Frankly speaking; Creating a strong base at Bais Abraham

Sara Winkelman and Rabbi Hyim Shafner 

BY ELLEN FUTTERMAN

Frankly speaking

For the first time in its 18-year history, the New Jewish Theatre will stage  “The Diary of Anne Frank” — the first show of its 2014-2015 season. 

“In our chai season we made a decision to do life affirming shows — that is the essence of our 2014-2015 season,” says Kathleen Sitzer, artistic director of NJT. “We felt it was time to do ‘Anne Frank.’ In our current space (at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theater inside the Jewish Community Center’s Arts and Education Building), we can accommodate a play like that, which requires a large set and a large cast.”

Sitzer explained that rather then announcing all five shows in the upcoming season, she is naming just two — “Anne Frank” and “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” based on the life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer. “Anyone who subscribes to the entire season based on the strength of these two shows will be entitled to two extra tickets to any show of their choice, free of charge,” she says. This offer is good until April 15, when the rest of the season will be announced. Call the box office at 314-442-3283 for more information.

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“The Diary of Anne Frank” will run Oct. 9-Nov. 2, with a special student matinee each of the four weeks. “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” will run Dec. 4-21 and star veteran local actress Susie Wall. Three of the five shows, including “Dr. Ruth,” will be regional premieres.

In reflecting on NJT’s nearly 18 years, Sitzer admits that she didn’t “have any idea where it was going” when she began.

“When I look back, I think, ‘Really?’ ” says Sitzer. “I’m just as amazed as a lot of people are. The theater business is fickle. You never know how long you can hang in there. So I guess we’re doing something right in connecting with our audience, which has been so supportive over the years.”

As a way to build on that support, NJT is presenting a benefit show featuring actor Ed Asner as “FDR” at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 27 at Edison Theatre. The play, which explores the life of one of America’s best-loved presidents, focuses on the events and decisions that shaped a nation during FDR’s years in office, from inauguration to the trials of World War II. 

Tickets are $50 with several levels of sponsor tickets available, each of which includes admission to the sponsor reception with Asner following the performance. Tickets are available online at newjewishtheatre.org or at 314-442-3283.

Creating a strong base at Bais Abraham 

Bais Abraham Congregation will celebrate its 120th anniversary at a gala celebration at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 30 at Washington University’s 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity Avenue in University City. The evening will pay tribute to the historic significance of the shul while celebrating its future.

Founded by 25 members in 1894 in downtown St. Louis, Bais Abe moved west several times to follow the migrating Jewish population. It settled in its present location at the west end of the Delmar Loop in 1973, under the leadership of Rabbi Abraham Magence. Born in Russia and trained in European yeshivot, Magence was known for his outreach to new Russian Jewish immigrants and to Washington University students, among many others, and was the spiritual leader of Bais Abe for more than 30 years. 

Magence was succeeded by Rabbi Hyim Shafner, who had served in India through the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and at St. Louis Hillel. Today, Bais Abraham is an active, Modern Orthodox synagogue with increasing numbers of young couples and families.

The gala will honor Shafner and his wife, Nishmah director Sara Winkelman, for their 10 years of spiritual leadership, paying tribute to their efforts to grow the congregation while maintaining its warm and inclusive character. Keren and Gabe Douek will receive the congregation’s Young Leadership Award. The evening will feature dinner and musical entertainment by acclaimed band, Juez. 

“Over the years, Bais Abraham has been a place open to new ideas, to innovation, to being creative, to trying whatever we can to engage the larger Jewish people,” says Shafner, adding that the membership has close to doubled during his tenure, to its current 100 or so families. “We have one of the most diverse populations, from rabbis to intermarried. It’s all about creating a comfortable home for (observant Jewish) people who might not find a home otherwise.”

Tickets are $110 and RSVPs are due March 17. For more information about the gala, call 314-721-3030 or visit www.baisabe.com/fundraiser2014.php.

Weigley fields a new job

Nancy Weigley has been named Central Reform Congregation’s new executive director, effective April 7. She will oversee the congregation’s daily operations and help further its mission. She replaces John Terranova, who is retiring after nine years at the congregation.

A longtime CRC member, Weigley has worked in the St. Louis Jewish Community for more than 22 years. Since 2005, she has been the Program Director for the National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis Section. Her job entailed the oversight of all membership, advocacy and community service programming.  She worked closely with committees and volunteers for projects such as the Back to School Store.  

Janet Rodgers, past CRC president, and head of human resources and the search committee said, “We are very excited to welcome Nancy, who we feel is uniquely qualified to help lead CRC forward.”

Weigley is also very excited to begin her new role as executive director.  “At first I was a little hesitant to throw my hat into the ring,” she said. “But as the process moved forward it became clear that (CRC) had what I am looking for and I had what they are looking for, so I think it will be a great match.  I am thrilled to take on a leadership role to further the CRC mission.”