Still Standing: A Musical Survival Guide’

By Shelley A. Sackett

While most of her 21-year-old colleagues were busy planning their post-college lives, Anita Hollander was undergoing chemo and radiation therapies after her first bout of cancer in her left leg.

When she returned to Carnegie Mellon University for her senior year, she played a cabaret evening of songs by popular singers. A favorite teacher who was in the audience changed the trajectory of her life when she challenged Hollander to use her recent life experience to write and perform her own material instead.

Hollander wrote “The Choice,” about the options one makes when faced with a deadly disease. By the time her cancer reappeared five years later in 1977 – this time necessitating amputation – Hollander was well on her way to creating her show, “Still Standing: A Musical Survival Guide to Life’s Catastrophes.”

The solo 15-song cabaret chronicles Hollander’s story, from her initial diagnosis to the post-amputation continuation of her career as a musical theatrical performer. Each song, packed with humor, intelligence, and musicality, describes resources that helped her endure and persist.

“Sense of humor, great imagination, chutzpah, perspective, family, love, children, art – there’s nothing you have to buy or get,” said Hollander by phone from her Manhattan home. “Anyone who sees the show can use these tools to get through difficult times, obstacles, whatever is in front of them.”

“Still Standing” has played at the Kennedy Center, the White House, Off-Broadway, and in theatres around the country.

The New Repertory Theatre at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown will present it from Feb. 9 through March 3 during Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month.
Since 2009, every February has represented a unified effort among Jewish organizations worldwide to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities. Last February, the Ruderman Family Foundation helped finance a performance of the show at Kerem Shalom, an inclusion congregation in Concord.

Hollander is as much a disability activist as a performer. “My whole career is playing roles that were not necessarily meant to be disabled, but I happened to be playing them with one leg,” she said. As national chair of the SAG-AFTRA Performers with Disabilities committee, Hollander keeps a “watchdog scorecard” of disabled people showing up in every form of media. While she thinks film still “woefully” lags behind, she is encouraged by the great strides theater and TV have made over the last 10 years.

Hollander and her three sisters grew up in Cleveland, the daughters of a part-time cantor who organized them into a four-part harmony group that “started singing before we could speak,” she said, doing shows at temple and singing at services. When Hollander married, she joined the Village Temple in New York, where she has been children’s choir director for 23 years.

She and the children collaborate to write songs about holidays and Tikkun Olam (“repair the world”). The kids came up with the idea for “Share the World,” a song that features them saying “welcome” in 20 languages that represent countries where Jews live (it’s available on YouTube).

“Working with the children’s choir has been one of the best things in my life,” she said.

Asked whether she could envision anyone else playing her part in such an intimate autobiographical piece, Hollander said she is writing a new show, “Spectacular Falls,” with the idea that someone else could perform it. However, she added that she is about to do 26 performances in a row of “Still Standing” without an understudy.

“It’s like being out on a wire without a net on one leg,” she said with a laugh.

The Mosesian Center for the Arts is located at 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. For tickets, visit newrep.org or call 617-923-8487.

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Ruderman Summit gives voice to disabled

 

Above: Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, presents Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin with the Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion in Tel Aviv earlier this year.

BY SHELLEY A. SACKETT

NOVEMBER 2, 2017 – Over 1,000 attendees will have the opportunity to hear 50 speakers address ways to open doors for people with disabilities when the Ruderman Family Foundation holds its 2017 Inclusion Summit at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center in Boston on Nov. 19 and 20.

Among those who will appear are disability activist Marlee Matlin, a Jewish performer who is the only deaf film star ever to receive an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for 1986’s “Children of a Lesser God;” Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire; Richard Marriott, chairman of the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities; and Joyce Banda, former president of Malawi.

“These are people who spend time and effort trying to change their community,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

For over a decade, the foundation’s philanthropic mission has emphasized both advocacy for the inclusion of people with disabilities worldwide and educating Israeli leaders on the American Jewish community. This is the second Inclusion Summit, and Ruderman expects the conference to sell out.

“Our approach to disability inclusion is very holistic and includes all aspects of life, from birth to death: entertainment, education, employment, housing, sports, politics, and more,” Ruderman said. “The purpose of the summit is to convene the movers and shakers in all these fields to share best practices and network. We want to amplify the momentum of the disability rights movement so that it can have a more prominent presence in mainstream American culture.”

Although the foundation  – which has offices in Boston and Israel – has a global reach, it has invested more than $20 million in strategic multiyear initiatives in the Metro Boston area. These programs touch the lives of people of all ages with all types of disabilities.

On the North Shore, Temple Sinai in Marblehead and Congregation Shirat Hayam are partners in the Combined Jewish Philanthropies/Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project, which helps create religious communities where people of all abilities can fully participate. The Jewish Community Center of the North Shore also partners with the foundation to offer a year-round early childhood education program and an inclusive summer camp that makes a fun experience available to both campers and staff with   disabilities.

It doesn’t stop there. The foundation’s partnerships with CJP and Newton-based Gateways: Access to Jewish Education provide opportunities for children with disabilities in kindergarten through grade 12 to receive a Jewish education in an inclusive community. The Morton E. Ruderman scholarship helps defray the cost of both school-based and ancillary services for students with physical and emotional challenges. The goal of both programs is to mainstream students with disabilities in Jewish educational programs.

High school students benefit from a number of Ruderman Family Foundation partnerships. Student-athletes with visual or mobility impairments can participate in high school sports across eight states through the Northeast Youth and High School Inclusive Sports Initiative, a joint program with Adaptive Sports New England. New England Yachad and the foundation sponsor high school clubs, a youth leadership board, and a Jewish youth group network that provide opportunities for participants with and without disabilities to attend retreats, leadership training, and meetings.

Young adults with disabilities can receive training and job placement though Transitions to Work, a partnership among the Ruderman foundation, CJP, and Jewish Vocational Services. Since 2011, 200 individuals have graduated from the program. Of the 72 percent who achieve competitive employment, over 90 percent stay at their jobs for at least one year.

Partnerships with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston and Dorchester; Brookline Community Mental Health Center; Mass. General Hospital; and the Boston Jewish Film Festival all further the foundation’s mission: inclusion of children and adults with disabilities as a social justice imperative.

Jay Ruderman feels strongly that bringing public attention to injustices suffered by people with disabilities is critical to starting a public debate. His family’s foundation’s current strategy of developing a strong advocacy presence is aimed at raising the general public’s awareness.

“We recognize that our grantees are excellent at providing services, but to change minds, and ultimately to change social attitudes, we also need advocacy,” he said.

All this activity and global impact is the outgrowth of the belief and commitment of foundation founder Morton E. Ruderman that disability rights are civil rights. When Jay Ruderman contemplates how far the foundation has come since it was established in 2002, he thinks his father, who died in 2011, would be surprised.

“We started out as a foundation that was really focused on the Jewish community in Boston, and now we’ve expanded to having worldwide reach. I think he’d be proud of that,” he said.

For more information or to register, visit inclusion2017.org.