The Universality of Loss: ‘Falling Out of Time’ World Premiere

Michael Russotto (foreground) and John Lescault appear in Theater J’s production of “Falling Out of Time.” (C. Stanley Photography)

Michael Russotto (foreground) and John Lescault appear in Theater J’s production of “Falling Out of Time.” (C. Stanley Photography)

There is assuredly no pain greater than losing a child. Israeli novelist and public intellectual David Grossman lost his youngest son, Uri, in the final hours of the second Lebanon War. His grief was primal, elemental and profoundly personal. But as an act of healing, Grossman sought to capture the universality of the grieving process when losing a child in his 2014 poem/ novella/drama “Falling Out of Time.”

This month, his wrenching work of loss and reconciliation makes its world premiere on the Theater J stage in a sometimes vivid, sometimes sphinx-like adaptation of the book by locally based director Derek Goldman, known for his work at Theater J on “Our Class” and “In Darfur.” The 90-minute meditative drama, which runs through April 17 in the Goldman Theater of the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Center, is in parts thought-provoking, wrenching and captivating.

Grossman crafted a modern myth with an Everyman at its helm and a supporting cast serving in the metaphorical process of coming to terms with the death of a beloved. We watch the suffering and torment of these archetypal characters as they take steps back into the world of the living and accept life even amid incomprehensible death and tremendous loss.

For this production, Goldman pushes the boundaries of the playing space, placing characters in the audience and 19 audience members in on-stage seats — suggesting that we are all party to the joys and sorrows of living and dying, grieving, forgetting and remembering. Misha Kachman and Ivania Stack, set and costume designers, respectively, mix periods and styles, alluding to the timelessness of the piece — and the healing process. There’s an old-fashioned cobbler’s bench and a contemporary suburban streetlight, a bowler hat and long military swing coat and ubiquitous modern-day plaid shirts and khaki slacks that all suggest literally being out of time.

Eric Shimelonis’s original music and sound score also places the action in a mysterious and otherworldly environment, with tinkling bells, strumming bass notes and ambient noises of hammering, footsteps and water in a wash tub altering the senses.

A first glimpse of the Chronicler (Michael Russotto) occurs as he stands in thoughtful repose in the audience, notebook and pen in hand. As a bit of a Grossman alter ego, a writer and recorder, he’s the town note-taker, observing, questioning, pressing for details from every townsperson he meets. The Centaur, perhaps another side of Grossman, is a writer silenced, his notebook blank, his story choked inside as he cynically accuses the Chronicler about his voyeuristic penchant for peering into other people’s lives, mining their pain, for titillation as much as for reportage.

Bedraggled in ragged clothes and unkempt hair, the Centaur is trapped, his lower body invisible underground. He remains a sentry of sorts, representing stasis, an inability to move forward as the rest of these characters navigate the process of coming to terms with and breaking out of grief.

The narrative opens with an Everyman, known simply as Man in this telling (Joseph Wycoff), and his wife, Woman (Erika Rose), conversing elliptically at dinner. He’s leaving, going “there,” cryptically suggesting the place where their son was felled. The dialogue between the two opens up and enlivens Grossman’s prose from his written fable, which can be chilly and ascetic. Particularly with Rose’s insistent approach as the Wife who seems to see the danger in her husband’s quest, this early dialogue sets the action in motion. His first few steps lead into a labyrinthine walk around the theater as a means of healing himself and eventually others to join him. The journey of one becomes that of many.

Grossman’s words move these grieving parents from denial to, ultimately, acceptance. An apotheosis or visionary section is most problematic, as an imagined wall featuring the changing faces of children is described while the performers strip away the accoutrements of daily living. Myth and reality try mightily to mingle and merge in Goldman’s production — earth opening, a light- infused blaze, a thunderclap are described literarily rather than created through stagecraft.

Grossman set his work in a no-person’s land purposely. He has been castigated in Israel for his left-leaning politics, so the choice to universalize the setting is a telling one. In his mythologizing, he reaches out to others — the nameless — carrying neither religion nor country as an identity, only their titles.

As the circle of walkers widens and each new character arrives at a personal level of acceptance, a community of mourners is created. And while the group didn’t number the classic 10 required for a recitation of the Jewish mourner’s prayer, grieving in a community is the traditional Jewish way.

Grossman has created a community to mourn and to overcome the death of a loved one. “Falling Out of Time” theatricalizes a deeply personal account in ways that are striking and possibly disquieting. It’s a challenging and not always easy experience for viewers who may still be coming to terms with the freshness of their own losses.

