Page ID: feature/ INTERVIEW
Image: sorry, something with plays or shows
Title: The Show Must Go On
Subtitle: Acting the part like a pro/Non-stop performance/A Rebbetzin in top performance
Byline: Debbie Shapiro
Rebbetzin Green almost danced into my small, second story apartment. “I’m learning to paint; it's something I've always wanted to do. Before I started painting lessons, I learned to make silver wrapped jewelry with semi-precious stones, then I took a course in drawing — I really wanted to jump straight into painting, but the teacher insisted that first I learn drawing and color theory. I've already done four oil paintings. Do you want to see my latest?" She pulled out her camera and flipped through the pictures until she stopped at one.
"That's a pretty life-like cheetah," I commented.
"Oh, no," she bubbled. "It's a leopard. You can tell the difference between cheetahs and leopards from their spots." I could tell this was going to be an interesting interview!
Binah: Rebbetzin Green, could you tell us about yourself?
Rebbetzin Green: I was twenty-six years old when I married my husband. I was learning in an Israeli seminary; he was a widower with four small children, ages three, five, seven and nine. I was interested in the shidduch because he is a ben Torah — Torah is his entire life — a true talmid chacham with tremendous simchas hachaim. The children were an added bonus.
During our engagement, my husband spoke about his dream of opening a yeshiva. About a month before we got married, he opened Yeshivat Bircas Hatorah in
Jerusalem's . One day, not long after our wedding, someone asked me, “Who's the Rosh Yeshiva at Bircas Hatorah?” I answered, “I have no idea.” Later, when I asked my husband about it, he replied, “I am.” That's how I discovered that in not only did he open the yeshiva, he's also the Rosh Yeshiva! Old City
The moment we returned from our trip after our wedding I was thrust into the role of Ima. One of the first things I noticed was that all the kids were scratching their heads. I was an American girl; I had never encountered a louse before! My husband patiently taught me how to clean the children's hair..
One of the first things I did after getting settled into my new home was to clean out all the closets. When my husband's first wife was ill and later on after she passed away, many people came into the house to organize the children's belongings. As in the adage, “too many cooks spoil the broth,” instead of being organized, everything was a gigantic mess! I threw out lots of clothes, leaving only the clothes that were in top-notch condition. Once there was room to move around, I lugged out the sewing machine and sewed curtains for the children's rooms. I used pink bows to tie back the girls' curtains, and blue bows for the curtains on one of the two windows in the boys’ room.
When Nechama, who was nine years old at the time, returned home from school she was excited about the new curtains in her room. But when she entered the boys' room and saw that I had used a blue bow to pull back the curtain there, she got all upset and said, “Oh boy! My brothers are going to be really annoyed that you put a bow in their room. Bows are for girls, not boys.” I was a nervous wreck that entire afternoon as I waited for the boys to return home. I was trying so hard to make them happy, and I just hoped they wouldn't be terribly angry at what I had done.
When the boys returned home from cheder, they were very, very excited to see the new curtains. Their one complaint was that I hadn't used a bow to tie back the other curtain! I had been worried about absolutely nothing.
One day Aharon, who was seven at the time, watched me put a load of laundry in the machine. He asked me what the white powder was for, and I explained that it was soap, and that it made his clothes nice and clean. Then he asked me about the pink liquid, and I explained that it was fabric softener, to make his clothes soft and smell nice. He broke into a big smile and said, “Oh, you really do love us!"
I had never run a household before — I never even babysat before — and I discovered strengths that I never knew existed. The laundry, the meals, the organizational aspects, it all came naturally! My motherly instincts kicked right in.
One of the most difficult challenges that I faced was dealing with people who knew my husband's first wife. When we were first married, neighbors would stop in to tell me how wonderful my husband's late wife was and how tragic it was that she had died. But what did they expect me to say? People would come over to me and tell me how she dressed and what she looked like. Of course I felt bad that this tzedekes was niftar so young. It really was a terrible tragedy. But at the same time, I really didn't know how to react. Why couldn’t people just accept me for who I was, without making comparisons?
Today, I get many phone calls from women who have married men with children. I've heard stories of husbands who insist on prominently displaying pictures of themselves together with their first wives. Of course it's understandable to have pictures of the children's mother on the wall, but it's really insensitive to have a picture of the couple. I've had women call me in such pain, crying so hard, because people refuse to accept them as the mothers of the orphans they are moser nefesh to raise! How can a woman do her best at being a mother to those who have become her children if people around her are always comparing her to someone else?
It must be so painful for parents of the late wife to see their son-in-law happily remarried, and their grandchildren being raised by someone other than their daughter. But for the children's sake they must learn to overcome their emotions and be supportive of the new wife. After all, it's in their grandchildren's best interest to grow up in a stable home with a mother to take care of them.
