in Israel.

Glossary - tzedakah b'guf: charity through deeds rather than money; ulpan: intensive Hebrew language class