2018-01-03 / Local News

Politz eighth grader’s vision for an all women performance group gets funding

MEET LEAH SPECTOR…
By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff

FAMILY: Parents Aaron and Sabrina; siblings A.J. 11, Danny, 7, and Cara 4

SYNAGOGUE: Sons of Israel

FAVORITE ACTRESS: Julie Andrews

FAVORITE MOVIE: The Sound of Music

FAVORITE TV SHOW: Friends

A born performer, Leah Spector dreamed of becoming a Broadway star when she was younger.

At school, the JCC Camps in Medford, and with any chance she gets, she throws herself into her roles in dramas, musicals, choirs and other activities that involve a stage or a live audience.

“I kind of like attention, but not in a bratty kind of way,” explained the Politz Day School eighth-grader. “Performing makes me feel good.”

Judaism too is very important to Leah, whose mother Sabrina is the Katz JCC’s cultural director. So it was disappointing at first when she realized that an acting career would require a commitment she is not prepared to make: Performing on Shabbat.

“I really can’t do that if I want to be an Orthodox Jew,” she explained.

Fortunately, another aspect of Leah’s personality is that she thrives on problem solving. Also, she relishes leadership opportunities. So it is perhaps not surprising that Leah came up with a solution to the problem. Her idea is to create a women’s performance group that follows a Jewish calendar. Working with Ilana Weiss, a fellow Sons of Israel congregant, the theatre group will be multi-generational and inclusive of all women who want to join. The project will culminate with a live show before an all-female audience at the Katz JCC at a future date. She and Weiss were recently awarded $1,400 from the Jewish Community Foundation to fund the production.

“I had a vision of an all women’s, full-on theater program in which any one Jewish can join,” she said. “I know a lot of theater people from camp who go to Beth El, M’kor Shalom and other synagogues who would be interested and that my friends in school don’t know at all. It would be so nice if we were all involved together.”

Weiss can relate to the dilemma facing young observant women who want to be involved in theater. A 2005 Yeshiva University graduate, she too loved performing as a kid but mostly gave it up by high school as observing Shabbat become more important and Jewish youth group took up more of her time.

“Since the opportunities for me to perform in a way that allowed me to stay true to my religious observance did not exist, I pretty much left behind that part of my life,” she said. “While I wouldn’t give up Shabbat for anything, I have often wished that there would have been some way for me to do both. So I see this project as a way to make it so that Jewish women - young and old - can do something that they love without having to choose between Jewish life and values and performing.”

Weiss now works (remotely) as the associate executive director of RESPECT, an Omaha, Nebraska-based non-profit that uses theatre to educate adolescents about bullying, abuse, mental health and healthy relationships.

“In my role at RESPECT, I handle a large portion of the operations, program development, PR and fundraising for the organization so I am very comfortable making those same kinds of things happen for the project that Leah and I are doing together,” she noted.

Having obtained the JCF grant, the group’s first steps will involve finding a director for the venture, spreading the word to interested women and figuring out the direction the group will be taking.

Spector said she would not be upset if she does not the star of this production since she will be involved in more of the behind-the-scenes decisions.

“If I’m the one in charge, it wouldn’t be fair if I get main role in the play,” she said. “I will definitely leave that up to the director.” 

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