The Blessing of a Broken Heart
based on the book by
in cooperation with
REVIEWS FROM THE JANUARY, 2022 PREVIEW PERFORMANCE...
Kudos!!! A riveting play with precise, sensitive, and poignant direction…Highly interesting choices in music, mise en scène and tableaux, and fluid roles of the actors. Rebecca Sykes is an excellent actor who elicits identification. Her presentation is impressive, multi-hued, and rich with subtext, and she offers a correct balance of intellect and feeling.
The entire cast does a wonderful job, worthy of praise, as they preserve tension and attentiveness among themselves.
The play itself is strong, thought-provoking, and not easy to digest. The text is piercing and sometimes difficult to take, impeccably expressing the clash between faith and heresy, and the broken heart of a mother who is struggling to recover.
My compliments on this artistic achievement!
~Assaf Berznitsky, Producer, Khan Repertory Company
An emotionally honest job...the staging and the ensemble were great...and I felt that Rebecca [Sykes] really identified...
Watching [this] play was a profound experience for me.
~Sara Yoheved Rigler
I couldn't stop talking about this the next day. I was so impressed by everything about this production!
~Sasha Gorev, Cinematographer
Rebecca [Sykes] is incredible...and the way the ensemble support and build the story...is so interesting and unusual...it brings a balance to the monologue. Fantastic direction...the whole production is so well done.
It's intense to be in the audience...but it's full of humor, too!
~Jessica Steinberg, Times of Israel reviews
Wow! Creative, authentic, and surprisingly redemptive. RESPECT!
~Oren Rosenfeld, Director and Screenwriter, Holy Land Productions
For Sara Rigler's review, click HERE.
For the JNS article, click HERE.
For cast, speaker, and crew bios, click here.
Sherri Mandell wrote a heartrending and hope-giving book in the year after her son Koby's murder. Todd Salovey's play brings that year searingly to life.
When Rabbi Seth Mandell approached me with the proposal that I direct Blessing, I was honored and intimidated in equal measure. Honored because it is important that this story be told; in its particular Israeli and Jewish context, and in its universal context of tragedy, bereavement, and resilience, this play is rich and deep. Intimidated because in order to honor and be faithful to the horror and the beauty of this personal history, entrusted to me by real people who courageously put their intimate grief and wounded hearts on display, I knew that I better get it right.
The play was written for one actor but we have added an ensemble of four skilled performers who limn the experience and emotions of the character of Sherri by creating scenes, and even set pieces and obstacles, with their bodies and voices in a powerful augmentation of the text.
I hope my audiences will leave the theater as saddened by the tragedy and as awed and inspired by the strength of Sherri Mandell's response as I am.
~ Yael Valier, Creative Director, Theater and Theology, Jerusalem
With John Krug's extensive experience in production and lighting design and Shari Greenspan's creative props and stage management, Blessing is set to open for audiences on March 14th in Jerusalem and then go on to Ra'anana and Gush Etzion. Performances will be followed by discussions on grief, faith, and doubt with Sherri Mandell, Rabbi Seth Mandell, and others. Click here for dates and tickets. Scroll down or click here for cast, speaker, and crew bios.
For more information about Sherri Mandell and the Koby Mandell Foundation, including programs for bereaved families, camps for children bereaved by terror, support services, and the hugely successful annual Comedy for Koby event, click here.
The Blessing of a Broken Heart is full of references to liturgy, biblical text, and Jewish mystical writings. Based on references in the text and the overall themes of the play, Yael chose verses and asked Shifra Levy to compose original music for them. The play opens as the ensemble sings Shifra's composition for
Isaiah 45:7: The fashioning of light and creation of darkness, the making of peace and creation of evil; I am God, the doer of all these things.
In the blessings that Jews make before saying the Shema prayer every day, they quote this verse -- with a change instituted by the Rabbis: [God is] the fashioner of light and the creator of darkness, the maker of peace and the creator of everything.
It seems that it is just too hard for us to say out loud that God creates evil. We don't deny it -- we say that "God creates everything" but we cannot make ourselves say that God creates evil. Yet, it seems that God does indeed do that.
The Blessing of a Broken Heart grapples with this realization in an honest and courageous way that paves a path toward acceptance? a defiant persistence? gratitude for the good? a determination to strengthen the light in the world? I'm not quite sure how to put it into words, and I suspect that the answer will be different for each audience member.
This is Shifra's Yotzer Or Uvoreh Choshech (He Fashions Light and Creates Darkness)
spring run is over. For info about future performances or possible future streaming options, subscribe HERE.
