Snippets From the Stage

Whew, what a whirlwind! We’re back in Savannah after yesterday’s Hallelu extravaganza in Atlanta and I’ve already made breakfasts and lunches for the small people I’m charge of, been to a fancy fashion show, gotten yelled at by a homeless person on Broughton Street, uploaded a dozen photos for my day job and bought a super cool pair of red tuxedo pants from Goodwill for three dollars. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I know you all want to know how the show went, so here goes…

Two hours before showtime: After engaging in a losing battle with a three year old about why she can’t wear her pajamas to the show, I shlep across the street to the Fox Theatre. I’m sharing a dressing room with musical director Merri Arian, who doesn’t mind that I’m taking up three spaces at the counter framed in lights: One for my make-up, one for my laptop and one for my neuroses.

An hour and half before showtime: Soundcheck. Joshua Nelson literally blows me out of my chair! I see a chair and ottoman at stage left; that’s my spot. Just like home, except no dog hair.

An hour before the show: Neshama Carlebach and I discuss the wonders of breastfeeding in the green room. She’s just left her 1 year-old son for the first time; I try to convince her that eventually, like when he’s three, he will drive her crazy and she will do anything to get a break, even if it means shopping at Wal-Mart at 10pm. She’s a fabulous, funny woman – wish I was in her mommy’s group. I eat a tunafish sandwich provided by the caterer.

Twenty minutes before showtime: I’m freaking out over this whole “spontaneous” blogging thing. I try to explain to Craig Taubman that I have control issues and this is making me a little sick, but he’s busy putting on a show. I am on my own.

Five minutues before the show: I refresh my lipstick and froof my hair. I realize I can smell the sandwich I ate on my hands, which disturbs me, but not as much as the realization that I have not fully charged my laptop. This will become important later, I think, but it’s too late to think. The stage director points to the chair onstage and I sit down.

Showtime! The lights come up, on me, I can’t see a thing. I start speaking into my tiny mike hooked to my ear (just like Janet Jackson!) but I realize my voice is not booming off the starry ceiling like it should. Someone hands me a regular mike and I start over, only a little farblongent.

Hi…my name is Jessica Leigh Lebos, also known as the Head Yenta at my blog, Yo, Now normally I do this from the privacy of my own home in my underpants and one of my husband’s tattered Grateful Dead t-shirts, but since it’s a special occasion, being here at the awesome Fox Theatre in front of four thousand fabulous Jews, I thought I’d make my mother proud and, y’know, wear pants.

That got some laughs. I hadn’t been so close to my audience since my bat mitzvah, but everyone was so nice. I finished up the opening with a bit about how all the factions were representing in the ATL today and why we were there:

The wise people of Synagogue 3000 understand that we all have our differences, but that ultimately, all of us meet at the deep, quiet intersection of our one and only God.

I have to say, I’m shepping my own nachas for that line. Don’t know if I had the stage presence to pull it off, but by then it was time for me to shecket b’vakashah and get on with the show.

First up was Alberto Mizrahi, such a tenor on that man! His shtetl song was so moving, so lovely. With the lights no longer on me, I realized that El Yenta Man and the kids had found seats in the front row right next to me and Little Yenta Girl was waving wildly.

Then Josh Nelson was up (okay, let’s get clear here: There are two Josh Nelsons in this story. This one is a Jewish white guy with fabulously crazy hair and a penchant for kickass guitar riffs and Torah quotes. The other one, heretofore known as Joshua Nelson, is a Jewish black guy who shares a wardrobe with the artist formerly known as Prince and has a penchant for kickass piano riffs and Torah gospel. Got it? Good. Back to the first Josh Nelson.) He started with a choir of what seemed like hundreds of adorable Jewish children sending up a prayer that had to have the angels dancing on high – the Jews of Atlanta are raising a generation of mensches! Then Josh launched into a full-blown shredding solo, backed by the members of the Hallelu house Bayit band. Smokin’.

Neshama was next and dedicated a soulful original song to her late father, Shlomo Carlebach, and her son, who I know she was missing. Neshama has a deep, almost purring voice, so hypnotic and spiritual. I remember thinking that one or two songs per artist at this shindig was way too little – next time it’s got to be full sets. C’mon, we’ll rent out a farm and have Jewstock! Oh wait, that’s right, Jews don’t camp. Anyway, my point is that I’d like to hang out with Neshama at the playground and watch her whole show.

