Dorset Theatre Festival Closes The 2022 Season in Triumph with Its Remarkable World Première of “Thirst”

 David Mason and Kathy McCafferty in THIRST at the Dorset Theatre Festival. Photos by Joey Moro

by Shelley A. Sackett

Arriving early for “Thirst,” playwright Ronán Noone’s dazzling new play, is a stroke of good ole Irish luck. A crisp sound system pumps toe-tapping traditional pub music, setting a jig-worthy mood. Functional period lamps bathe the livable kitchen set in warmth, creating a cozy tone for arguably the best theatrical experience of the 2022 summer season.

By the time the Irish lilted announcements herald the play’s start, the audience has been transported to another time and another place.

And what a time and place it is.

Noone sets “Thirst” in the kitchen of the Tyrone family’s seaside Connecticut home on the August day in 1912 when Eugene O’Neill’s classic tragedy, “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” takes place. [Although familiarity with that play is not a prerequisite to “getting” ‘Thirst,’ Noone sprinkles his script with delicious breadcrumbs for those who have tasted the original to follow.]

While the Tyrones spend the day destroying themselves and each other offstage in their toile-wallpapered dining room, their cook, kitchen maid and chauffer spend theirs in the kitchen, sitting around the table together, enjoying their privacy and relative freedom while performing their demeaning menial duties. Their individual posts may have led them to this quasi-family-by-default situation, but they are genuine in their interactions. They bicker, they laugh, they tease and they worry. But they do it together, and it comes from their hearts. They genuinely need and enjoy each other’s company.

Each brings a different, but similar, back story to the mix.

Bridget Conroy emigrated from Ireland 16 years ago to become the Tyrone’s cook. Her outer shell is brittle and cynical, but she saves her harshest criticism and reproach for herself, especially for her closeted alcoholism. Yet, the only time she emerges from her carapace is when she’s juiced enough to black out the shame and regrets that poison her every sober breath and thought. Only then can she express — and admit to — the love and need she has for Jack.

Meg Hennessy, McCafferty

For his part, Jack Smythe, a local native and the Tyrone’s chauffeur, grew up poor in this place that is playground to the spoiled rich. He yearns to leave his hometown with its paper trail witnessing his past transgressions and finally, as he approaches middle age, set out to secure his independence and happiness.

Last, but hardly least, is the winsome new arrival, Cathleen Mullen, Bridget’s 18-year-old niece who miraculously survived her trip over on the ill-fated Titanic. She is feisty and blindly optimistic, determined to climb the golden ladder of American success.

These three flawed characters bring real troubles and equally real compassion to their shared  table. Bridget was banished from her home after giving birth at age 16; that birth is only thing she has done in her life that she’s proud of, in spite of its personal cost. Like the penitent sinner she believes herself to be, she dutifully sends money and a letter to her family every week. In 16 years, she has received not even a postcard in return. Although she loved the beach in Ireland, she won’t go to the sea just down the street, either because it makes her too homesick or because she must deny herself all pleasure as penance for her sin, or — most likely — both.

Jack was a drunk, so far gone he couldn’t face his wife’s illness and death and even missed her funeral, when Bridget found him in the street and, like a sick stray, took him home and nursed him back to physical and spiritual health. In return, Jack is determined to offer her the same life raft and save her from a life of self-pity and recrimination — a life he knows too well — not because he owes her, but because he loves her.

Cathleen’s bubble is burst when, shortly after arriving in America, she receives a letter from her fiancé announcing he is ditching her for a woman with property. She’s more annoyed and humiliated than heartbroken. Young, ambitious and resilient, she naively throws herself behind a ditzy plan to become the next “it” girl on Broadway.

These three have more in common than their woes, regrets and heartbreaks. They are survivors and they share a determination to live, no matter the consequences. They also really care about each other. Noone, with his well-tuned ear and light touch, pens robust yet sleek dialogue that tackles a lot of big ticket topics (shame, redemption, assimilation, discrimination to name a few) while staying grounded in the here and now of these three individuals and their intertwined daily lives.

By Ronán Noone Directed by Theresa Rebeck, Scenic Design: CHRISTOPHER & JUSTIN SWADER, Costume Design: FABIAN FIDEL AGUILAR, Lighting Design: MARY ELLEN STEBBINS, Sound Design: FITZ PATTON, Stage Manager: AVERY TRUNKO

Rebeck’s direction is economical, efficient and effective, and she lets each actor spread their wings and breathe life and individuality into their characters. They inhale, they exhale, they react, interact and bring each other lightness and laughter. Kathy McCafferty, as Bridget, is a whirling dervish of anger and productivity, and the kitchen is her made-to-order stage. She cooks (making real scrambled eggs over a real range), scrubs, arranges, rearranges and throws pots and pans, all while letting fly mouthfuls of rapid-fire heavily accented lines.

David Mason brings a lanky self confidence and Kevin Costner-esque genuineness to his Jack. He is a regular, decent guy who made a mistake, acknowledges it and just wants a shot at the brass ring with the girl of his dreams — nothing more, but nothing less.

Rounding out the trio is the lithesome and impossibly creamy-skinned (think yogurt, not heavy cream) Meg Hennessy as the vivacious Cathleen. She brings comic timing, physicality and a gift for facial mood changes that are as talented as they are entertaining.

If there is a flaw, it is that the women’s accented rapid-fire delivery is often muffled or lost, a shame (and annoyance) considering the richness of Noone’s craftmanship. A little microphone could go a long way.

That aside, there are too many positives to give them all justice. Mary Ellen Stebbins’ lighting paints the day’s passing with a sun shape shifting across the kitchen walls. Fitz Patton makes optimum use of a terrific sound system. And Christopher and Justin Swader’s set design, with its punctuating swinging back door, adds more than a mere scenic element — it is an escape route from all the Tyrone kitchen represents to a world of fresh air and fresh starts.

That door swings both ways. Jack and Bridget, after two plus hours, finally manage to cross over the threshold to the land of hope and promise. And Cathleen? Only time — and perhaps a sequel — will tell.

‘Thirst’ — Written by Ronán Noone. Directed by Theresa Rebeck; Scenic Design by Christopher and Justin Swader; Sound Design by Fitz Patton; Lighting Design by Mary Ellen Stebbins, Costume Design by Fabian Fidel Aguilar. Presented by Dorset Theatre Festival, Dorset, Vermont. The run has ended.