Dates, cities, speakers
March 14, 16:00, Beit Mazia Theater, Jerusalem, with Sherri Mandell
March 14, 20:00, Beit Mazia Theater, Jerusalem, with Sherri Mandell
March 15, 16:00, Beit Mazia Theater, Jerusalem, with R' Seth Mandell
March 15, 20:00, Beit Mazia Theater, Jerusalem, with R' Seth Mandell
March 30, 19:30, Center Stage Theater, Ra'anana, with R' Stewart (Shmuel) Weiss
March 31, 19:30, Heichal Tarbut GE, Gush Etzion, with Sherri & R' Seth Mandell
Audition and rehearsal photos
A fashion designer by trade, Dena has designed costumes for over ten English- language Jerusalem community theater productions. She also joined the cast in a number of productions, including In The Heights, West Side Story, Cinderella, Singing in the Rain, Hairspray, and Second Star to the Left. Dena performed a monologue in Second Labor Live in both of its runs. She and her husband are the founders of CBDB productions. They are working on producing an original musical, Song of Solomon, which was already produced in the Philippines to great success.
Gillian is a regular in the Theater in the Rough Shakespeare troupe. Her roles have included Banquo/The Porter in Macbeth; Gremio in Taming of the Shrew; Gildenstern/The Gravedigger in Hamlet; and Worcester in Henry IV. She also played the title role in J-Town Playhouse's production of Irena's Vow, when she had to get used to acting indoors, in one place and not in iambic pentameter. She is excited and honoured to be part of The Blessings of a Broken Heart production, an opportunity to do something completely different.
Ensemble (March run), Stage Manager
Sheva studies voice and acting at Midreshet Emunah V’omanut in Jerusalem, where she is immersed in Torah in the mornings and the arts in the afternoons. She showed an early intuition and aptitude for theater, directing her high school production in 2021. Sheva's courage, performance instincts, willingness to jump in in whatever capacity she is needed, and organizational skills make her an excellent production assistant and team member.
Howard trained at Circle in the Square Theatre School in NY and has been acting for decades in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Recent credits include Rabbi Schmidt in Theater and Theology's In a Stranger's Grave, Joe in Theater and Theology's Off the Derech Dolorosa, and Pablo in Theater and Theology’s Divine Right. Howard also recently appeared in Assassins, Avenue Q, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Rebecca is a Jerusalem-based actor and educator. Past performances include singing with L'Opera Français de New York in Lakmé, The Three Penny Opera (Mrs.Peachum), The Sound of Music (Baroness), Company (Joanne), Man of La Mancha (Aldonza), and Pippin (Leading Player). She created and performed the one-woman cabaret show The Antique Show based on her extravagant collection of vintage sheet music. Rebecca is also a founding member of Dal Vivo Theater Ensemble, Chicago’s maniacal red-nose clown troupe. She offers dynamic workshops rooted in yoga, theater, and text-study that build experience in values-based learning.
Todd Salovey is in his third decade as Associate Artistic Director of San Diego Repertory Theatre and founding Artistic Director of the Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival. His stage adaptation of Sherri Mandell’s memoir The Blessing of a Broken Heart was awarded an Edgerton New American Play Award in 2007, and was subsequently produced under Salovey’s direction at San Diego REP, Arizona Jewish Theatre, Los Angeles Jewish Women’s Theatre, and two tours for the Koby Mandell Foundation. His other stage adaptations include A Hammer a Bell and a Song to Sing (from the writing and music of Pete Seeger) and The Dybbuk for Hannah and Sam’s Wedding (from S. Ansky’s classic play) which were both produced under his direction at San Diego REP. Salovey is an award winning theatre director, and is on the faculty of the University of California San Diego in both the Department of Theatre and Dance and Rady School of Management. His great-grandfather was a pharmacist in Geula, and father was 3rd generation born in Jerusalem.
R' Seth Mandell
March 15th, 16:00 and 20:00, Jerusalem; March 31, Gush Etzion
Rabbi Seth Mandell has been involved in Jewish education programs since 1982. He served as Director of the Hillel Foundation at the University of Maryland, and during that time, the Hillel program became one of the largest and most active Jewish college educational programs in North America.
Seth and his wife Sherri moved to Israel from the USA in 1996 because they loved Israel and wanted to put Judaism in the center of their lives and their children's lives. Their lives were devastated on May 8, 2001, when their 13 year old son Koby was murdered by terrorists. In Koby's memory, they created the Koby Mandell Foundation which provides healing programs for families struck by terrorism. Seth believes that the Jewish response to suffering is to live a fuller and more engaged life. The Koby Mandell Foundation helps others who have suffered the trauma of loss overcome the isolation that keeps them from returning to life.
