Rega, a Moment


An occasional chance to take a moment, take a breath, and look at what's around you with Anita Silvert.

Rega, a Moment

A moment to consider...the sukkah

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Moving, moving, lots of moving going on in my house. No, we’re not packing up and leaving where we live. But in the last month or so, our last child left for school, I had three days of “empty nesting” and then my sister moved in with us. She had been in Israel for almost 20 years, and was finally coming back. Her Israeli spouse got here a week ago, and the time in between was all about getting a space ready in the house for them. They’ll be welcome here as long as it takes for them to get settled, find work, and fine a place to live.

I work at home, and taking advantage of the opportunity of all the kids’ bedrooms being unoccupied, I took over the smallest one as my new office space. This meant moving of another kind: Hauling a desk, filing cabinets, moving files, (which of course, had to be gone through, culled, re-organized), schlepping supplies one or two stories upstairs and beds downstairs. Then there is the satisfying time spent arranging one’s new living or work space. My sister was doing this also, two stories below. 

As I sat in my new room, with real window light coming through, and the music I liked playing, I started thinking about how we move into new spaces, how we get acclimated.   

We are now a family of all adults, of which two are immigrants. After all, my sister has been in Israel for so long that much of American life (and prices, both high and low) are a shock to her – to them both, really. They were urban; we live in the suburbs. They are used to open-air markets; we have grocery stores, and the farmers’ markets are pretty much done for the season. They’re used to bringing their dog (yes, there is a dog, too) into stores and people’s homes as a matter of course and running off the leash, and that’s not the case ‘round here. The list goes on and on.

My sister arrived in time to help us put up our sukkah, and we were all able to share a meal in it. It’s time to take it down. It’s a fragile thing, as all sukkah structures are. We have to pack it up, store it, and have it ready for next year. 

Maybe our family/guests feel like our house is as fragile as a sukkah, wondering how long it will be the roof over their heads. Immigrants all over the world feel like that. A hundred years ago, 50 years ago, yesterday, millions of immigrants arrived here and if they were lucky, they stayed with relatives until they got America solid under their feet.  

The world is again filled with terrified migrants, wanderers looking for a safe place, no matter how fragile, to exhale and begin to think beyond the moment. I wish everyone who has the opportunity to help them would remember the sukkah. A fragile, impermanent home makes us grateful for the ability to come inside where it’s safe and warm. Those who wander deserve no less.  

A moment to consider…routine

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I love routine. As I have said before, I think change is overrated. Back in the (oy!) 80s, I used to go to aerobic studio workouts. I have the leg warmers to prove it, but now I keep them around to make my kids laugh. And I loved that we did the same workout routine every time. I knew how many leg lifts and jumping jacks to do and all that. I was very comfortable in the routine, and yes….I looked better, too.

I find comfort in other routines. Coffee and the paper every morning, doing the crossword in pen first, just like my grandfather did it, and how my mother still does, and then reading the rest of the paper. Do not ever suggest to me that reading it on a screen is even close being okay.

It’s not that I can’t handle change. I’ve proven I can, over and over. That doesn’t mean I like it, it just means I can do it. Routine, for me, is the soft ground I can land on when I get bounced around by change.  It’s both feet on the ground when I need to feel grounded.  I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t like living where there are no seasons. (Hello, California.) I like the predictability (don’t laugh) of the weather changing as we move around the year. It will be spring. It will be summer, and it will be fall.  Yes, it will be winter, too, but that’s okay, because spring comes after that.  

Routine in my Jewish world is comforting, too.  I was raised in a very traditional synagogue, where I learned how to daven, to pray.  I learned the words, at least, really really well.  And now, though there is much that I eschew about the traditional language when translated, I prefer a more traditional service.  I love some of the new prayer books, new liturgy translations,  new poetry and such. And I can forgo cantor repetitions, happy to do so.  But I don’t like changing it up.  Well, that’s not exactly true – I do like to change it up sometimes, as long as I know it’s coming. (Anita? Your therapist is on the line.)  The Hebrew I have known so long is so familiar to me that I can lose myself in it, finding new layers to it. I can focus on a word or thought here or there, because I know next week, the whole prayer will be there and I can focus on another word or thought. I know for others, it’s too much. Some days, it just doesn’t click, and I just stop.  Some days it does. But I keep at it, just the same, until it clicks again.

There is routine in Jewish life, and for that I am routinely grateful. We read the Torah in the same order, each year. We greet the same ol’ portions like good ol’ friends we can tangle with, struggle with, embrace, recognize, and then find something we hadn’t seen before. We celebrate the same holidays, mark the same seasons, acknowledge the passing of time the same way each trip around the sun.  It is this that gives the routine meaning, I think. It is the familiarity that breeds not contempt, but comfort.

