by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
In a basement aerobics studio in the Westside Jewish Community Center, four girls dance before a wall of mirrors, perfecting the nuances of their twirls and chassés.
Two of them, playing sisters on a train to Auschwitz, sing in Yiddish “Aufin Pripertchik” (“Upon the Hearth”). Two others dance behind them, representing their souls.
Across the street, in a classroom of Shalhevet High School, in a rehearsal just as intense if a little less somber, Robin Saxe Garbose directs another group of girls as they work to maximize the comedic effects of their accents and movements as 80-year-old women.
Garbose has years of professional experience directing New York theater and television in Los Angeles, and demands a high level of commitment and professionalism from the Orthodox teenage girls in Kol Neshama, (the voice of the soul), an independent summer-arts program funded by donations and tuition.
Founded last year, the program has 28 girls, ages 11-16, from as far away as Ohio, New York and Jerusalem.
“Kol Neshama fuses Jewish spirituality and religious observance with artistic excellence,” Garbose says.
The girls start their morning with prayer and Torah study, and spend the rest of their day in movement and drama lessons, voice training and rehearsals for the production that will be the climax of the program.
Last year’s inspirational production (“The Wonder of Wonders”) exhibited high artistic caliber and raised expectations for this year’s production, “Heaven Sent: An Evening of Miracle Plays.”
Garbose commissioned playwrights and composers to create works for “Heaven Sent,” a four-act show of drama, comedy, dance and choral and soloist singing, open to women and girls only. Performances will be in memory of Shoshana Greenbaum.
“I want to inspire these girls about what an extraordinary thing it is to be a Jewish woman,” Garbose says. “She is the embodiment of strength and intelligence and modesty and courage and valor and beauty, both inside and out.”