 

‘Falling Out of Time’
by David Grossman

Theater J, Washington, DC-JCC
through April 17

1529 16th St., NW, Washington, D.C.
Tickets start at $37. Call 202-777-3210 or visit theaterj.org.

 

Lisa Traiger is a local freelance writer.

Happy Fun Purim! A Real Favorite

Hamantaschen (By Photo by David Stuck)

Hamantaschen (By Photo by David Stuck)

A group of Jewish women were recently asked what their favorite holiday was.  The majority answered, “Purim!”  Why?  Because it is fun, can be participated in by all ages and, oh those delicious hamantaschen. All of the princess gear available make the holiday a standout for girls with beautiful costumes to become Queen Esther. And super-hero costumes are definitely boy favorites.

For me, stuffed cabbage and hamantaschen are the staples of Purim.  I always look for easy-to-cook, shortcut recipes of the traditional dishes but with the same flavors intact. Conveniences such as frozen puff pastry and advance no-cook cabbage — detailed in Tips — leave time for more groggin’ and Purim play.

Thank you to the Joy of Kosher Internet site for pointing out that Queen Esther was a vegetarian, eating only plant foods. Check out the site for a myriad of hamantaschen recipes, even a vegan one!

Easy Internet Hamantaschen (Dairy/Pareve)

Unstuffed Cabbage (Pracas) (Meat)

Easy Sweet & Sour Stuffed Cabbage (Meat)

Puff Pastry Hamantaschen

 

TIPS & TRICKS
• Don’t bother cooking cabbage in advance. Simply freeze the whole head of cabbage overnight in a plastic bag.  Defrost it at room temp or in a microwave, core and use the leaves to easily wrap meat. No fuss or mess.

• Have a box of frozen puff pastry sheets on hand.  Prepare according to the accompanying recipe, sweet or savory.

• Get some good store-bought bakery chocolate hamantaschen and drizzle with your own from-scratch easy chocolate or vanilla frosting. It is then considered “homemade.”

 

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

Catering to Love for 75 Years

Louis and Edith Bluefeld married Feb. 23, 1941 and just celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. They live in Boca Raton, Fla., after several decades living, and working, in the Baltimore area. (Photos provided)

Louis and Edith Bluefeld married Feb. 23, 1941 and just celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. They live in Boca Raton, Fla., after several decades living, and working, in the Baltimore area. (Photos provided)

Louis and Edith Bluefeld have settled into a comfortable marital rhythm in their relationship. He’s the talker, but she chimes in with details. She plans everything, but he’s the happy socializer. It works for them.

And it should. After all, they’ve spent 75 years perfecting it.

The Bluefelds married Feb. 23, 1941 and just celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. And those 75 years have no shortage of good memories.

Baltimore natives Louis and Edith Bluefeld are well-known for running Bluefeld Catering, a kosher catering company started by Louis’ mother that fed the Baltimore Jewish — and non-Jewish — community for more than 40 years.

Bluefeld Catering made its mark beyond Baltimore, however. The company was the first to kosher the White House kitchen, served former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin when he visited Washington, D.C. for the announcement of the 1978 Peace Accords, catered the inaugural dinner for former President Richard Nixon and became go-to caterers for the movers-and-shakers of Capitol Hill.

“Oh, we met everyone,” Louis said, more or less dismissively. He and Edith don’t shy away from their accomplishments, but take a great deal more pride in the family events they catered in the community — weddings, bar mitzvahs and other celebrations.

“It was a good time in people’s lives,” Edith said.

“Our business was a joy,” Louis added. “The Baltimore Jewish community …” Louis paused and Edith filled in, “… are wonderful.”

bluefeld1Events done for Holocaust survivors and their families were particularly special to them.

“They couldn’t stop celebrating,” Louis said. “They never thought they’d have this.”

Louis and Edith met when they were 16 years old. His Criterion Club was throwing a party at the downtown Howard Hotel. They each came with different dates.

Edith spotted Louis across the room and told her friends, “This fella on the other side of the room, I want to meet him.” And, at least in this one case, wishing made it so. Louis asked Edith’s date to drive him to pick up the family car from his father. Edith’s date brought her along for the ride.

Before the end of the night, Louis had Edith’s phone number. He called her two nights later — “at 7,” Edith said, briefly cutting into Louis’  recounting of the story with the exact time — and asked her out, with one caveat. Since Louis was already working in the family business by then, their first date was on a catering job.

Edith was a hit with her  future mother-in-law right away. Louis’ mother even asked him, at 19, what his intentions were with Edith. She wanted them to get married; Louis was afraid he didn’t have enough money to get married yet.

“She said, ‘If you’re serious, you get married. It will all work out.’ She was right,” Louis said.