Wishing everyone a Judaism they can feel comfortable in.

A moment to consider...favorites

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Something just came across my Facebook newsfeed, asking me what song always brought a smile to my face.  I didn’t think too hard about it, and answered back a few:  “Mama Welcome to the ‘60s” from Hairspray, almost anything from the Beatles or Fogelberg, and oh so many more. There isn’t just one.

I don’t have a favorite song. I don’t have a favorite color. I don’t have a favorite book or movie or song or food or season or toy.

I really don’t have favorites, and that’s not coming from a personal philosophy. It’s coming from the fact that I change, a lot, and a favorite anything would suggest some sort of constancy. It would also mean that something else wasn’t a favorite, and that’s just not true. There are a lot of foods that make me smile; there are a lot of colors that appeal; and there are about a zillion movies and songs and Broadway shows that, at any time or place, could be my favorite.  After all, the song isn’t, “This is my favorite thing,” it’s, “These are few of my favorite things.” (Musical theater is truth.)

I do have favorite moments. My wedding; my children’s entrances into my life; and every single time I go on stage, no matter what the show is. Or, for that matter, any time I am sitting in a darkened theater, the orchestra is ready to tune up, I’ve read the program “who’s who” section to see if I recognize anyone, and it’s all about to begin.   Anyone who knows me knows that theater is a huge part of my life; indeed, it’s one of my favorite parts of my life. How could I possibly pick one show?

Does “favorite” really imply some constant? If so, if there are no favorites, does that mean there is no constant? I am far more comfortable with the idea that the constant is openness, fluidity, ebbing and flowing, moments of great expectations and possibilities.

Mind you, all this fluidity makes absolute sense when I think of food and songs and colors, but has absolutely no place in the day-to-day reality of life itself. In that realm, I am never the person who says, “Don’t worry. Relax. It will all work out,” though I say that to friends and family. They probably know I’m lying … I’m a huge fan of constancy when it comes to income, family, income (did I say that already?) I long for dependability and predictability and constancy.  And it’s not because I want to accumulate wealth; it’s what predictability lets me do – all the other fun things that I don’t have to choose between.

So, I guess, as I think about it, I do have a favorite thing – a toy. My favorite toy would be a kite. It’s grounded and free. It has a center, a place to hold on to. And because one end is tied to something, the other end can fly free; it can dance and swoop and delight.   The theater constant isn’t the show itself; the constant is living inside it, bringing it to life, whatever the words or music. Any particular food isn’t the favorite, but the person I’m sharing it with creates a favorite moment. 

As a kite, I don’t have to pick a favorite anything, because any given day that I’m flying in a perfect blue sky, with enough breeze to lift my soul, see the world’s possibilities, yet know I won’t get lost and I have something or someone to ground me … well, that is my favorite thing.

A moment to consider…closets

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A couple of weeks ago, it seemed like everyone I knew was switching over their closets, including me.  "Switching over closets" is one of those phrases that either you get or you don't get…immediately.  It's like "switching over dishes," which we'll do about six months from now--you know, the "P" word.   But I digress.

When I was growing up, no one I knew had a closet big enough to contain summer and winter clothes.  I still don't know anyone who does.  I certainly don't.  I know some folks who I imagine have such closets, but not having been on their house tours, I can't be sure.  My family and I have lived in about four different houses over the decades, and I assure you, the house-hunting process included an awareness of where the off-season clothes would go.  

We've just ended the holiday marathon, and are beginning a long period of 5-day work weeks, no days off.  The closet switchover occurred during one of those holiday days, a time that began in days of self-reflection and ended in days of community celebration.  The closet switch-over (CS-O) is like that too.  Serious self-reflection:  questions like, does it still fit (really, I mean, really?), did I wear it at all this year (really, I mean, really?) do I even like it anymore (did I buy it just because it was on sale, even though it's a color I don't like….really, I mean, really?) and am I just tired of it?  The different piles begin to grow - giveaway, keep it, can't bear to give away - and it all has to happen in one day.  Few things are worse than stopping in the middle of the CS-O - it is the ultimate chaos, and makes it hard for me to think, much less get dressed in the morning.   

Twice a year, the period leading up to every CS-O is, by definition, pretty chaotic.  You never know what the weather is going to be like and any day could see you dipping back into tank tops and shorts, or grabbing a sweater.  Too late for sandals, but not yet ready for boots?  We've spent weeks in clothes limbo.  Was it too soon for the CS-O?  Should I wait another week? Can I clear the time needed?   And when the process is done, for just a shining moment, the closet (and the world) is in order.  Some pieces are greeted like old friends that I get to spend time with again.  Other pieces are sent out into the world to do good things for others.