Was the Gangster Meyer Lansky a Mensch?

Meyer Lansky

Lansky as pictured in Lang’s graphic novel.

Photo Credit: Illustration by Andrea Mutti and Shawn Martinbrough/Courtesy Jonathan Lang

By Shelley A. Sackett

When Jonathan Lang ’98 set out to write a graphic novel about the notorious Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky, he was determined to capture the mobster’s life in all its moral complexity.

The result is 2019’s “Meyer,” for which Lang wrote the story and text (illustrations by Andrea Mutti and Shawn Martinbrough), a fictionalized account of Lansky’s last days hiding out in a Miami nursing home in the 1980s.

In the book, Lansky has one last caper to commit, and while it leads to plenty of murder and mayhem, it also exposes his menschy side – his connection to his Judaism, devotion to his grandfather and support of Israel.

“In my version, Meyer was a businessman and proud Jew,” Lang said. “My Meyer is kind of a Jewish geriatric hero.”

Lansky’s Life

Born Maier Suchowljansky in 1902 in what is now Belarus, Lansky and his family fled antisemitism in 1911, landing on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He got involved initially with bootlegging and small-time gambling, but then rose through the ranks to become known as “Mob’s Accountant,” running casinos and nightclubs for organized crime in Las Vegas, Cuba and Florida.

Lang sees Lansky’s career choice as very much the result of antisemitism in America at the time. Lang himself had relatives in Brooklyn in the 1940s who worked as numbers runners.

“Lansky didn’t accept the terms life offered him. He took what he wanted,” Lang said. “It wasn’t a matter of morality. It was a matter of survival.”

Lang said it remains unknown to what extent Lansky participated in the violence committed by some of his best-known associates such as “Bugsy” Siegel and “Lucky” Luciano.

The FBI portrayed him as the financial brains behind the mob’s operations — “he would have been chairman of the board of General Motors if he’d gone into legitimate business,” an agent once said — but even that is uncertain. A 1991 biography portrayed him as a failed businessman who bungled the mob’s casino operations in Cuba.

In 1970, Lansky was indicted for tax evasion. He fled to Israel but was refused the right to settle there. It was a devastating blow to the mobster, who had always hoped to be buried beside his beloved grandfather on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Lansky was eventually acquitted of some of the charges against him while others were dropped, partly because he was in ill health. He lived quietly in Miami until his death in 1983.

Lang Learns About Lansky

Lang’s fascination with Lansky goes back to his childhood, when his father, a neurosurgeon, saw the gangster in the hallway of a Florida hospital.

Lang’s father described Lansky, who was 5-feet 4-inches tall, as “this well-dressed little pisher” [Yiddish for a presumptuous person]. Lansky had the whole hospital hustling around to help him, radiating a presence that commanded respect. “My father said he never saw anything like it,” Lang said.

Lang said he had his own rebellious streak while growing up. He hung out with troublemakers and nearly got kicked out of Alexander Muss High School in Tel Aviv, which offers American students a year abroad in Israel.

“Kindness toward my bubbie [Yiddish for grandmother], performing tikkun olam [repairing the world] and still cutting class were exactly who I was,” he said. “I straddled the line, at times.”

After getting his master’s in film at the University of Amsterdam in 2000, Lang moved back to Florida, living in his childhood bedroom, surrounded by his baby pictures and bar mitzvah mementos.

Depressed, he sought comfort and refuge at the local library.

It was kismet that he picked up “Bloodletters and Badmen: A Narrative Encyclopedia of American Criminals from the Pilgrims to the Present,” a book he remembered using to write a report about Al Capone in the sixth grade. Thumbing through the book, he found the picture that would launch his novel.

A dapper Meyer, wearing sunglasses, was walking his little dog Bruiser in Miami Beach, looking over his shoulder. The FBI had taken the picture. “When was Lansky in Miami? Who was he watching out for?” Lang wondered.

Lang also thought back to his time at Brandeis when he volunteered as a companion to the elderly at a local retirement home. There, he met Fred Flagg, an amazing 103-year-old member of the first graduating class at Tufts Medical School.

They got together once a week, and Lang would sit and soak up his beguiling stories. “What if my community service was with a gangster?” Lang thought to himself, and that gave him the idea of setting his book in a nursing home.

Lang also read about how Lansky secretly worked with the U.S. Navy during World War II to spot German U-boats along the New York City docks he controlled. “This is a man who was both needed and prosecuted by the same government. How do you reconcile that?” Lang asked.

Lang Meets Lansky II

In another instance of kismet, Lang was busy promoting his book on Instagram last fall. While checking his direct messages, he saw one that stopped him cold. “This is Meyer Lansky. I need to talk to you about your book,” it read.

Terrified, Lang says his first thought was, “Is this his ghost?” After a quick search, he realized it was his grandson, Meyer Lansky II.

Lang called Lansky II, and the two hit it off. Lansky II liked the book so much that he offered to write a blurb endorsing it.

Lang and Lansky II are now discussing a synagogue tour and other appearances.

“What a bizarre turn,” Lang said. “An imaginary biography led to a relationship with walking history.”

This article was published in The Jewish Experience https://www.brandeis.edu/jewish-experience/

Teens return from Y2I trip with fierce allegiance to Israel

Y2I teens at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photos courtesy of Lappin Foundation

by Shelley A. Sackett

After a two-year pandemic hiatus, the Lappin Foundation’s 12-day, fully subsidized Youth to Israel Adventure resumed this summer, and the 83 teens from 31 local communities and 41 high schools returned on July 8 with reactions that reflected a somber reality.

Against the current backdrop of rising global antisemitism and increased incidents of anti-Israel sentiments and activities on college campuses, the 2022 Y2I cohort was especially receptive to learning ways to help them face the challenges they may soon confront as college students.

Although the teens still kvelled over praying at the Kotel (Western Wall) on Shabbat, viewing sunrise from Masada and swimming in the Dead Sea, their post-trip reflections also reveal more sobering concerns about coping with the world in which they live.

By far the experience most mentioned as having had a significant impact were two presentations by StandWithUs director of international student programs Charlotte Korchak. Speaking passionately and from personal experience, she explained the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and counseled how to best respond when encountering anti-Israel propaganda and misinformation.

The presentations are a regular part of the Y2I experience, but resonated particularly with this group. StandWithUs is an international Israel education organization that inspires and educates people of all ages and backgrounds, challenges misinformation, and fights antisemitism.