I was once sitting at a bar mitzvah reception together with our five children (four plus the one that I gave birth to) when one of my husband's late wife's relatives came over to me and asked, “Tell me, how many children do you have?” What did she expect me to say, that the four children that I was raising are not really mine? Could I possibly negate them? They were sitting there at the table with me. I answered, “I have five.” She looked around and asked, “Well where are they?” I pointed to my five beautiful children and said, “Right here."
That took a lot of emotional strength.
I am incredibly grateful to my children, because I really, truly feel that in their zechus I am alive today. Before the birth of our daughter my blood pressure jumped sky high and I suffered a stroke on the delivery table. When I saw the look of terror on the doctor's face, I asked him, “Am I going to die?” He looked straight in my eyes and answered, “I don't know. You may.”
At that point I begged Hashem, saying, “Please, Hashem, my children have gone through such pain in their short lives. Don't let them lose another mother.” I feel that I survived in their zechus, so that I could continue to be their mother.
After the baby was born, I spent a long time in the hospital, and when I returned home, I was barely able to do anything. It took me a full ten years to return to myself! By then I was forty, the children were basically grown up and I had this tremendous urge to be creative and express myself.
So I decided to learn tap dancing. It was amazing; I had never done anything like that before. Perhaps the stroke jogged my brain, because I started doing all sorts of things that I had never considered doing — tap dancing, ballet, playing the harp, making jewelry, drawing, painting.
But my real love is writing and producing plays. How did I get into that? After attending a woman's theater performance, I returned home brimming with enthusiasm. I called the women who produced the play and told them that I would like to participate in their next production. “I'll do anything to help you — I’ll pull the curtains, move the props, take out the garbage, help the actresses get dressed — as long as I can be a part of the next play,” I begged. But they were not interested.
When my husband saw how much I wanted to be part of a play, he said, “Write your own, and then produce it. You can do it!” He encouraged me, pointing out that frum women work very hard and that it's important for them to get out and have a good, kosher time.
The first play was put on on Purim 2001 in a small auditorium that barely had room for eighty people. We didn't even charge money for it, so of course the place was packed! After the show was over, many people came over to me to tell me how much they enjoyed it. Many of the women also added that they would like to take part in the next production. This made me realize to what an extent Jewish women have a need to express themselves.
That entire year people kept on asking me when I was planning to start work on my next play! The following Purim we put on the play in the same small auditorium. Even though we charged money this time, the auditorium was packed — over a hundred people crowded into that small room. After the show was over, people were begging me to be able to take part in the next play.
The following year we put the play on in a much larger auditorium, with three hundred seats, and it was completely sold out. Since then, we put the plays on in a large centrally located
venue, and it's sold out every time! Each year, after the play, the women ask me about the next one! Jerusalem
Why do you think women enjoy plays so much?
Women want quality kosher entertainment. It's not a luxury. It provides the women with a booster shot of koach enabling them to return to their avodas kodesh. Suddenly, while folding the laundry or preparing supper, they'll find themselves humming a tune from the musical or silently laughing over one of the scenes. As for the actresses and other women producing the play, it gives them a kosher outlet to express their talents while benefiting other women.
Do you act in the plays?
I hate acting, but I love writing, producing and directing. Since money is so tight and the volunteers want the fun jobs, I usually end up sewing most of the costumes, painting most of the backdrops, taking orders for tickets, preparing the advertisements, writing the seat numbers on the tickets, and so on. It's a lot of work.
Our plays are produced on a shoestring budget. Because money is such a major issue, we try to improvise. Once, for example, we needed an old fashioned radio for one of the scenes. I had a picture of one blown up and then pasted it onto Styrofoam. To the audience it looked like the real thing. Although we fundraise to cover production costs, I end up laying out thousands of dollars from our private funds. All proceeds are given directly to the yeshiva. In addition to having a great time, all the women involved in the production have a sense of mission. They are supporting limud Torah.
There have been plenty of bloopers, but most of the time the audience doesn't realize a thing. Once my daughter played the part of a dancer. Somehow or other, the laces of her ballet shoe twisted around her foot, so she wasn't able to move off the stage. For a full two minutes, while three prop people helped her remove the shoe, the other actor on stage adlibbed it. Another time a table collapsed in the middle of a scene!
When I am back stage, one of my biggest thrills is to hear the audience laugh or gasp in surprise as the story unfolds. Once a lady even phoned me after the show because she was so concerned about what had happened to one of the characters. They become totally captivated by the story and transported to another world.
How long does it take you to write the plays?
All the plays are historical fiction. I spend between six to eight months researching the era before actually writing the story. They are a combination of truth and imagination. People tell me that each year they are more professional.
I am presently writing my seventh play. We hope to be able to put it on around Purim time. I view it as a real zechus to be able to make women happy, to enrich their lives. Hopefully, at the end of the production when they return to their mikdash me'at, they will have new kochos to continue their avodas kodesh of creating a true, Jewish home.
Rebbetzin Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.