So, a few years after they met, they were married. But war was on the horizon, and, in 1943, Louis shipped off to New Guinea and the Philippines to serve in World War II. He was gone for three years, and Edith wrote him a letter every single day.

“Mail was so important [for the] servicemen,” Louis said. “I always had lots of mail.”

Once Louis returned, the couple settled in to post-war life — Louis working full time at Bluefeld Catering and Edith running the household, and raising their two children.

Their 25th anniversary was the big party, but their 50th was a smaller affair, at least by the standards of two people used to catering large-scale events. It was just 50 people. For this most recent one, they kept it a family celebration.

Louis and Edith retired to Boca Raton, Fla., more than 30 years ago after selling the company in 1984. Several of their friends in Boca are from their old days in Baltimore, however. One friend in particular is Burt Gold, now in his early 80s, who Louis has known since they were young. Bluefeld Catering had catered Gold’s bar mitzvah, his wedding, his children’s bar mitzvahs and weddings and other family celebrations.

Louis and Edith are impressively healthy for their 95 and 94 years, respectively. It could be all the walking — they  always take the stairs to their fourth-floor apartment. Or, maybe it’s the trips to the gym three times a week, where they each ride two miles on a  stationary bike.

But they also attribute their overall health to a healthy  relationship. They spoke with some sadness about couples, young and old, who don’t seem to enjoy each other’s company.

“I don’t need a lot of people,” Louis said. “I still enjoy being with my wife. We’re not bored with each other.”

“He’s just my favorite — his personality, his disposition,” Edith said.

If there’s one secret Louis and Edith impart to their happy relationship, it’s this: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let the little things go and tolerate each other’s quirks, Louis said.

Edith agreed: “You’ll have a day that is bad, but tomorrow is going to be better.”

hjohnson@midatlanticmedia.com

Baltimore Jewish Film Festival Kicks Off This Weekend

“Diplomacy” plays on April 5. (provided)

“Diplomacy” plays on April 5. (provided)

The Gordon Center for Performing Arts hosts the 28th annual William and Irene Weinberg Family Baltimore Jewish Film Festival from March 12 through April 17.

The festival features dramas, documentaries, comedies and even an animated film by filmmakers from Israel, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Venezuela, Argentina, Sweden and the Netherlands.

“What’s so exciting about the Baltimore Jewish Film Festival is the contrasting portrayals of what it means to be Jewish in a variety of places and historical times,” said Alyson Bonavoglia, director of the festival.  “Regardless of where you are in the world, being Jewish is accompanied by the sense that our history, ancient through modern, is very close at hand.”

For a mouth-watering flick, attendees can check out “Deli Man,” a documentary in which a third-generation delicatessen man and a Yiddish-speaking French-trained chef guide a geographical and historical tour of the world of deli food. Director Erik Greenberg Anjou will be in attendance.

What’s so  exciting about the Baltimore Jewish Film  Festival is the contrasting  portrayals of what it means to be Jewish in a variety of places and historical times.
— Alyson Bonavoglia,  Jewish film festival director

 

“’Deli Man’ takes us on tour of Europe and the United States, showing how deli food became part of the American Jewish culinary tradition and how it continues to be adapted to modern tastes,” Bonavoglia said.

Another documentary, “Rosenwald,” tells the story of Julius Rosenwald, a man who never finished high school but became president of Sears,  Roebuck & Co., helped African- American communities build schools in the Jim Crow South and became a leading philanthropist. Director Aviva Kempner will also be on hand.

“Secrets of War” plays on April 10. (provided)

“Secrets of War” plays on April 10. (provided)

The festival features a number of captivating dramas, including “Diplomacy.” The film is set in the summer of 1944, when the Allies were marching toward Paris and Hitler gave the orders that the French capital should be left “only as a field of rubble” if it falls into enemy hands. The movie, based on real events, captures a Swedish consul-general’s effort to convince a Nazi general to abandon his plans.

“Secrets of War” tells the story of two best friends in a Nazi-occupied Dutch village who are put at odds when one of their fathers, a Nazi sympathizer, is named mayor and the other’s father joins the resistance. In “A Borrowed Identity,” a Palestinian teenager attending a prestigious Jewish boarding school has his identity challenged as he tries to pursue his dreams.