“Building on Y2I’s positive impact of enhancing Jewish identity, building community, and connecting teens to Israel, the teen Israel experience also takes on added importance of educating teens on how to identify and respond to antisemitism in its many forms,” said Lappin Foundation Executive Director Deborah L. Coltin, who has supervised Y2I since 2006. “The Jewish community has an obligation to do this. If we don’t do this, who will?”

At the Cardo in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Ephram Adler, of Wenham, wondered whether Israel might really be the aggressive apartheid regime he read about before the trip during a perusal of online posts and comments about Israel, Gaza, and the West. Now, armed with facts, he better understands how misinformation thrives on such sites and “feeds monsters.”

Several teens were surprised to discover how little they knew about the conflict and how complicated it is. “I learned neither side is completely innocent, and it is important that I stay involved and informed as a non-Israeli Jew,” said Sarah Diamond of Malden.

With antisemitic incidents becoming more commonplace in their own schools and community settings, the teens luxuriated in the freedom and empowerment they felt being in a land where they were not a minority and where expressing Jewish pride did not pose a risk to their safety.

“Israel is a place where I do not have to explain myself to anyone. It is such a beautiful thing to see Jewish people walking around, going about their day as a Jew, and wearing their religious attire without fear,” said Naomi Smith of Amesbury.

Y2I teens in Jaffa.

For many teens, especially those who lack a local Jewish community, the Y2I trip provided an important connection between their homeland and their homes. “Before this trip, I knew very few Jewish people in my town [Newbury] or at my school, but now I feel a have a community of Jewish friends I can always turn to if I ever need to talk about antisemitism in my town or stuff related to being Jewish,” said Sofia Colden.

Some, like Rachel Freedman of Peabody, said the sense of belonging she felt in Israel helped her see a whole new side of Judaism. “Israel felt like home. Now I have a voice and I’m not scared to use it. I’m not afraid anymore. Yes, I’m Jewish and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m proud to be who I am. Y2I helped me find that,” she said.

For five teens, the opportunity to enhance their Jewish identity occurred during the trip when they decided to have an informal Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Emma Mair, one of the counselors and a college student at Mount Holyoke and rabbinic intern at Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody, led the (re)commitment to Judaism ceremony.

“This moment gave me the opportunity before I returned home to further connect myself to my Judaism with those I grew so close to over the course of this journey,” said Drew McStay of Danvers, one of the five.

For many, the biggest takeaways from the trip were the surprising nuances of Israeli culture and customs, which opened their eyes to a new way of contemporary life. Diamond found it interesting and “honestly, a relief” to see so many reform teens who supported issues like feminism and gay marriage. “I felt like I could really relate to these modern-day residents of the Holy Land,” she said.

For Chase Goldberg of Lynnfield, a chance encounter revealed the heart of the homeland. In Tel Aviv, he was looking for a missing scavenger hunt item he had no idea where to find. A man sitting nearby witnessed his struggle and offered to help, giving him a detailed explanation of where it was.

“I learned later that random acts of kindness like this are not random in Israel; it is just their way of life,” Goldberg said.

Virtual Services connect and expand the Shirat Hayam community

‘A Beautiful Noise’ comes to Emerson Colonial Theatre

Shirat Hayam’s Zoom services.

by Shelley A. Sackett

SWAMPSCOTT — Since 2020, Covid has significantly affected Jewish religious practice nationwide, and Shirat Hayam is no exception. Almost overnight, services — especially minyanim — went virtual by necessity. For many, the inability to gather in person — the very essence and meaning of “congregation” — is a hardship for which no amount of technology can compensate.

Nonetheless, this sudden shift has not been without its silver linings. According to tabletmag.com, an extraordinary number of people have engaged in Jewish experiences online owing to two important factors: the efforts by synagogues to put their programming and worship online immediately following the March 2020 moratorium on in-person gatherings, and the global accessibility of content.

For some locals, the convenience of attending services, study sessions and programming from their cozy homes has been a plus, especially during the cold, dark and snowy months. For others who live far beyond Shirat Hayam’s Swampscott location, virtual programming has made it possible for them to participate in services and feel part of the community.

“Shirat Hayam has been a leader in accessibility,” said Rabbi Michael Ragozin, noting that the temple removed stairs from its bima, revamped Shabbat services, and began Shulcasting almost two decades ago. “Investing in new technologies like Zoom, microphones, and webcams is a natural expression of our commitment to making a dynamic Judaism and Jewish community available to all.”

Arinne Braverman of Natick regularly attends Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services, usually via Facebook Live. Despite not having set foot in the physical building since becoming a member, she still feels connected.

She attends services online with her mother, Diana Edelman, also a CSH member, who lives fulltime in California. Although she misses the one-on-one informal and impromptu conversations with congregants, “I love not having to commute to and from shul,” Arinne said.

She believes strongly that people looking to join a synagogue should consider more than just its geographical convenience. Her own search took her quite a while. With the pandemic and the sudden possibility of remote attendance, she expanded her search from local to nationwide.

She ultimately chose CSH specifically because of its clergy. She first met Rabbi Ragozin when she was Executive Director of Northeastern University Hillel and he contacted her to offer his support after reading an article about Hillel’s fight against BDS and the surge in campus antisemitism. Later, he invited her to partner on CSH’s Campus Antisemitism Task Force training.

Although her mother, Diana, belonged to a local, in-person Reform synagogue, it wasn’t the right fit for her. At Arinne’s suggestion, she checked out a Shirat Hayam Shabbat service on Zoom and found what she was looking for. After confirming that remote access was not just a temporary response to Covid and would continue even when worship returned to in-person services, she joined.

She would like to attend in person, but recognizes that is not a viable option. “I would prefer to interact with other members so I would have a sense of belonging to a community or extended family,” she said.

Despite some annoyances (remote participants singing out of sync or not muting themselves while carrying on personal conversations during services), she likes the convenience and flexibility of remote attendance, especially the ability to mute her own microphone and video camera.

“Remote attendance provides me with the chance to participate in a service and enjoy the music, singing, spirituality and d’var Torah,” Diana said.

Donna Revman also enjoys remote Zoom services. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina but grew up in Marblehead, where she and her family attended Temple Israel. Even after she left the area, she always returned to Temple Israel and, after the merger with Temple Beth El in 2005, Shirat Hayam for the High Holy Days. When she couldn’t attend in person, she would watch the services on Shulcast.