My girl Mare Winningham came on after that, in full Jewish Cowgirl regalia, singing her sweet “Convert Jig.” I loved her opening greeting of “Great to see y’all again,” since all Jewish souls were present at Mount Sinai, even “Jews by choice.” She is just so lovely in person, tiny – I felt like a giant drooling sychophantic nerd every time I passed by her backstage.

And then the Joshua Nelson brought down the house with his kosher gospel crew! Seriously, people, if we had a dose of that on Simchat Torah they’d still be peeling people off the roof at dawn.

So much talent going on, and I haven’t even broken down the first half of the show for you! You’re going to have to wait until tomorrow, ’cause I got’s to get back to work. Rachel Leah Cohen has promised a photo link, too…

5 thoughts on “Snippets From the Stage

  1. Allow me to be the first to congratulate you on being the Official Stageblogger at Hallelu Atlanta!

    It was a magnificent show, but you already knew that. Amazing ruach and talent…all under one roof. I was already familiar with many of the performers – I met Alberto Mizrahi last summer at the International FJMC convention and had the Most Useless Job in the World: “leading” Friday evening services with Alberto as the Chazzan. (Harh!) But Joshua Nelson was a revelation. Unbelievable.

    And then you had a real-life legend like Theo Bikel. His show-business resume reads like a novel, fer cryin’ out loud. What hasn’t that man done?

    I see that you’re based in Savannah – we have a daughter who lives there, so we visit often. Kol tov!

  2. Hi – wanted to thank you for sharing your talents with us Sunday… You were like the glue holding the event together, and I thought you were great! You seemed really at ease and excited to be there, and your enthusiasm rubbed off on me.

    I loved Mare Winningham (and appreciated the shout out, as a convert myself) and both J. Nelsons, and was awed by the diversity of talent that was represented by the performers… I’m with you – wish we could have had more of each of them!

    It’s an interesting thing, really, because I know that the Synagogue 3000 project is designed to rejuvenate the synagogue communities, but I was left with the distinct feeling that there is NO WAY my synagogue is going to catch the spirit. The synagogues sat in sections, as the tickets were given in blocks for each congregation to sell…Lots of haters in my section.

    Not so much haters, as grumpy, unenthusiastic, and snarky.

    I was there with my husband and three little ones (all under the age of 6) and we had a blast! But we were the lone members of our section going to Funkytown. I guess this just reinforces the feeling I’ve had for a while that while my shul is quite “correct” – very serious about observance and ritual – that it doesn’t feed my soul or spirituality.

    Not that you asked, but I feel truly in conflict. My children love the preschool, and my husband and I are both heavily involved in the leadership of the shul, but I get next to nothing spiritually from it. That doesn’t seem good.

    Anyway, this event may be just what I needed to seek out what I need – either at my shul or elsewhere – because I’ve seen what is possible. (In a related story, last week I requested a membership packet from another synagogue where I take a class… I explained it to my husband that it must be like what it feels like to go on JDate when you are married…which I’ve never actually done… it’s like you’re totally committed to the marriage, but you’re just CURIOUS what’s out there. I felt so guilty.)

    Wow, this is long. Guess I needed somewhere to vent.

    Thank you for being a part of a really important day for us!

  3. Thanks for the sneek peek at what the day was like- I can’t wait to read more. You made more than your mother proud… Mazel tov!!!

  4. Abbie – vent away. We like that.

    Next time leave those snarky haters in the nosebleed section and come on down to the stage!

    I’m hearing you about how the “correctness” of Jewish ritual and observance conflicts with sprituality – I think that’s why the Jewish community is in “crisis” (which really means people find that they prefer more welcoming and loving places to express their feelings about God and life, like at concerts and at home.)

    Having dealt with stuffy, annoying control freaks in various Jewish communities, all I can say is that your spiritual life begins at home, and the example you set for your children by being involved at synagogue is so valuable, even if means endless meetings with grumpy people. You can sometimes change systems from within, and if that doesn’t work, remember that the crusty crowd will die off eventually.

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