On the lighter side, “Dough” tells the story of elderly baker Nay Dayan, who is trying desperately to save his bakery in London’s East End. He reluctantly hires Ayyash, a refugee from Darfur, who accidently drops a large amount of cannabis in the challah dough. After that  accident, business is booming.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com


 

The Gordon Center
3506 Gwynnbrook Ave. on the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC campus
Tickets are $13 in advance, $15 at the door and $5 for students
For a complete schedule and to buy tickets, visit gordoncenter.com or call 410-559-3510

Coming to Terms with a Nazi Past

Jennifer Teege (left) who learned her grandfather was the notorious Nazi war criminal Amon Goeth, spoke at Chizuk Amuno Congregation Monday night. (Photo by David Stuck)

Jennifer Teege (left) who learned her grandfather was the notorious Nazi war criminal Amon Goeth, spoke at Chizuk Amuno Congregation Monday night. (Photo by David Stuck)

In the 70 years since World War II, the word “Nazi” has become shorthand in the cultural lexicon for a wide spectrum of ills and can be thrown around rather carelessly.

But what happens when someone discovers her relative was an actual Nazi?

Jennifer Teege felt her whole identity called into question when she happened to pick up a copy of “But I Have to Love My Father, Don’t I?” at the library where she lives in Hamburg, Germany. In a revelation that would shock anyone, Teege realized the book was about her biological mother and, by extension, her grandfather — a notorious Nazi war criminal and the commandant of Plaszow concentration camp, Amon Goeth.

“While I was leafing through the pages, there were photos and text. I continued and continued and saw a photo of a woman who reminded me of my mother,” she said Monday evening during an event held at Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

Turns out, it wasn’t just a passing resemblance.

The event was the third stop of six in a cross-country tour sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Edna Friedberg, a historian with the museum, interviewed Teege and space was standing room only with more than 450 people in attendance. Teege’s book “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past” was published in English nearly a year ago, and Teege has since been traveling and telling her story publicly.

I had a very different life before. It changes you. You are a part of something bigger. You can’t inherit guilt. What you can inherit is responsibility.
— Jennifer Teege

And what a story it is. Teege was 38 when she stumbled upon this life-changing revelation seven years ago. The daughter of a German woman and Nigerian man, Teege had already had her share of ups and downs. She was given up for adoption at 4 weeks old and spent the next few years at an orphanage, seeing her biological mother and grandmother occasionally. At 3 years old, she was fostered by a German family and subsequently adopted by them.

She grew up not knowing much about her biological family and knowing of the Holocaust only through school and popular culture.

Most people are familiar with Amon Goeth from the portrayal by Ralph Fiennes in the movie “Schindler’s List.” He is a sadistic character, shooting Jews indiscriminately at the camp — a trait true for the real-life man as well, as told by testimonies from survivors.

More than 450 people attended Monday night’s event at Chizuk Amuno Congregation. (Photo by David Stuck)

More than 450 people attended Monday night’s event at Chizuk Amuno Congregation. (Photo by David Stuck)

Teege’s grandmother was Goeth’s mistress and pregnant with Teege’s mother when Goeth was arrested and brought to Poland for trial. Teege’s mother was born in 1945; Goeth was hanged in 1946. They never met.

It was more than 60 years later that Teege — a woman who attended college in Israel in her 20s, is fluent in Hebrew and has several friends who are descendants of Holocaust survivors — would inadvertently discover the family secret that her grandfather was a monster.

“It was difficult not only to understand, but to accept,” she said during the talk. “It took a long, long time.”

She said she would hold a photo of Goeth up in the mirror and look for similarities in their faces. Friedberg brought up the idea of “biology is destiny” as a main tenet of Nazism and asked Teege how learning this information affected her.

“I had a very different life before,” Teege said. “It changes you. You are a part of something bigger.”

At first, there was a lot of guilt that came with such a discovery. But in the years since, she’s been able to see it in a new light.

“You can’t inherit guilt,” she said. “What you can inherit is responsibility.”

There was a short question-and-answer period after the talk, and one attendee asked Teege if she thought all the coincidences leading to her discovery of this story was a kind of “divine intervention.”

“Was it coincidence or was it meant to be? I don’t know,” she said. She went on to add that she feels we all make our own choices in our lives, but with all the elements of her story — her years spent in Israel, the way she stumbled upon the book — perhaps some things are meant to be.

The talk was well received by the audience at Chizuk Amuno, which included a number of Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors.

“As long as I think I connected with people, I feel it was a success,” Teege said afterward. So many people have personal connections not only to the Holocaust, but also to her story in particular, she said, and it’s important to her to be able to make those connections.

“It was very well done, very good. She was very forthright,” said Rella Kaufman Zimmerman, a member of the audience and daughter of a Holocaust survivor.

Morris Rosen was another member of the audience and is a survivor himself. He was shuttled among several different concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and now volunteers with the Holocaust Museum and speaks up to five times a week about his experiences.