She started attending minyan after her mother, Sylvia Revman z”l, passed away. “It was a way my sister in Massachusetts, my brother in New York, and I in North Carolina could honor my mother together during shloshim,” she said.

She prefers the more interactive Zoom services to Shulcast. “It gives me the opportunity to see the people attending, with a chance to say hello before and after the service, and even the ability to participate sometimes by leading one of the responsive reading sections,” she said.

Holly Strogoff, who lives in Florida, began attending the evening minyan services weekly after her father passed away. “I knew I wanted to honor him by saying Kaddish, but I wasn’t sure how this would work,” she said.

Rabbi Michael suggested she check out Zoom services. “I am grateful to participate in services in the community where I was raised,” she said.

When she signed on to attend her first service, she was immediately welcomed into the group. “Although sometimes Zoom can seem impersonal, I found the services to be warm and welcoming. Since I started attending these minyan services, I have found comfort in the connection and plan to continue to attending,” Holly added.

A version of this article first appeared in the ‘New Wave’, the Congregation Shirat Hayam newsletter.

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Grand Horizons’ Asks, “After 50 Years of Marriage, What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Cast of Gloucester Stage’s ‘Grand Horizons’

by Shelley A. Sackett

Nancy and Bill (played by real life spouses and stellar actors Paula Plum and Richard Snee) are introduced in their cookie cutter split level house as they go about their chores preparing for dinner. Silently and robotically, they perform their choreographed rituals. Bill sets the table; Nancy dishes out the food. Is this a couple so in sync after so many years that they don’t need to talk or is each seething with rancor just below their calm demeanor?

Finally, Nancy speaks. “I think I would like a divorce,” she says matter-of-factly. “All right,” Bill responds.

With all the subtlety of a network TV sitcom, their thirty-something sons, Ben (Jeremy Belize) and Brian (Greg Maraio) burst through the front door of their Grand Horizons independent-living home, outraged and sputtering about their parents’ obligation to stay together for the sake of the kids, especially since they’re almost dead anyway. “You’re almost 80. How much else even is there?” asks the stereotypical and bossy first-born Ben. Brian, the self-absorbed, whiny, indulged “baby,” just wants the nest he grew up in and never really left to remain intact.

Paula Plum, Greg Maraio, Richard Snee

Nancy, a retired librarian, has other ideas. After a loveless marriage, she feels like time is running out. “I want to be seen, praised and appreciated,” she says. She also wants to change the role she plays with her sons from their caregiver to adult peer. “You have to hear this,” she tells a resistant Brian as she reveals details of her intimate life he would rather not hear. “I will be a full person to you.”

For his part, Bill just wants to tell a decent joke and to that end has enrolled in a comedy class at the recreation center. A grump with questionable timing, his future as a stand up comic is less than assured.

Paula Plum, Greg Maraio

The remainder of the two hour (including intermission) production examines what happens to this family when its foundation cracks. The sons rant, rave and pout in a cardboard two-dimensional orbit. Ben’s wife, Jess (Marissa Stewart), a caricature of a touchy-feely therapist, urges her in-laws, who were never physically close, to begin the healing by holding hands. The “kids” prefer their la-la land of denial to facing the mature realities and responsibilities of adulthood. Their parents’ actions are a shot across the bow of their own lives they are unable to appreciate.

Nancy and Bill are written with more complexity and their calm acceptance and assessment of life’s vicissitudes is a welcome respite from the slapstick, hit-or-miss dirty jokes and gratuitous gay romp scene. Plum’s comedic physicality is understated (the sandwich scene is a knockout) and her verbal timing and intonation are, as always, impeccable. Snee brings a relaxed and easy calm to Richard, letting his softer and more vulnerable side quietly seep through his hardened, gruff exterior.

Snee, Plum

It is through them that Wohl asks the big ticket questions she wants us to consider: What is a “great” marriage? When (if ever) does a couple’s duty to sacrifice their own happiness and stay together for the sake of their kids shift? At what point do parents have a responsibility to treat their children like the adults they are and force them to grow up and stand on their own two feet? Is it ever too late to shift gears and change the course of a life-long marriage?

And, perhaps most important, what exactly is love?

Although the play at times seems to wander in search of its genre, Wohl’s underlying messages, the terrific Plum and Snee and a killer ending to Act I save the day.  For tickets and information, go to: https://gloucesterstage.com/

Written by Bess Wohl; Directed by Robert Walsh; Scenic Design by Jenna McFarland Lord; Costume Design by Chelsea Kerl; Lighting Design by Anshuman Bhatia; Sound Design by Dewey Dellay. Presented by Gloucester Stage through August 21.

Gloucester Stage Company’s ‘Gloria’ Provocatively Asks, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”

Cast of Gloucester Stage’s production of “Gloria” by Branden Jacob Jenkins. Photos: Shawn G. Henry

by Shelley A. Sackett

‘Gloria’ takes us on a ride inside the rollercoaster that is the essence of a 2010s Manhattan cultural magazine’s editorial assistant bullpen subculture. (Its playwright, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, worked at The New Yorker for three years). These players are unapologetic and clear about their singular goal: to leave their dead end stepping-stone jobs, climb out of the low prestige depths of editorial assistantship and secure a book deal before turning thirty. Each is constantly on the backstabbing prowl in search of that tipping point moment that will catapult them out of their murky office pit.

Reminiscent of the long-running television hit, “The Office,” the first act of ‘Gloria’ is an entertaining mash-up of deadpan humor, smart and provocative language and near slapstick-caliber physicality. The dialogue is full of wit, sarcasm, social commentary and sharp insight, delivered at breakneck speed. Competitive malice is the glue that binds these folks; shredding insults is their common language. No one is happy and no one is to be trusted, from the Harvard intern (Miles) who wears headphones as a decoy to the jaded almost-30 closet memoirist (Dean), the acid-tongued spoiled shopaholic narcissist (Kendra) and the spiritually eviscerated factchecker (Lorin) and over-educated, underpaid receptionist (Ani) .

Yet, in their individual and collective ways, this motley crew of wannabes somehow endears themselves as they bare their fangs, souls and vulnerabilities. They become like family — with all its good, bad and ugliness —and we accept and appreciate the way they unapologetically let it all hang out. Bryn Boice’s thoughtful and affective direction exposes their naked underbellies, yet still elicits our caring and empathy.