When my children were little, we called the CS-O "The Fashion Show."  They tried everything on, and we could see how much they'd grown, and what wouldn't fit next season, and perhaps the other sister would enjoy it next.  It was actually pretty enjoyable. Maybe the adult version is more about how much growth has occurred internally; am I comfortable with my own style, or am I still looking at trends that look good on a 25-year-old?  Am I taking chances with color?  And of course, am I coming to terms with the aging body on which the clothes are displayed?  Really…I mean, really?

A moment to consider...grandparents

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There has been a significant lack of grandfathers in my life, both as a child and for my children.  I only knew one grandfather, my mother's dad.  He was a wonderful guy - made us laugh every time we saw him, yet strict in his own way.  He was a terrific storyteller, even though truth was a rare visitor to his stories.  He sketched great cartoons and still life pictures.  He bounced all three of us on his leg, saying we were riding a horse.  That must have been when we were very small, and he was very strong!  Rarely saw him without a suit and tie.  He had long since left the synagogue side of his Jewish life, ever since he lost all his money and the local shul wouldn't give him any more honors at the synagogue.  My grandmother would go to services all day, and Grandpa would dress in a suit and tie….and a hat…and sit like that all day, waiting for her to come home.  He fasted, but I think the only time he was in a synagogue again was at our Bat Mitzvahs.  He was, as I said, wonderful.

I never knew my father's father; neither did my mother.  He had died when dad was in the army, and was gone ten years by the time my parents got married.  I have one picture of him. 

Our children never knew my dad.  He died a year after I was married; one day he went to work, and never came home.  He would have made a terrific grandpa - my sisters had some experience with that, since their sons were born before my daughter, but even they were pretty young when Dad died.  The oldest was four.  Our daughter is named for him. My father-in-law was a great guy.  He was quiet, but funny, incredibly handy, and absolutely joyous around his grandchildren.  Again, my kids missed out on the grandpa-lottery.  He got sick when my girls were very young, and died when they were four and three.  The older one remembers putting pieces of chocolate on his pillow, like at a fancy hotel, when we came to visit at the hospital.  Our son is named for him.

Which brings me to today.  About 20 years ago, my mother started spending time with a man she volunteers with at the local hospital.  She has insisted for all those 20 years that they have not been dating.  To my mind, when you hold half a dozen theater subscriptions together, have dinner during the week and grab a movie every now and then…..well, that's dating.  She never looked for a replacement for my father.  Still, he has been a good companion for my mother.  He has been at all the family celebrations, holiday dinners, and even shows up in a few pictures here and there.

And now he's moving across the country to be with his son.  He's been sick here and there a bit, and "the boys" want him near them. It makes perfect sense, but it's not perfect.  There will be a huge hole in my mother's theater schedule…and her life.

There will be a big hole in our kids' lives, too, for once again, the elderly man at our holiday tables, will be gone.  As our older daughter said yesterday, he's the closest thing she's had to a grandpa in her life.  True.

I had all three of my grandparents alive and well, into my 30s.  I was very lucky.  There's one picture of my grandmother holding my firstborn.  My kids have hit the jackpot when it came to grandmas.  But Grandpas?  Well, I only wish they have fathers-in-law that stick around for a long, long time and they get to see how much fun a great grandpa is.

A moment to week

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I am exhausted today, because I spent 11+ hours yesterday in rehearsal, first day of tech week.  For those who are not familiar with "tech week", it is a phrase that evokes empathy, understanding and compassion in every theater person.  Friends know that no matter how much you're "there" for them,  it doesn't include tech week.  Family knows not to ask anything of you, including dinner on the table or clean laundry.  Even your mother knows not to expect a phone call.   I just saw a post from a friend that said she had just tossed her phone into the recycling bin - "must get more sleep."  I get it. There's tired, and then there's tech-tired;  it's a whole other place to be.

Tech week is the week before an opening of a show.  It's when all the technical aspects of the show get put into the production - lighting, sound, costumes, makeup, set (scenery).  The design crew has been building the set, figuring out the lighting and sound. The costumer has been making the costumes.  The actors have been memorizing lines and where they move around the stage.  The music has been learned (because, I am of course, talking about a musical), but the orchestra hasn't been brought in. Now, days before you open, you put it all together.  You may have taped out where that platform is, but now it's really there, and the black-and-blue mark on your leg proves that the actual set piece is less forgiving than a taped-out square on the floor.  The starting note you're used to hearing from the piano is now buried somewhere in the oboe or clarinet part, and who can hear them outside anyway? 