“It was very good,” he said, although he also wanted to remind people that this is only one story of many and not to lose the context of all the other terrible things that happened — and those they happened to.

It may have taken Teege a while to come to terms with this new aspect of her identity, but it brought her to one important conclusion: “History does not need to repeat itself.”

hjohnson@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Jeopardy!’ Champ Can Thank Joe Biden for His Win

Sam Deutsch poses with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek after winning the show’s college tournament. (Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

Sam Deutsch poses with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek after winning the show’s college tournament. (Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

Sam Deutsch of Bethesda. Md., knows the answer to “What is it like to win $100,000, Alex?” after being crowned “Jeopardy!” College Champion.

The Richard Montgomery High School graduate was the only one of the three contestants to write the correct question to the final “Jeopardy!” clue, identifying Vice President Joe Biden as the senator who cast 12,810 votes from 1973 to 2009. The show aired Feb. 12.

Biden sent Deutsch, 20, a congratulatory letter. The student had entered the two-day final in second place, by a dollar, having earned $22,000.

He credited his success partly to his high school’s international baccalaureate program and also to his participation on its Quiz Bowl team, “which really helped me prepare for the pressure of answering the questions, but a lot of my knowledge has come from what I’ve learned in school or just what I’ve read on my own.”

A student at the University of Southern California, Deutsch wants to attend law school but probably will work for a few years before enrolling. He also hopes to travel.

Deutsch is in USC’s liberal arts general education honors program, majoring in political economy and double minoring in business law and consumer behavior.

His economics and businesses classes might be the key to making his $100,000 prize go a long way.

“I’m going to invest a lot of it and use it in the future to help pay for law school. That said, I’ll definitely set some aside to hopefully go back to Tokyo for a post-graduation gift,” he said.

Deutsch, who had his bar mitzvah at Temple Sinai in Washington, also plans on donating some winnings to the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research at Georgetown University. “My mom is a survivor and a huge inspiration,” he said. “Every year, she has run in fundraisers for breast cancer research, and I look forward to supporting her this year.”

When he’s not studying, “I really enjoy listening to music. I’m into all sorts of stuff from hip-hop to indie to electronic, and L.A. is great because I’m able to go to concerts all the time here,” Deutsch said. “My love for music led me to get into DJing with my roommate.”

He is a great admirer of Kanye West and mentioned the hip-hop artist while on “Jeopardy!” — although he was not quick enough on the buzzer to answer a question about his idol.

Deutsch pointed to West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and said it was “honestly the album that got me through high school.” He called it “incredibly well made and powerful.” Deutsch also is a fan of the musician’s line of fashion, especially his shoes.

“I greatly respect how he’s not afraid to say what he thinks. While I may disagree with some of the things he says, I know that it’s coming from an honest and authentic perspective, not one warped by a PR machine.”

As for his other likes, Deutsch is a fan of the television show “Mad Men” and definitely enjoys his lox and cream cheese.

Traveling is another one of Deutsch’s loves. He spent last summer in Japan and Korea. He connected with the JT by email from the Netherlands, where he is studying. “I’ve been to five countries in the past few weeks alone,” he said.

To become a “Jeopardy!” champion, Deutsch bested 14 other college students. He called his first appearance, shown on Feb. 3, “very nerve-wracking … just because you have to get used to the whole environment.” (The programs were recorded in early January.)

His goal “was just to make it to the semifinals,” he said. “Actually, winning the whole thing wasn’t even on my mind.”

His nerves aside, he had a great time. Host Alex Trebek is a “funny guy” and “is pretty skilled at witty banter.” However, to make sure the host didn’t show any favoritism, he didn’t really mingle with the contestants, Deutsch said.

Winning that much money was great, but Deutsch said he was truly pleased “to see all the friends, family, teachers, classmates and people from Bethesda cheer me on. That’s all that matters to me.”

L❤ve’s Busy Season That sound you hear is your heartbeat quickening for Valentine’s Day

(istockphoto.com/kativ)

(istockphoto.com/kativ)

Valentine’s Day may not be the most Jewish holiday (well, actually, it’s not a Jewish holiday), but it makes for a busy season for Jewish matchmaker Lori Salkin.

“People really never give up on love,” said Salkin of the online dating service SawYouatSinai.com and its new app, JBolt. “And you see those numbers come up on Valentine’s Day, any time when there are holidays — Rosh Hashanah, Passover.”

Being in the business for seven years, she has some tips to share with those looking for love this season.

First of all: Don’t forget Valentine’s Day

“Do not forget!” she said. “Do  acknowledge Valentine’s Day. Even if you’re working, even if you have a deadline — if you’re anywhere past a first or a second date with somebody and you’re in an established relationship, do something special.”