Into this mix enters Gloria, a pathetic and classic spinster loner who has dedicated her life to the magazine. An editor, she is the butt of more than one cruel joke and the object of the bullpen’s venomous envy. The night before, she threw herself an extravagant birthday party, complete with DJ and catered food. She invited the entire staff of the magazine; only one editorial assistant showed up, adding salt to an already unhealable wound.

Michael Wood, Ann Dang

The repercussions of this slight go beyond hangovers and lame excuses, but it would be truly criminal to reveal what they are. Suffice it to say that Act I’s ending guarantees that no one is likely to leave during intermission.

Act II shifts gears so dramatically the audience is at risk of whiplash. Eight months later, the same characters are still front and center, but as individuals leading separate lives away from the magazine. All are dealing with the aftermath of a shared trauma that each exploits their own way. Gone is Jacobs-Jenkins’ spicy, electric-paced dialogue, replaced by the dull and relentless thrum of boundless, humorless ambition.

Jacobs-Jenkins does not hide the ball. His message — that we live in an age of exploitation that has no bottom — weighs heavy and depressingly without the fleet-footed wit he brought to his first act, and it’s a weary audience that welcomes the play’s end.

Ann Dang, Theresa Langford, Michael Broadhurst

Despite an uneven script and inconclusive ending, Gloucester Stage’s production is definitely worth seeing. Small touches add a lot. Props such as Asus and Toshiba laptops (remember those?) and a sound track of J. S. Bach: Mass in B minor ground us in the moment. The cast is terrific, and does its best to articulate Act I’s rapid-fire monologues clearly (strong standouts are Michael Wood as Dean and the talented Teresa Langford as Ani; Michael Broadhurst’s meltdown as Lorin gives Peter Finch’s classic “Network” stiff competition). Esme Allen brings an unpretentious ease to Act II’s Nan. And Boice misses no chance to add meaningful touches; under her direction, even changing sets becomes an opportunity for whimsical choreography.

‘Gloria,’ a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2016, raises important issues for this era of continuing confusion and division over what constitutes news and how it should get disseminated. Should writers only create their own stories, or is it okay to co-opt someone else’s? Whose story is a shared event to tell and who decides what the “true” version of that story is? What are the differences between storytelling as catharsis, opportunism and exploitation and does it even matter anymore? Do those lines still exist?

Perhaps Lin-Manuel Miranda summed it up best in his peerless “Hamilton” when he wrote, “You have no control, Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”

‘Gloria’ — written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Directed by Bryn Boice. Scenic Design by Jeffrey Petersen; Costume Design by Rachel Padula-Shufelt; Lighting Design by Aja M. Jackson; Sound Design by David Remedios. Presented by Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main St., Gloucester through June 26.

For more information and tickets, go to: https://gloucesterstage.com/

After two-year lapse, teens will head to Israel for Y2I Adventure

 

Teens get to know each other during Y2I pre-trip meetings.

By Shelley A. Sackett

BEVERLY — Over the last two years, the pandemic has clipped the wings of many a traveler, including rising sophomores and juniors who had hoped to go on Lappin Foundation’s 12-day, fully subsidized Youth to Israel Adventure.

Established in 1970 by the late philanthropist Robert Israel Lappin as a way to build Jewish pride, connect young people to Israel, and imbue them with a sense of love and responsibility for their Jewish brethren, the trip has become a rite of passage for teens who live in any of the Lappin Foundation’s north of Boston service area’s cities and towns.

Despite lingering concerns about COVID-19, the Y2I trip will resume from June 26 to July 8, with 83 teens from 31 communities and 41 high schools. More than one-third are from interfaith families, and Camp Bauercrest campers will join Y2I for the third time.

“Community building is a big part of the trip,” said Lappin Foundation Executive Director Deborah L. Coltin, who has supervised Y2I since 2006.

Coltin acknowledges that the big difference between 2022 and previous Y2I trips has to do with COVID-19 precautions. While the pre-trip meetings and trip itinerary remain largely unchanged, testing, mandatory proof of vaccinations and boosters, and contingency plans in case anyone tests positive prior to departure from Israel provide added layers of safety.

“We will abide by the rules of travel that are in effect at the time. Other than that, the trip will be full of activity, exploration, new friends, and self-discovery,” Coltin said.

Danvers High School sophomore Norah Hass is not worried about any aspect of the trip. She learned about it from her brother Jared, who made the trip in 2019, and welcomed the opportunity to meet more Jewish teens. “Danvers has a very small Jewish community, so this will be a nice change,” she said. She is most excited to swim in the Dead Sea, which she has heard is “something everyone should experience once in their lifetime.”

An informal discussion during a pre-trip Y2I meeting.

Ariana Selby, whose two teens Jackson, 17, and Talia, 15, will travel with Y2I on the trip, likewise has no concerns about her children’s safety. “The Y2I teams has been extremely informative and transparent throughout the process of planning and arranging travel,” the Marblehead mom said. “Israel is known for its superior healthcare system, so I am not worried about COVID-19.”

Her youngest, Nathan, 13, is looking forward to his turn in a few years. Selby hopes her teens grow together as siblings during the trip and make lasting bonds with other travelers. “I also hope they are inspired to form a deeper connection to their Jewish roots,” she added.

While Claudia Granville, of Boston, is a full-throated supporter of both the Lappin Foundation and the Y2I experience, she is a little worried about what would happen if her daughter Mabel, 16, tested positive in Israel and had to stay in a designated hotel until testing negative, but is optimistic the policy may have changed by July.

Even so, Mabel and her family remain enthusiastic about her upcoming opportunity, which Granville calls “a foundational trip for Jewish teenagers growing up in this time” amid the profound prevalence of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. “It is essential for our teens to be exposed to and experience Israel in a positive light, especially before college,” she said. She hopes Mabel, who plans to join Lappin Foundation’s Teen Antisemitism Task Force next year, will learn enough to return home with “talking points when she is inevitably faced with anti-Israel rhetoric.”

For Elizabeth Cushinsky and her four children, Y2I is a family affair. Seth, 17, will follow in his three sisters’ footsteps when he attends Y2I this summer. She has no concerns for Seth’s physical safety while in Israel, but she is concerned about COVID-19 and the fact that he and his fellow travelers will be traveling on a plane, touring in buses, and staying in hotels.

