Feb ’08 Spotlight

What’s that glittering new Saturday hot spot lighting up South Michigan Avenue? It’s Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies! Long known for its excellent Sunday afternoon lectures, Spertus is now equipped with a fabulous state-of-the-art theatre, and I’m sure many of us will be flocking there weekend after weekend as the word spreads.

The first big event of 2008 was the U.S. premiere of The Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour on January 12, and all 400+ seats in the new Feinberg Theater were completely sold out well over a week in advance. Beloved Chicago comedian Aaron Freeman opened the show with a hilarious spoof on West Side Story (called, of course, West Bank Story), and he also served as Master of Ceremonies. Afterwards, Hal Lewis, Dean of Continuing Education and Public Programs, played the proud papa, inviting everyone to schmooze with the guys over drinks in the Wolfgang Puck Café.

For information on future programs, visit www.spertus.edu. I know I’ll be there myself on Sunday, February 24 when Tal Grinfas-David, Senior Educational Research Associate of the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel at Emory University, comes to lecture on “A Century of Israeli Music.”


The Israel Chamber Orchestra will perform at the Harris Theatre in Millennium Park on Tuesday evening, February 26. The musical program will include Bizet’s Fantasy on Carmen for 2 Clarinets and Orchestra, a Beethoven Piano Concerto (No. 2), a Beethoven: Symphony (No.7), and a medley from Fiddler on the Roof.

A medley from Fiddler on the Roof? Conductor Elli Jaffe was on tour, so he responded to my astonishment by e-mail from the Czech Republic. “The two clarinetists who play with the orchestra are twin brothers. Our Fiddler on the Roof Fantasia opens with the main theme — first one clarinet and then both clarinets, and then the main songs of the show. If an orchestra comes from Israel, a work with a ‘Jewish Taste’ should be included, and we think that the Klezmer style of Fiddler on the Roof will speak to the kind of audiences attending our concerts.”

For tickets (including the option of attending a benefit dinner for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem), visit www.harristheaterchicago.org or call the box office at (312) 334-7777.


I went to a raw rehearsal space on North Lincoln Avenue one snowy night to watch a bit of the new play Pitching Penguins, which opens at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse on February 8. Pitching Penguins was created by Michael Rosenbaum and David Brimm, two buddies living out the dream of watching actors embody their words on stage.

Michael is a specialist in Investor Relations while Dave is a Public Relations pro. They work for sister organizations in adjoining offices, and for years they’ve been kibitzing over lunch, trying to win the “can you beat this” contest. Now they’ve created their own theater company (Flaxen for “flacks”), and written a play that pokes fun at crazy clients, dimwitted bosses, and intramural competition in the modern American workplace.

Michael and Dave are quick to acknowledge the incredible support they’ve received from Chicago’s vibrant independent theater community, with special thanks to their mentor Alan Chambers at the Theatre Building on Belmont. Friends from all around metro Chicago will be coming to support these affable guys during Penguin’s six week run (including large groups from Dave’s congregation Aitz Hayim in Highland Park and Michael’s congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove), so don’t wait too long if you want to order tickets. For more information, visit www.victorygardens.org or call the box office: (773) 871-3000.


The Gene Siskel Film Center on Michigan Avenue has two Chicago premieres coming up that both deal with interfaith marriage. The first one, David & Layla, is a broad comedy about a Jewish guy who falls in love with a Muslim woman. Despite Layla’s horrific stories about Kurdish life under Saddam Hussein, this Brooklyn-based RomCom is mostly played for laughs. I tried to enjoy myself, but the stereotypical treatment of Jewish women in this film made me queasy.

David & Layla’s director Jay Jonroy should have spent some quality time with Leah Welbel, the protagonist of Out of Faith. After almost three years in Auschwitz, Welbel survived, married, moved to Skokie, and raised a family. Stubborn and feisty well into her 80’s, Welbel stands up to her husband and her sons, voicing great distress when her grandchildren begin to date and then marry non-Jewish partners. Past and future collide, but by treating all points of view with respect, director Lisa Leeman gives her eloquent documentary universal resonance. Young people need to appreciate that the options they have today were often painfully secured for them by their parents and grandparents. Old people need to understand that their children and grandchildren have new battles to fight.

After touring all around the world with her film (including trips to Argentina and Israel), Leeman will be at the Siskel Center for an audience Q&A on Sunday March 2. For complete schedule details, visit www.siskelfilmcenter.org or call the box office: (312) 846-2600.


Reactions to the Lyric Opera’s premiere of Doctor Atomic were mixed and none of my companions liked it as much as I did. Life in Los Alamos, New Mexico during the final days of WWII might seem like an unlikely setting for grand opera, but I found John Adams’ musical expression of the drama surrounding the creation of the first atomic bomb thrilling. The opening moments make it clear that the principal characters, especially Jewish physicists J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller, came to the Manhattan Project motivated in large part by their hatred of Hitler and his Nazi regime. And lyricist Peter Sellers gives Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty arias based on the work of Jewish-American poet Muriel Rukeyser (even though Kitty herself was not Jewish). Unfortunately there are no recordings yet, so it may be quite some time before you get another chance to decide for yourself.


Tziviah bat Yisroel v’Hudah (Jan Lisa Huttner) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples (www.films42.com). Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to Tzivi@msn.com.

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