Published on February 23rd, 2012 | by Ledger Online0
On the Runway: Jewish women through the ages
By Cindy Mindell ~
NEW HAVEN – Two years ago, Dina Rubini attended “Jewish Women through the Ages,” a multimedia fashion show portraying historical figures from biblical times to the present. She was living in Milan at the time, and the show was making one of many stops throughout the world.
A few months later, Rubini married and relocated with her husband to New Haven. “I was fascinated by the show,” she says. “Since moving here, I’ve wanted to bring it to all the communities in Connecticut.”
Though she says she’s not sure how the many pieces came together, Rubini’s dream is about to be realized.
“Jewish Women through the Ages Fashion Show,” an evening exclusively for women, will be performed on Tuesday, Mar. 13 in New Haven.
The unique multimedia event portrays eminent female Jewish personalities — from ancient Mesopotamia to the modern day — who have contributed to Jewish survival and bolstered Jewish identity. The women walk the runway in costumes representing the respective eras they portray, as a narration brings each character’s story to life, with the help of words and imagery, song and dance. The Matriarch Sarah, the Moabite Princess Ruth, Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi, and Hannah Szenes are among the 10 or so historical Jewish women represented in the show, which culminates with a celebration of the Jewish woman of today and a fashion show modeling modern designer outfits and chic couture.
Created by Miriam Hurwitz, an artist based in Brooklyn, N.Y., the show has been presented over the last decade in Jewish communities throughout the world, including Panama City, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Helsinki, Johannesburg, Paris, Copenhagen, and New York. Hurwitz spent years of research on the period costumes, which she also created. She uses fashion and arts as a way of galvanizing and educating women in communities served by Chabad emissaries. The story of each character portrayed in the show is described in the playbill, based on Hurwitz’s findings.
Hurwitz is also the creator of “Jewish Brides through the Ages and Around the World,” a historical bridal fashion show accompanied by narration and music. Young women portray Biblical and modern Jewish brides, portraying their life stories and impact on Jewish history. Dressed in elaborate costumes, the models bring to life such figures as the Matriarchs Rivkah and Rachel; Devorah, the daughter of Rabbi Akiva; Rebbitzen Chaya Mushka; Tikvah, a Yemenite bride; and Yaffa, a modern-day Jewish bride.
While “Jewish Women through the Ages” is a traveling production, each cast of models and performers is local. For example, the performance complementing the 16th-century Portuguese Jewish businesswoman, Dona Gracia, is an opera piece sung by Amanda Nisenson, a young Jewish mezzo-soprano from Fairfield County, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.
Each character reflects a value or quality that defined her life. The Hungarian-Jewish Hannah Szenes, who parachuted into Yugoslavia during World War II to try to save the Jews of Hungary, for example, is billed as “the Power of Courage.”
“The ultimate goal of the program is to educate, empower and inspire Jewish women with an appreciation of their roots and the proud recognition that they stand on the shoulders of giants,” says Rubini. “These women, by their living examples, showed the world the true meaning of dignity, courage, sacrifice, and leadership. By using local talent and models, this unique evening of entertainment will appeal to Jewish women of all ages and backgrounds throughout
The show is produced locally by DeDe Jacobs Komisar, a seasoned performer and theater producer who is acting as consultant on the professional and physical aspects of the show, from narration to cast. Komisar is co-founder of the Jewish Theatre Workshop in Baltimore and of BaMat MaBat, a Jerusalem-based experimental theater for social change. She also developed and ran JTTV Live!, an interactive teen theater company under the auspices of Jews for Judaism. She is currently pursuing an MFA in theater management at the Yale School of Drama, and is associate director of marketing for the Yale Repertory Theatre. Komisar is developing “Where Is the Woman?” an ensemble piece exploring the feminist midrashic poetry of her late aunt, Enid Dame. She has co-written and directed “Voices from Our Side of the Curtain: Monologues Exploring the Lives of Orthodox Women,” and “Teudat Zehut” (“Identity Card”). She plans to open a Jewish theater company in Connecticut.
“As a Jewish woman, I see this as a fun, dynamic way to explore our collective heritage,” says Komisar. “This will appeal to a broad base of women, no matter their respective backgrounds.”
The show is co-sponsored by Jewish Women’s Circle chapters throughout Connecticut and synagogue sisterhoods in New Haven and Fairfield Counties, Honorary chairs of the event include Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Cynthia Blumenthal, Hadassah Lieberman, and Betsy Henley-Cohn. The organizers invited Lizzie Tisch to attend the event after she and husband Jonathan made a $10 million gift to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to renovate its costume institute, home to some 35,000 costumes and accessories spanning five centuries.
“We told her that women in Connecticut know and appreciate what she has done to preserve costumes, and she accepted our invitation.” Not only that; Tisch agreed to serve an honorary chair.
“The focus is not so much on the costumes as it is on the characters’ stories and their lives,” Rubini says. “The event is meant to bring Jewish women together in a celebration of our common identity, culture, heritage, and history. The production’s focus on how Jewish women have adapted to evolving cultures without losing their core values and ideals emphasizes the concept of unity in diversity.”
“Jewish Women through the Ages” will be presented on Tuesday, Mar. 13, 7 p.m., at the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale, 155 Temple St., New Haven. Ticket information: www.jewishwomenthroughtheages.com / (203) 903-1333