“This is a trip of a lifetime for him. There is no question that the benefits outweigh the risks,” the Marblehead mom said.

She hopes Y2I inspires Seth to join Hillel in college and continue enjoying and practicing his Judaism as he grows older. “Even living in a Jewish area on the North Shore, we struggle to bring our children up in a largely Christian world. It gets even more challenging as they grow older,” Cushinsky said, noting with pride that Seth wears a mezuzah around his neck every day.

To Cushinsky, Y2I’s focus on inclusivity is as noteworthy as its emphasis on Jewish pride. “They go out of their way to make sure all teens feel welcome and supported, regardless of their needs [social, emotional, or related to another type of disability]. The supports are kept low key, so teens don’t feel different than anyone else on the trip,” she said.

Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s ‘The Bomb-itty of Errors’ Brings out The Bomb in The Bard

Cast of Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s ‘The Bomb-itty of Errors’

by Shelley A. Sackett

Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s “The Bomb-itty of Errors” is perfect pre-summer fare. Hip-hop and rap, a live DJ, a brilliantly exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) script, some sublime acting and — as if that’s not enough — the Bard himself, camouflaged but hardly hidden. All wrapped neatly in a 90-minute intermission-less package that is as invigorating as it is boisterous.

The brainchild of four final-year students at New York’s Tisch School of the Arts, “Bomb-itty” started as a university project in 1998. It was so popular that it received enough support to return to New York the following year for a seven-month run, which in turn led to a lengthy Chicago run.

“Bomb-itty” is true to Shakespeare’s style of rhyming couplets, (sometimes bawdy) humor and historical references. The language often mirrors Shakespeare’s with references to other works sprinkled here and there to stroke the egos of those who recognize them. But the real star of the show is the vibrant, beatbox soundbox and the actors who manage to memorize a super-sized number of lines, which they deliver at break-neck speed.

The result is a theater experience unlike any I’ve experienced. (No, “Bomb-itty” is not a “Hamilton” clone. It’s way more fun.)

Based more than loosely on Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors,” the plot involves two sets of identical twins with identical names, mistaken identities, misfortunes galore and a slew of stereotypes (some more offensive than funny). To get the most out of the rapid fire lines and delivery, either arrive early enough to read the playbill’s summary (twice, at least), or spend some time digesting the on-line Cliff Notes version of the original. Trust me, it is time well spent.

Despite first appearances (the prologue is a gem), “Bomb-itty” adheres closely to Shakespeare’s play.

In the original, a merchant of Syracuse, Egeon, suffered a shipwreck some years ago in which he was separated from his wife, Emilia, from one of his twin sons, later Antipholus of Ephesus, and the son’s slave, Dromio of Ephesus. The other slave’s twin, Dromio of Syracuse and Egeon’s remaining son, Antipholus of Syracuse, remained with Egeon.

When he came of age, Egeon allowed Antipholus of Syracuse and his slave Dromio of Syracuse to go in search of his lost brother. When they didn’t return, Egeon set out after his remaining son, and the play begins as we learn of Egeon’s capture and his condemnation to death by Duke Solinus in the hostile city of Ephesus. The details of Egeon’s story move Solinus to pity, and he grants a reprieve until nightfall, by which time a ransom of a thousand marks must be raised.

Unbeknown to all, the missing Antipholus and Dromio landed in Ephesus after the shipwreck and have thrived there. Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant Dromio are thrown into confusion when, unknown to each other, their twin brothers of the same names arrive in town from Syracuse.

In “Bomb-itty,” the Antipholus and Dromio twins are now quadruplets, put up for adoption after their father, a famous rap MC (Master of Ceremonies), committed suicide. The time is today and Ephesus and Syracuse have been replaced by the US East and West coasts.

Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus visit Syracuse, New York, to take part in an MC competition. In the ensuing mayhem, one Antipholus is called home to a wife he never married, only to fall in love with her sister, Luciana. Meanwhile, the other Antipholus runs afoul of a policeman who enjoys a questionable relationship with his horse.

Four actors play most of the roles. Henry Morehouse as Dromio of Ephesus and Luciana chews up the stage. He has a natural physicality and stellar delivery and is comfortable and confident. He hands-down steals every scene in which he plays Luciana. A recent graduate of Boston University with a BFA in acting, Morehouse is a talent to be watched. His stage presence is spot-on and magnetic.

Likewise, the veteran actor Malik Mitchell brings the same charisma and acting chops to this production that those of us lucky enough to see him in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s “Once on this Island” have already experienced. His Dr. Pinch, the Rastafarian herbal “doctor,” is a show-stopper.

Anderson Stinson, III is all sinew and smiles in his many roles, shining as Antipholus of Syracuse. DJ Whysham strikes all the right beats and Victoria Omoregie rises to the challenge of her many character and costume changes.

Notwithstanding its gratuitous sexism, misogyny and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric (and a truly baffling and unforgivable antisemitic portrayal of a Jewish jeweler), the play is worth seeing for its high-energy, rowdy fun and for showing us what hip-hop and rap in the right hands can produce: a unique and exciting contemporary art form. If you listen carefully, you can feel the Bard’s ghostly presence, his sandaled toes tapping out the beats. For tickets and more information, go to: https://www.actorsshakespeareproject.org/

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MICHAELHOBAN

Cast of Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s ‘The Bomb-itty of Errors’

‘The Bomb-itty of Errors’ — Written by Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, Gregory J. Qaiyum, Jeffrey Qaiyum and Erik Weiner. Based on ‘The Comedy of Errors’ by William Shakespeare. Directed by Christopher V. Edwards. Scenic Design by Baron E. Pugh; Costume Design by Zoe Sundra; Lighting Design by Max Wallace; Props Design by Steve Viera, Sound Design by Abraham Joyner-Meyers. Presented by the Actors’ Shakespeare Projectat the Charlestown working Theater, 442 Bunker Hill St., Chares through June 26.

by Shelley A. Sackett

Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s “The Bomb-itty of Errors” is perfect pre-summer fare. Hip-hop and rap, a live DJ, a brilliantly exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) script, some sublime acting and — as if that’s not enough — the Bard himself, camouflaged but hardly hidden. All wrapped neatly in a 90-minute intermission-less package that is as invigorating as it is boisterous.

The brainchild of four final-year students at New York’s Tisch School of the Arts, “Bomb-itty” started as a university project in 1998. It was so popular that it received enough support to return to New York the following year for a seven-month run, which in turn led to a lengthy Chicago run.