It can be difficult to make the time, she said, as people are working or on deadlines or don’t have time for a big, elaborate date.

“Sending flowers or stopping by on a lunch break with a single rose, or even stopping by with their favorite Starbucks drink — something that says, ‘I thought of you and I took time out of my life to do something for you and acknowledge you on what is ‘the love day’ is so huge,” she said.

Don’t forget that  Valentine’s Day is for  all couples

“Valentine’s Day is not just for dating couples, it’s not just for engaged couples, it’s for married couples too,” she said.

However, if this is your first date with someone, making it on a holiday where you will be surrounded by couples already coupled and comfortable eating spaghetti in front of each other might not be the best idea.

“If it’s a first date, don’t make it on the 14th,” she advised. “Do not have a first date in a restaurant where everyone around you is coming in with huge bouquets and boxes of chocolate and look like they’ve been in love for months and you’re sitting across the table with someone who’s essentially a stranger.”

Don’t plan a surprise that could backfire

This is from Salkin’s own experience.

Her husband, on one of their first Valentine’s Day dates, had surprised her with a ride on the Spirit of Boston, a dinner-and-dance cruise. But, as he didn’t want to spoil the surprise and tell her anything beforehand that could give it away, he bought her a dress — that was seven sizes too big.

Luckily, she had already been wearing something appropriate, but there was a valuable lesson to be learned.

Overall, no matter how your  holiday goes, taking the time to show appreciation for someone you love is important, she said.

But David Yarus, founder of the popular dating app JSwipe, said Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be such a big deal.

JSwipe is hosting parties in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., to celebrate Valentine’s Day, with an estimated 1,000 attendees in New York and hundreds in the other cities. JSwipe will bring people together from their phones into real life.

“We want to be able to bring people together off [line] as well as online,” Yarus said.

But for JSwipe users, he advised not stressing too much about the holiday.

“Don’t feel like you need to take it so seriously,” he said. “It’s a good way to meet new people and connect.”

If you do have a Valentine this year, Yarus said, just have fun and try  a nontraditional activity, such as  finding an Airbnb and taking a trip somewhere new.

“On the flip side, if you don’t, it’s totally cool,” he added. “We’re in this era of an empowered single life. It’s going to be a good day for [J]swiping.”

But for sites like JMom, matchmaking takes a more familial approach.

Imagine your mother trying to set you up with so-and-so’s son, a nice, young dental hygienist — except now she’s doing it virtually — and without your knowledge.

For about six years, JMom has been allowing Jewish parents — usually  persistent mothers — to create profiles for their children and browse  the website for potential sons- and daughters-in-law. The site is active across the United States, Canada and Israel.

Steve Dinelli, CEO of JMom, has been in the matchmaking business for about a year, and he said thousands of pairings and three marriages have been made since its existence.

Notably, Dinelli said, parents’ surprising their children with potential mates has been fairly well-received — at least after mothers took the time to find the right partner.

“When it’s brought up before — like, ‘Hey can I put you on this site?’ — it doesn’t go over well. But when the parents just do it and find someone for their kid, it goes over really, really well,” he explained.

However, Dinelli noted that parents should keep their children’s wants in mind when browsing for a match that is beshert.

“They don’t want to introduce their child or children to somebody who they don’t think is going to be perfect, so they aren’t afraid to look at every profile,” he said. “If they’re going to be a matchmaker, they really need to look out for what the child wants, not what they [personally] want.”

Dinelli is in a relationship, but he’s sure his mother would know where to go if he wasn’t.

mstern@midatlanticmedia.com and  rkurland@midatlanticmedia.com

On Stage but Out of the Spotlight Puppeteers debut at Creative Alliance, honor an icon

Anna Fitzgerald and her cast of five perform “Reverse Cascade.” (Photo Adam Lobelson)

Anna Fitzgerald and her cast of five perform “Reverse Cascade.” (Photo Adam Lobelson)

Anna Fitzgerald, 31, likes to tell stories, but she doesn’t need paper and pen; she uses two pieces of cloth, a ball and several cast members who are good with their hands.

Fitzgerald is a puppeteer and director of “Reverse Cascade,” an upcoming show at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson on Feb. 18. The Baltimore native has been interested in theater arts since high school.

“I like to say [puppeteering] is using objects to tell a story,” said Fitzgerald. “Sometimes [the] object looks like the object, and sometimes the object is created to look like a creature.”

