Tag Archives: Blessing of a Broken Heart

Two bundles

I’ve experienced many truly beautiful works of theater brought to life by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company. Most recently, Todd Salovey’s “Blessing of a Broken Heart,” first performed at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. It’s a work based on Sherri Mandell’s book of the same name, which shares the author’s experience of losing a son to a terrorist act in Isreal.

There’s a point in Salovey’s play where Sherri recalls the way she and husband Seth shared the news of Koby’s death with their three other children. I am like a canary in a mine, reflects Sherri. People ask if I’m OK. Jewish tradition says that each person is a world. I have lost a whole world.

I remembered that scene after learning that Arizona Jewish Theatre Company plans to cease operations, after years of struggling to meet economic challenges too deep and wide to overcome. “Since 2008,” says founding producing director Janet Arnold, “our revenue has steadily and rapidly declined.”

In a recent note to supporters, Arnold shared three factors fueling the decision to close — the virtual disappearance of government and corporate support, a decrease in individual contributions and a dwindling audience attributed to shifting performance spaces.

Even the bad, in Jewish thought, deserves blessings. It’s another thought shared by Sherri in the play. I do not bless the bad, continues Sherri. But I understand that light comes from darkness, and that evil exists in the world so that we can choose to do good.

There’s a chasm between the grief of losing a child and losing even the most cherished theater company. Still, I hear bits of Salovey’s script speaking to our community’s loss. G-d does his work with that which is broken. It is when our hearts are broken that G-d sculpts our souls, prodding open the narrow entrances to the caves of our being.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company produced more than 80 plays in 24 years — reaching thousands of audience members, mentoring hundreds of young performers, employing plenty of theater professionals and giving voice to many new playwrights.

Even while sharing devastating news, they’re looking ahead to new opportunities for Jewish cultural programming in the Valley. Board chair Jay Bycer notes that “Janet is working with the Israel Center to bring in a show in October, and is talking with the Arizona Jewish Historical Society.” Both Bycer and Arnold insist that “there will always be a need for the arts in Jewish life.”

Near the end of Salovey’s “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” Sherri recalls going to the cave where her son and his best friend were killed. I have learned that everything, she says, even the worst trial, contains sparks of holiness and it is up to us to release these sparks into the world.

Those whose lives have been blessed by Arizona Jewish Theater Company can still show gratitude for their work in the community. They’re asking supporters to make contributions that’ll help pay the non-profit’s “final bills.” They’re also sharing a special todah (thanks) with those whose gifts allowed them to finish out the 2011-12 season.

Salovey’s play includes Sherri’s encounter with a rabbi and his son who’ve emerged from the cave where Koby was killed. The pair enounters an old man carrying two bundles of myrtle branches, asking Why do you carry two bundles? The answer: One bundle is to honor and one is to remember.

Lynn

Note: Arizona Jewish Theatre Company notes that folks can click here to make a donation. Click here to learn more about Todd Salovey.

Coming up: Horsing around with art, Fun finds for Father’s Day

Update: I’m now blogging as “Stage Mom Musings” at www.stagemommusings.com. Please find and follow me there to continue receiving posts about arts and culture in Arizona and beyond. Thanks for your patience as the tech fairies work to move all 1,250+ posts to the new site. For the latest news follow me on Twitter @stagemommusings. 6/13/12

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That’s what friends are for

Friends Janet Arnold and Ed Asner perform a reading of "Advanced Chemistry" to benefit Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Like many arts organizations, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company has faced financial challenges in recent years. But executive director Janet Arnold has a friend in renowned actor Ed Asner, who graciously performs here periodically to support Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s work.

Most recently he treated Valley audiences to a reading of Rich Orloff’s “Advanced Chemistry,” a pair of plays about “love, lust and longevity” at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. The event helped Arizona Jewish Theatre Company raise funds needed to continue their season with “The Blessing of a Broken Heart” — a work they’re dedicating to former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Tucson.

But now it’s Asner who needs our help. Asner has both a son and grandson with autism, and says the issue “really hits me at home.” Asner describes the organizations Autism Speaks as “the main focus of my family’s charitable efforts.”

Will Asner and Charlotte Luckerman in a photo shared by Matthew Asner

Asner’s son Matthew serves as executive director for Autism Speaks in Southern California. “He is on the front lines,” says Asner, “fighting for our kids and others like them.” Ed Asner is eager to both improve the quality of life for children and adults with autism — and to “find a way to stop it.”

Asner has four children. Twins Matthew and Liza Asner, and Katie Luckerman, are in their 40s. Charlie Asner is in his 20s. His oldest grandchild, Jake Asner, is 11 — and the youngest, Charlotte Luckerman, is just two. There’s also Will Asner (age 9), Gabriel Luckerman (age 8), Grant and Helena Asner (7-year-old twins), and Sam Luckerman (age 5).

His passion for supporting families living with autism was clear when we chatted by phone a while back, soon after the American Psychiatric Association released information about proposed criteria for autism spectrum disorders — which Asner and other autism advocates worry will mean less help for individuals and families living with autism.

Jake Asner self-portrait, shared by Matthew Asner

Folks eager to join Asner in fighting for autism research and increased public awareness can donate to Asner’s “Walk Now for Autism Speaks” team — which is participating in the “10th Annual Los Angeles Walk Now for Autism Speaks” on April 21. Or click here to join his “Asner’s Avengers” online.

Those eager to participate on the local level too can support the “Arizona 2012 Walk Now for Autism Speaks” as well. It takes place Oct. 28, and is being presented in partnership with the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.

Both Autism Speaks and SAARC offer plenty of ongoing opportunities to learn more about autism and ways to support families living autism. SAARC presents a free screening of HBO Film’s Temple Grandin” at Studio Movie Grill in Scottsdale Feb. 21 (click here to register because space is limited).

Walk. Watch. Donate. Volunteer. Write to legislators. Learn more. And listen. That’s what friends are for.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Arizona Jewish Theatre Company — which is home to Curtain Call Youth Theatre (which holds auditions for “Annie” on March 5) and All Rights Reserved teen improv troupe (which presents a teen improv festival on Feb. 26), plus a variety of special programs and events.

Coming up: Ed Asner talks arts in education, Once upon a peacemaker