It's a little stressful.

This week, we have the added component of being an outdoor theater production, at the Wallace Bowl in Gillson Park.  Theater under the stars.  Theater under the bugs that show up in the lights and yes, in your mouth.   Theater under the humidity and the heat.  Or theater under the fog and cold.  It could be both…in the same performance even, because we are by the lake, you know.  And since this is non-equity theater, almost everyone in the cast has an actual job they have to show up at each morning.

But slowly, slowly, the patterns and moves and set changes and costume changes and rhythm settle into your (older) legs and a show emerges.  You've made a whole new slew of friends, whether you're lead or ensemble, whether you have three lines or are in almost every scene.  You've exercised your brain, your body, and your heart and soul. 

I don't know what it's like to be part of a team sport but I can speak to the team effort of a theater production.  Maybe it's similar; I think so.  Athletes talk about the physical and mental effort it takes.  Theater, too.  Athletes get encouragement from the crowd.  Actors talk about "reading the audience" - we can actually tell you if it's a good audience or not, because our performance and their experience are so intimately entwined. 

All in all, it comes down to passion.  This is my passion.  It's worth the long hours, bruised and tired legs, even the bug bites, just to put on a show.  Just to get up on the stage  and give people an experience they will enjoy.  People may be up on the stage kicking and twirling, but there is a more nuanced, delicate and almost imperceptible dance we do with the audience. It's opening night every night, because for every audience, it's their first time.  

Now excuse me while I go ice that new bruise, buy new eyelashes for the run, and head back for another tech rehearsal.  Shehechiyanu, v'kiyimanu, v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh.  The four sweetest words:  We open this week! 

A moment to consider...Broadway

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Our family has had a remarkable weekend. For the first time in a while, we were all together, not for a holiday, not for a birthday, just to share something special. We went to New York for a friend's Broadway opening. This is a really big deal. 

We've known this young man since he was a kid, watched him work hard, and hone his skills, and capitalize on opportunities.  He missed a major high school event because he was on international tour with West Side Story. Yeah, I'd have made the same choice, too.  And here he was, opening on Broadway…Broadway! In "Aladdin."  I think I have to see the show again and this time watch some of the other people on stage!  Proud "other-mama" moment. 

Our friend took us backstage after the show.  For the first and last time, I got to stand on a Broadway stage and look out to the audience.  The seats were empty, but some lights were still on, and I just stood there for a moment.  Part of me just wanted to break into a time step; part of me had "Rose's Turn" and "Chorus Line" going through my head simultaneously (it gets noisy in there, I admit.)  The backstage looked like any backstage of an ongoing production.  There were props and scenery and stage spikes, but this was a BROADWAY stage, and the magic of that wasn't lost on me at all. After the show, we went to catch a bite, next to the theater, and the menu and the beer choices were just like the places my friends and I go after rehearsals.  But this was a beer on BROADWAY.  Soon, we were just a bunch of singers and dancers, comparing audition stories, director choices, and laughing a whole lot.  It was a very good night.

March Madness was going on this weekend too, or so I'm told.  We have a true sports fan in the family, and she was checking her updates all weekend to see how her teams were doing.  She's not as into musical theater as her sister and I are, though she was just as excited about the weekend.  I was struck by the similarity of our passions.

I don't know what it's like to play in a championship game, or make it to the playoffs, or any such thing.  I know these athletes work hard, hone skills, and capitalize on opportunities. You trust your team, the people who are out there with you who have your back, with whom you've established a rhythm and an awareness that needs no words.   Athletes, whether on stage or on the court, live for those moments.  And lest anyone think otherwise, those folks up there dancing and singing are true athletes; you try singing and dancing through a musical number, full out, 8 shows a week and not letting the audience see you pant for breath.  Then add to it the fact that, for this particular show, there are many bare chests and midriffs!

When you're a performer, you get to do that playoff game over and over. Every night, for the audience, is opening night.  Your hundredth performance is their first one. Sure, if you're lucky, like our friend, it becomes a job, and you go do it whether you're at 100% or not. But I cannot express the joy that comes from performing.  Our friend may be hoofing it in a bonafide Broadway hit, while I'm preparing for the next community theater audition, but I assure you, when we hear the overture we remember why we do this.  You check your makeup and costume, bounce on your toes a little, your heartbeat picks up, then you take a big breath, and let those ticket-holders know they made the right choice to show up.   

If you're in New York, go see "Aladdin."  The carpet really flies, the Genie really makes magic, and watch for the guy in the opening number in yellow on stage right.  Mr. Martin, we are so very proud of you.


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