The performance, named after a common juggling trick, is based on the true story of Judy Finelli, a world-class juggler and performer whose career was shaken when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“Judy was instrumental in the new circus movement, where things like Cirque du Soleil came from,” said Fitzgerald, who studied with Finelli at the Clown Conservatory in San Francisco. “All of a sudden, she started dropping [juggling] clubs and couldn’t figure out [why].”

Finelli wasn’t diagnosed until her 30s and eventually lost the use of her arms and legs. Fitzgerald decided to tell Finelli’s story through puppetry. She began the project while pursuing her graduate degree in puppet arts at the University of Connecticut.

“The fact that there is no dialogue really adds to the piece,” said Moira Horowitz, one of Fitzgerald’s five cast members. “It allows people to take away from it what they [will], and it makes it a more personal experience.”

Fitzgerald added that the piece will be performed internationally for the first time in Izmir, Turkey, home to the International Puppet Days Festival. With no dependence upon dialogue, Fitzgerald can cross language barriers while telling Finelli’s story.

Horowitz, 31, grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Goucher College. She met Fitzgerald through an online request for people interested in puppetry. Although she was already involved in theater arts, puppetry was new to her, and she wanted to experiment.

“I like the idea of bringing life into objects that are not what they appear to be,” said Horowitz.

Sarah Nolen, 29, another member of Fitzgerald’s cast, echoed Horowitz’s sentiment about bringing objects to life. For her, the appeal of puppetry is about performing without being in the spotlight.

“[Puppeteers] are a very humble bunch,” said Nolen. “We all share a sense of empathy and community with each other because we know the show isn’t about us.”

Horowitz joked that the puppetry community can be very “manipulative and controlling.”

Nolen, who is from Texas, became interested in puppetry at an early age and filmed her first puppet shows because performing in person intimidated her. She leans toward filmmaking and puppetry because they allow her to tell a story without being the center of attention.

“It’s very interesting to think about [how] people view puppetry,” said Nolen. “Because it’s always a surprise that it is not just for kids anymore.”

Horowitz added, “[Puppetry is] an art form that has been done for thousands of years. I think most people don’t realize that it is just another form of theater.

 

‘Reverse Cascade’
at Creative Alliance at the Patterson
3134 Eastern Ave. Baltimore

Feb. 18 at 8 p.m.
$15, $12 for members and $3 at the door

For more information, call 410-276-1651 or visit creativealliance.org/events/2015/reverse-cascade

 

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

A ‘Finished Project’ Leading violinist to play Towson professor’s concerto

Left: Gil Shaham (photo by Luke Ratray) Jonathan Leshnoff (photo by Erica Hamilton)

Left: Gil Shaham (photo by Luke Ratray)
Right: Jonathan Leshnoff (photo by Erica Hamilton)

Jonathan Leshnoff is a man of many hats. He’s a musician, teacher and composer. But on Feb. 14, he’s going to be an audience member watching one of the world’s best violinists play his concerto.

Grammy Award-winning violinist Gil Shaham, called “the leading American violinist of his generation” by Time magazine, will perform Leshnoff’s “Chamber Concerto for Violin and Orchestra,” along with other works, with the Knights, an orchestral collective, as part of the Shriver Hall Concert Series “Born in Baltimore.” The special project is in celebration of its 50th anniversary season, featuring three new commissioned works from composers with strong ties to the city.

“Everyone knows Gil Shaham,” said Leshnoff, 42, from New Jersey and based in Baltimore. “To work with him is such a pleasure; he’s a fantastic guy and wonderful player.

Leshnoff initially met Shaham in Baltimore several years ago; he saw him standing backstage listening to one of Leshnoff’s pieces.

“He said [the piece] was really cool, so I followed up and said, ‘Great! I’ll write you a piece,’” said Leshnoff. Later, Shaham performed their Yiddish suite in New York and Washington, D.C.

“I have many wonderful memories from my performances at [Shriver] and always enjoy sharing music with the fantastic audience,” said Shaham in a written statement. “It is an honor to be part of the 50th anniversary season and to celebrate the great Shriver Hall legacy.”

The commissioned piece was inspired by Leshnoff’s spiritual heritage and is a part of a 10-piece collection that is driven by spiritual concepts, he said. The first movement of the concerto is slow and pensive, and the second movement is fast, lively and spirited.

“This piece focuses on the spiritual concept that is associated with the [Hebrew] letter Hay; that concept is malchus,” said Leshnoff. “The spiritual concept is the ‘finished project.’ The malchus is the final house without anyone living in it, full of potential, but people have to do something with it.”

Leshnoff added the first movement “is extremely bare, extremely open and spacious [when] looking at the notes on the page.”