March 14, 16:00 and 20:00, Jerusalem; March 31, Gush Etzion
Sherri Mandell is the author of Reaching for Comfort: What I Saw, What I Learned, and How I Blew It Training as a Pastoral Counselor (Ben Yehuda Press, 2021) which describes how she sought to heal from the pain of her sons' murder by volunteering on the cancer ward of a Jerusalem hospital. She won a National Jewish Book Award in 2004 for her spiritual memoir, The Blessing of a Broken Heart (Toby Press, 2003). Her book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press, 2015) details the spiritual stages of resilience. She's also published two children's picture books—The Upside Down Boy and the Israeli Prime Minister (Kar-Ben Copies) and The Elephant in the Sukkah (Kar-Ben Copies).
For the past twenty years, she and her husband have directed the Koby Mandell Foundation in Israel, named in honor of their son who was murdered by terrorists in 2001 when he was 13. She speaks around the world on grief and healing.
R' Stewart (Shmuel) Weiss
March 30, 19:30, Ra'anana
Rabbi Weiss holds semicha ordination and degrees in Hebrew Literature and Practical Rabbinics from Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois
He founded and directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, serving immigrants through a network of religious and educational programs.
Rabbi Weiss is a popular columnist for the Jerusalem Post, and a popular lecturer. He received the Rabbinic Leadership Award from both the Orthodox Union and Young Israel movement.
He and his wife Susie’s eldest son, IDF Sgt. Ari Weiss HY"D, a member of an elite anti-terror unit, was killed in battle against Hamas terrorists in Shechem in 2002. In 2010, the Ohel Ari Bet Knesset and Torah Learning Center in Ra'anana was dedicated in Ari's memory. Both Rabbi and Mrs. Weiss have spoken extensively around the world on the topic of maintaining faith in the shadow of tragedy, on the centrality of Israel, and the need for Jewish unity.
Karen Feldman is an artist well-known in the Jerusalem English-speaking theater community for her stunning theater makeup and her astonishing and creative photography. Her artistic eye is in demand by all the JET companies. Pore over some of Karen's quirky, surprising, deceptive, humorous, and impactful art photography here.
Shari is a multi-talented visual artist and craftsperson who serves as the editor and art director of Flashlight Press, where she creates award-winning picture books. Her BA is in art and drama and she has created sets, props, and/or playbills for amateur productions of Dracula, Mame, The Sound of Music, The Miracle Worker, The Wizard of Oz, Esther and the Secrets in the King's Court, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Aladdin among others. She also writes, directs, and creates sets and props for the annual Efrat Purim Spiel. They haven't won any Tonys yet, but they shoulda.
Production and Lighting Designer
Rabbi Dr. John Krug was the assistant producer of the world’s longest running musical, The Fantasticks, from 1974 until its closing in January 2002. He served, for ten additional years, as the Production Consultant/Assistant Director for The Fantasticks' revival, until its closing in June 2017. In addition to more than 250 production credits in the past 49 years, as Director, Production Consultant, Set Designer or Lighting Designer, he has directed an award winning show for NBC and consulted for multiple Broadway productions and national touring companies. Johnny wrote his post-doctoral thesis on “The Use Of Drama And Theatrical Technique in Informal Jewish Education,” an often cited work.
Original Music Composition, Ensemble (Preview)
Shifra was invested in acting and musical theater before she made aliyah in 2015. Since then, she has focused on music and film. Shifra is a singer-songwriter-musician who plays piano and ukulele. She composed original music for Tefilat Haderech (the traveler's prayer), Psalm 6, Psalm 19, Psalm 77, and Isaiah 45 for this production. Her latest collaborations include The Light That Lives On, with Sherri Mandell and Rena Ish Ran, and If I Found Grace with Yerachmiel Ziegler. Shifra currently releases music on independent platforms while studying film at Maale Film School.
Yael has been involved in the Israeli English-speaking acting scene for eighteen years as a writer, actor, voice actor, and director. She is a graduate of Matan's Ayanot program and of the Ruti Tamir Physical Theater Workshop. Yael teaches theater at Midreshet Emuna V'Omanut, Playback Theater at Midreshet Shevach, and drama to adults with special needs at Yachad and Midreshet Darkaynu. She runs Bibliodrama workshops for Jewish and non-Jewish groups and has taught the Bibliodrama method in various settings. Yael also works for several production companies in dubbing and narration, including the Fox Network's BabyTV Channel. You can hear her voice (though you may not recognize it) in five current animated BabyTV series, with another currently in production.