Nov ’07 Spotlight

Tovah Feldshuh will be making two appearances in metro Chicago this year. She’s playing Golda Meir in the new film O Jerusalem, and she’ll be at the North Shore Center in Skokie playing Katherine Hepburn in the one-woman show Tea at Five.

“How did my journey as Golda begin?” she echoed when I called her at home in Manhattan. “I met a woman, a real New York intellectual, and she called me in the summer of 2002 and said, ‘I just saw a play and it’s got your name on it. It’s called Golda’s Balcony.’ I called my manager and my manager pursued and brought me back an offer like that. I said: ‘I’ve played many Jewish mothers, but never the mother of a state,’ and I took on the role.”

Intrigued, I asked her to summarize the difference between being a Jewish mother and being the mother of the Jewish State. “Well,” Feldshuh replied, “I think that actually the reason she was so great is that there was a no difference for her. She so personalized the Jewish state that Israel became her third child.”

Indeed, this is exactly how we first encounter the unnamed character we all recognize as “Golda Meir” in O Jerusalem: when British officers arrest a young Jewish woman, she insists that they arrest her as well. In that scene: “I’m a mother; she’s a mother. A daughter of Israel is being threatened. I am furious, just furious that the police are so unconscious of the threat to this young woman.”

“I didn’t start doing Golda Meir and say: ‘Oh, this is going to be the greatest role of my career.’ Never! I just started to go moment-to-moment in a play that I wasn’t sure fully worked. Director Elie Chouraqui saw me in the play and asked me to do it in the movie, same thing.”

“I played Kate Hepburn very briefly in the earliest part of my career opposite Tommy Lee Jones in The Amazing Howard Hughes. I researched that like a banshee and practiced and practiced and practiced; you have to capture the speech pattern and not imitate it. You have to bring her close. That’s my theory about great acting: bring them close. Find out where she and you correspond and start from there.”

What is it that enables Tovah Feldshuh to embody these iconic women? “The desire to experience a sense of valid power in my own life! They were not willing to be victims; they would not buckle!”

O Jerusalem, which opens locally on November 9, tells the story of the 1948 fight for control of Jerusalem. It tries very hard to be evenhanded and reflect multiple points of view, and while it doesn’t always succeed as drama, it’s a noble effort.

Tea at Five will run from December 19 through December 23 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets, visit or call the Box Office at (847) 673-6300. The Amazing Howard Hughes, an Emmy-winning 1977 made-for-TV movie, is now available on DVD.


This year’s Chicago Humanities Festival runs from October 27 through November 11, and Dean Phillip Bell, chief academic officer at Spertus Institute, is prominent on the program. Bell’s session, “Weathering the Storms,“ is scheduled for 1 PM on Sunday, November 11, at the Claudia Cassidy Theater at the Chicago Cultural Center on Randolph and Michigan.

To get ready, I read Bell’s newly published history Jews in the Early Modern World. Regular readers of this column know that I am extremely interested in how the Diaspora produced separate Ashkenazic, Mizrachic and Sephardic populations now living side-by-side in Israel today. I found lucid answers to many of my questions in the excellent chapter “Settlement and Demography,” complete with charts and maps of various migratory patterns that turn out to be far more complicated that I’d ever imagined. For example, while many Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in the Fifteenth Century moved to the Ottoman Empire (becoming the Ladino-speaking residents of Turkey and the Balkans), some moved to Hamburg. They developed intricate relationships, once there, with local Jews, even though, as Bell explains: “these communities were very different in terms of religious customs and social and economic status.”

For more information, including tickets, visit or call (312) 494-9509.

Congregation Kol-Ami has a very special program planned for Saturday, November 17. Originally the South Shore Temple (founded in 1922), Kol-Ami moved to its Water Tower location in 1976. In honor of their 85th year, the congregation has commissioned Andrea Jill Higgins to write liturgical music which will be performed in the Thorne Auditorium on Chicago Avenue and Lake Shore Drive beginning at 7:30 PM. Eleven cantors from all across metro Chicago will perform alongside Kol-Ami’s cantorial soloist Leslie Newcorn and the Kol-Ami choir. Higgins will conduct her own compositions as well as familiar prayers and beloved sacred music.

“The Crown of a Good Name,” Higgins’ newest piece, is based on text from Proverbs and Pirkei Avot (“The Ethics of Our Fathers”) that was specifically selected by members of the Kol-Ami congregation. Newcorn told me she was “filled with emotion the first time she heard it.” She loved the way Higgins had “transformed the text we gave her,” and she also admitted that it was the first time she’s ever sung anything “created for my voice.”

For more information, visit or call (312) 664-4775.


I saw many excellent films at last month’s 43rd Annual Chicago International Film Festival, including Joseph Cedar’s Beaufort (very likely to be Israel’s candidate for “Best Foreign Language Film” in next year’s Oscar race). For a complete overview, including more films by Jewish directors such as Suzanne Bier (Things We Lost in the Fire) and Helen Hood Sheer (Jump!), visit my website:


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

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