“What is dependent on making the music happen is the heart that Gil and the orchestra will put in,” said Leshnoff. “Suddenly, that ‘house’ will come to life, and that’s the deeper spiritual movement I’m trying to portray.”

Shaham said he’s excited to perform it and described Leshnoff’s compositions as “deeply spiritual and uplifting.”

“Jonathan has such a great musical mind … and I cannot wait for the performance with the Knights, a group I have long admired,” said Shaham in a written statement. “I feel lucky to join their tour and am grateful that they agreed to play on my upcoming album. It is always a thrill to participate in music making at that highest level.”

The Shriver Concert is just one of Leshnoff’s premieres this year. A clarinet concerto, commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, and an oratorio called “Zohar,” commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, both premiere in April. The oratorio, co-commissioned by the ASO and Carnegie Hall, will be performed in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage later that month.

In addition to being a composer, Leshnoff works at Towson University teaching orchestration, contemporary music and music theory. When asked about his advice for young musicians, his wisdom was concise.

“Follow your inner voice,” said Leshnoff. “Because that’s what got you into this, and that’s what will pull you through, and that’s where you will end up.”

Shriver Hall Concert Series
105 Shriver Hall
3400 N. Charles St., Baltimore

Feb. 14, 5:30 p.m.

Tickets $42 (Students $21)
For more information, call 410-516-7164 or visit shriverconcerts.org/Shaham

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Peacemaker Comes to the Gordon Center Achinoam Nini brings multicultural sounds to Owings Mills on Feb. 6

noa

Achinoam “Noa” Nini (Photo by Roberto Marziali)

She’s performed for three popes, collaborated with Stevie Wonder, Sting, Pat Metheny and Quincy Jones and is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations. But Achinoam Nini, known as Noa, doesn’t let it get to her head or forget why she does what she does.

“All I need to do is remember why I am doing all this: to serve the God of music, not myself,” she said via email. “To bring joy and meaning to people’s lives, hearts and minds. To make the world a better place.”

The Yemenite/Israeli/American singer brings her eclectic jazz sounds to the Gordon Center for Performing Arts on Saturday, Feb. 6.

To understand all the cultural influences she incorporates into her music, one needs to look at Noa’s journey. She was born in Israel but moved to New York City with her family at age 2. She returned to Israel in her late teens, served in the army, studied at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music and began her career.

“It gave me the chance to be exposed to an enormous amount of culture, from my Yemenite grandmother who raised us and her songs, to Hebrew songs my parents loved, the wild abundance in N.Y., ranging from opera to Broadway, jazz and progressive, to my own process of leaving home and learning to live on my own at a young age,” she said.

And then, of course, there are the intangible aspects of the music.

“I dig deep into the roots of childhood, tradition, poetry and literature and a variety of other inspiring places. I also spend a lot of time observing the world around me and trying to reveal new perspectives and unveil hidden secrets of the human soul,” she said. “I try to capsulize ideas and emotions, contracting as I write and expanding as I perform.”

In addition to being an entertainer, wife and mother of three, Noa, 46, dedicates a lot of her time and music to being a peace activist. While she had performed for the cause of peace throughout her career, one performance and the horrible aftermath gave her reason to truly dedicate herself to the cause. She sang at a peace rally in Tel Aviv on Nov. 4, 1995 to support Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Rabin would be assassinated while leaving that rally.

“I was devastated. That very night, I decided that if this great man could pay with his life for peace, for humanity, for values, for the future of our children, I too would pay a price,” Noa says in a soon-to-be released TED Talk. “I would act, I would speak out, I would carry this torch forward stubbornly, fearlessly.”

While that meant death threats and canceled concerts, it also landed her gigs at the White House and the World Economic Forum as well as knighthood in Italy among a long list of honors.

Noa supports a long list of progressive, pro-peace causes, including many that bring Arabs and Jews together.

“I believe with all of my heart that only the people and their ability to communicate, to learn about each other, to listen to each other, to understand each other’s humanity, to mitigate fear and share hopes and dreams, to recognize each other’s humanity, can bring change,” she said.

Of course Noa’s messages would need a powerful musical vessel, which is where longtime collaborator, musical partner and guitarist Gil Dor comes in.

“A friend once called us a two-headed monster. I usually come up with the ideas, I write lyrics and music, normally a cappella, then Gil and I work out all the details together, harmonizing, adding parts, arranging and producing,” she said. “We do it all together, with a lot of resonance and sometimes telepathy. We also argue a lot, but it is always done with respect and love. We are lucky to have found each other!”

Noa performs at Gordon Center Saturday, Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $36 or $72 for VIP and available at jcc.org/event/noa-achinoam-nini.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com