“Bomb-itty” is true to Shakespeare’s style of rhyming couplets, (sometimes bawdy) humor and historical references. The language often mirrors Shakespeare’s with references to other works sprinkled here and there to stroke the egos of those who recognize them. But the real star of the show is the vibrant, beatbox soundbox and the actors who manage to memorize a super-sized number of lines, which they deliver at break-neck speed.

The result is a theater experience unlike any I’ve experienced. (No, “Bomb-itty” is not a “Hamilton” clone. It’s way more fun.)

Based more than loosely on Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors,” the plot involves two sets of identical twins with identical names, mistaken identities, misfortunes galore and a slew of stereotypes (some more offensive than funny). To get the most out of the rapid fire lines and delivery, either arrive early enough to read the playbill’s summary (twice, at least), or spend some time digesting the on-line Cliff Notes version of the original. Trust me, it is time well spent.

Despite first appearances (the prologue is a gem), “Bomb-itty” adheres closely to Shakespeare’s play.

In the original, a merchant of Syracuse, Egeon, suffered a shipwreck some years ago in which he was separated from his wife, Emilia, from one of his twin sons, later Antipholus of Ephesus, and the son’s slave, Dromio of Ephesus. The other slave’s twin, Dromio of Syracuse and Egeon’s remaining son, Antipholus of Syracuse, remained with Egeon.

When he came of age, Egeon allowed Antipholus of Syracuse and his slave Dromio of Syracuse to go in search of his lost brother. When they didn’t return, Egeon set out after his remaining son, and the play begins as we learn of Egeon’s capture and his condemnation to death by Duke Solinus in the hostile city of Ephesus. The details of Egeon’s story move Solinus to pity, and he grants a reprieve until nightfall, by which time a ransom of a thousand marks must be raised.

Unbeknown to all, the missing Antipholus and Dromio landed in Ephesus after the shipwreck and have thrived there. Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant Dromio are thrown into confusion when, unknown to each other, their twin brothers of the same names arrive in town from Syracuse.

In “Bomb-itty,” the Antipholus and Dromio twins are now quadruplets, put up for adoption after their father, a famous rap MC (Master of Ceremonies), committed suicide. The time is today and Ephesus and Syracuse have been replaced by the US East and West coasts.

Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus visit Syracuse, New York, to take part in an MC competition. In the ensuing mayhem, one Antipholus is called home to a wife he never married, only to fall in love with her sister, Luciana. Meanwhile, the other Antipholus runs afoul of a policeman who enjoys a questionable relationship with his horse.

Four actors play most of the roles. Henry Morehouse as Dromio of Ephesus and Luciana chews up the stage. He has a natural physicality and stellar delivery and is comfortable and confident. He hands-down steals every scene in which he plays Luciana. A recent graduate of Boston University with a BFA in acting, Morehouse is a talent to be watched. His stage presence is spot-on and magnetic.

Likewise, the veteran actor Malik Mitchell brings the same charisma and acting chops to this production that those of us lucky enough to see him in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s “Once on this Island” have already experienced. His Dr. Pinch, the Rastafarian herbal “doctor,” is a show-stopper.

Anderson Stinson, III is all sinew and smiles in his many roles, shining as Antipholus of Syracuse. DJ Whysham strikes all the right beats and Victoria Omoregie rises to the challenge of her many character and costume changes.

Notwithstanding its gratuitous sexism, misogyny and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric (and a truly baffling and unforgivable antisemitic portrayal of a Jewish jeweler), the play is worth seeing for its high-energy, rowdy fun and for showing us what hip-hop and rap in the right hands can produce: a unique and exciting contemporary art form. If you listen carefully, you can feel the Bard’s ghostly presence, his sandaled toes tapping out the beats. For tickets and more information, go to: https://www.actorsshakespeareproject.org/

‘The Bomb-itty of Errors’ — Written by Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, Gregory J. Qaiyum, Jeffrey Qaiyum and Erik Weiner. Based on ‘The Comedy of Errors’ by William Shakespeare. Directed by Christopher V. Edwards. Scenic Design by Baron E. Pugh; Costume Design by Zoe Sundra; Lighting Design by Max Wallace; Props Design by Steve Viera, Sound Design by Abraham Joyner-Meyers. Presented by the Actors’ Shakespeare Project at the Charlestown working Theater, 442 Bunker Hill St., Charles through June 26.

BLO’s ‘Champion: An Opera in Jazz’ Tackles Fate, Faith, Forgiveness and Redemption

by Shelley A. Sackett

Switching gears overnight due to pandemic-related issues, Boston Lyric Opera is to be commended for its recent perseverance and quick-footed adaptability. Instead of offering three performances of “Champion: An Opera in Jazz” as a full opera as rehearsed and planned, the company pivoted to only two concert-style productions with the masked orchestra on stage, costumed chorus in balcony box seats and main performers making do with a sliver downstage.

The only downside to the downsizing was that fewer people were able to experience this ambitious, modern masterwork that brings to life boxer Emile Griffith’s complicated story through a heart-rending melding of music styles and poignant lyrics. By the show’s end — at least in my row — there was not a dry eye. And isn’t that, after all, why we go to the theater and especially to opera? To feel?

The synopsis provided in the playbill is not a spoiler, but an essential guide. The scenes flip from present to past (with the magnificent Brian Major and Markel Reed respectively playing Emile today and during his boxing hey days of the 1960s) and without a roadmap, it’s easy to get lost.

Emile Griffith was not your typical boxer. Born on St. Thomas in the 1950s, he and his many siblings are abandoned by his mother, Emelda. As a youngster, Emile dreams of reuniting with his mother and becoming either a hat maker, a singer or a baseball player. Eventually, he finds her in New York and she introduces him to the hat manufacturer, Howie Albert. But, instead of offering Emile a job making hats, Howie focuses on Emile’s physique and pegs him as a welterweight boxer. He offers to train Emile, and with Emelda’s encouragement (and nose for money), Emile’s artistic dreams fade away.

The trouble is, Emile is gay at a time and in a profession where that is simply not an option. When Benny “Kid” Paret taunts Emile about being a “maricon,” (a Spanish insult for homosexuals) before and during their high-profile match in 1962, it is as if Benny has waved a cape during a bullfight. Emile literally sees red and in seven seconds delivers the 17 blows that will send Benny to the hospital in a coma, where he will die 10 days later.

Emile sits outside Benny’s room those long 10 days, wanting to say he is sorry and begging for forgiveness. His request is denied, and for the rest of his life, that lack of closure will wrack his soul and shake his faith.

Markel Reed, Terrence Chin-Loy and Brian Major from Boston Lyric Opera’s production of “Champion:An Opera in Jazz.”
Courtesy of David Angus, Boston Lyric Opera

Fifty years later, Emile struggles with the chronic traumatic brain injury, the result of “boxer’s brain” and a brutal beating he suffered outside a gay bar. The opera opens as Luis, his caregiver/adopted son/partner, helps dress him, reminding him of a special meeting they are scheduled to attend. Emile’s mind is afloat, uneasily alighting on memories of his fight with Benny and his own beating at the hands of bigots. He is  confused over the smallest action, such as putting on his shoes. He sometimes doesn’t know who or where he is.

Yet during moments of clarity, he remembers his past and the twist of fate that transformed his prized fists into weapons, forever rewriting his legacy from Champion Boxer to murderer.

During these times, he poses some very deep and heart wrenching questions.

“What makes a man a man; the man he is?” Emile wonders. “Who is this man who calls himself me?” Resigned to a life where redemption is beyond his grasp, he accepts his fate, believing he deserves it. “I go where I go,” he explains.

Blanchard’s music keeps the audience riveted and guessing as he winds from the full-throated operatic to slinky, smoky note-bending jazz to a gospel-tinged chorus to a N’awlins style second line. It’s the musical analog to Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations.”

The cast relishes every note. Baritones Major and Reed are nothing short of spectacular as Emile, both as actors and opera singers. Major is a big guy (think Paul Robeson), yet he controls that physicality to appear graceful and vulnerable. Reed is his foil, a compact pretty boy, all sinew and chartreuse satin. And man, can these guys sing.

The rest of the cast are equally noteworthy, from Tichina Vaughn as Emelda to Terrence Chin-Loy as Benny, Jesus Garcia as Luis, Stephanie Blythe as Kathy and Wayne Tigges and Neal Ferreira as Howie and the Ring announcer.

At the end of the day, however, we can’t help but wonder how Emile, in hindsight, might answer this question: was it worth it?

“Champion: An Opera in Jazz.” Music by Terence Blanchard; Libretto by Michael Cristofer. Music Direction by David Angus; Music Conductor – Kwamé Ryan; Set Design by Sara Brown; Costume Design by Trevor Bowen; Lighting Design by Marcus Doshi. Produced by Boston Lyric Opera at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre, 219 Tremont Street, Boston. (Run has ended)

Swampscott mother connecting hungry babies with donated formula

Keiko Zoll singlehandedly launched a nationwide site to match those needing baby formula with donors. Photo: Steven A. Rosenberg/Journal Staff

By Shelley A. Sackett

SWAMPSCOTT — Until her mom, who lives in New Jersey, casually mentioned the nationwide baby formula shortage to Keiko Zoll, news of the crisis was not on her radar. While Zoll was aware of the Abbott formula recall in February, as the mother of a 9-year-old son she hadn’t given it a second thought. “Recalls happen all the time,” she told the Journal, “and I’m a bit removed from the early parenting space.”

Sitting in her car, the nonprofit communications professional tuned into a podcast, “The Baby Formula Crisis,” to learn more. What she heard left her shaken and sobbing in her Swampscott driveway.

Story after story of mothers going to desperate lengths just to feed their babies unleashed memories of what it was like for her when her son was born six weeks prematurely and she had to locate a specialty formula that was critical to his survival and hard to find. She couldn’t imagine what it would have been like to deal with the added stress of a nationwide shortage at the same time.

An interview with a mother ready to pay hundreds of dollars for a single can of formula was Zoll’s tipping point. “As a mother, as a human being, how could anyone not empathize with these women?” she said. “For me, knowing there are babies who may die if they don’t receive the formula they need to survive – it was just too much.”

She knew she had to do something. That night, after her work as director of communications for the Boston Schools Fund, she started building a website to connect families who need formula with those able to donate it.

Just before midnight on Friday, May 13, the Free Formula Exchange website went live. Zoll emailed 300 personal and professional contacts in her network announcing its launch. By the end of the first week, there were 10,000 requests and 1,000 donors from all over the country.

“While this platform doesn’t increase the supply of formula, it does leverage existing supply that most people don’t realize they have access to,” she said.

Zoll and her son in 2013. The baby was born six weeks premature.

Zoll said she was outraged and disgusted by reports of people price-gouging formula online. She emphasized that freeformula.exchange is 100 percent free. Users must create an account to access its database, but no money exchanges hands.

“It was important to me to design a solution that removed the marketplace from the transaction. Cost shouldn’t be a barrier to feeding children.”

Zoll is no stranger to rolling up her sleeves when it comes to helping others. She is a founding member of the Swampscott Antiracism Caucus and helped organize March Like a Mother for Black Lives in Boston in June, 2020, in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. She has volunteered extensively for and served on the board of RESOLVE New England, a nonprofit supporting those struggling with infertility.

She is also a member of the Tzedek LaKol: Justice for All committee at Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, where she sits on the temple’s board of directors.

Zoll emphasizes that her experiences as a biracial woman have informed her activism throughout her adult life. “I know what it feels like to be unseen and unheard,” she said, referencing the bias, discrimination, and marginalization she has encountered

In addition, her personal values, which “exist at the intersection of Jewish belief and Japanese tradition,” have strongly influenced her volunteerism. She credits the Jewish emphasis on tikkun olam (repair the world) and the Japanese cultural belief known as wabi-sabi (an acceptance of the imperfection of life) as major guiding forces.

“My worldview settles into a comfortable space between these two beliefs: one that accepts our human flaws and also fights for just causes.”

Zoll knows firsthand how draining and overwhelming the onslaught of negative news can be. “It’s especially hard to be a parent in America right now. There are so few systemic supports and inequities abound,” she said.

She urges everyone who can to help out with the nationwide baby formula shortage, whether by scouring stores for formula to donate or simply providing a compassionate ear or shoulder or hug to support those parents who are totally stressed out.

“There are many ways we can all practice chesed (acts of loving-kindness) to our fellow humans in their time of need,” she said.

For more information and to request or donate formula, visit freeformulaexchange.com or follow @FormulaExchange on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.