A Jewish Christmas Carol

by Darius Pierce

So, there’s A Christmas Carol. Which starts with, “Marley was dead; to begin with.” It just jumps right in and gets to the point. I wanted to share with you the opening lines of A Jewish Christmas Carol. So, if you’ll indulge me, this is how that book begins:

Oh hey. I’ve been meaning to tell you. You know what I heard? Remember Marley? No, Marley. From Marley and Scrooge. No, you’re thinking of the Marleys over on 34th Street. No. Although – did you hear about this? Their son Abraham is back from school. He dropped out of Wesleyan because apparently he’s too good for an education. But so, he’s back. And he opened a shop over by the General Store. Yeah, between the General Store and the Poulterer’s. The Poulterer’s. The one with the enormous prize turkey in the window, that mutant turkey the size of a child. Something is wrong with that turkey. If I was starving, you couldn’t get me to eat that turkey. Except I am starving and of course I’d eat it. Who do I think I am? I’m not too good for a mutant turkey. Anyway. Abraham – he comes back, he opens a store for curtains. That’s all he sells. Curtains. I don’t know, for windows, four-poster beds, chuppahs, what do I know? He’s into curtains. But god bless, he loves curtains, let him sell curtains. So, I go by to say hello, bring him some hamentashen. Which, speaking of hamentashen. I’m watching the Food Network and they’re doing a Hanukkah challenge. And first of all, how small is the budget of this thing? I know times are tough, but live a little! You do this once a year, make it look better than an SNL sketch about cooking shows. And on top of that, two of the four chefs aren’t even born Jewish, they’re converted, which is fine, god bless, welcome, but you couldn’t find four chefs born Jewish. I mean, there’s three in this room! I’m not counting Michael because we all remember the brisket explosion from last year. Michael, I’m sorry, I love you, but you’re a nudnik. Anyway, the first round on this show is latkes and I don’t know what they’re doing. They’re putting in all kinds of nonsense. Beets and tahini and ginger. Look, did it look delicious? Sure. But not everything that’s shredded and fried is a latke! Just like not every candle is a menorah candle and not every napkin on your head is a yarmulke… Michael. But one of the judges on the show was Duff Goldman, and if that man does not get his own column with a photo in every issue of the Jewish Journal from now on, I don’t know what is wrong with this world. I like him even better than that other one; from the thing with the thing that I was talking about. It doesn’t matter. I’m on my way to Curtains, Curtains, Curtains, whatever it’s called. I stop in the General Store to get candles for Hanukkah and, can you believe this?, no menorah candles. The kid says to me, get this, he says, “What’s a menorah?” I plotzed. Then this schmendrick says, “What about birthday candles?” I say, “I’m not putting birthday candles in a menorah! Why don’t you just put a star on a palm tree and call it Christmas!?!” Though, honestly, I don’t know why they don’t use cactus. It’s nice for indoors and it’s already got the little things to hang the ornaments. But what do I know? I’m just a – whatever the Catholic version of Gentile is. They did have one Hanukkah display. It has a few cards, a few dreidels, and matzoh! Matzoh! Matzoh’s nothing to do with Hanukkah. That’s like having a Christmas display that’s 90% Easter bunnies. The point is, I’m at the General Store and I bought a nice dreidel. And a few pomegranates, because they looked nice. I want they should learn, not go out of business. And I’m leaving and who do I run into? You’ll never guess. Go on guess. Go on! No, forget it, I’ll tell you. Mrs. Katz. And she says how it’s terrible Abraham opened this curtain store. And I say, “Let the kid alone. Anyone can be anything they want these days. A Jew can even run a curtain store.” She says, “A Jew can’t be anything they want.” I say, “Name one job a Jew can’t do.” She says “Priest.” I say “You got me there… although there are a lot of priests that have done worse things than be a Jew.”  I say, “What else can’t a Jew be?” She says, “President of the United States.” I say, “I live in Dickensian London, I don’t know what you’re talking about, and never mind my accent or that I watch the Food Network.” I said a Jew can be anything they want – “It’s not just delis and counting-houses for us anymore.” She said, “Speaking of counting houses, get this – you know that Marley? From Marley and Scrooge?” I said, “Yeah.” She said, “He’s dead.”


Darius Pierce is a Third Rail Core Company Member.


Found/Remembered

by Cynthia Shur Petts

I spent many years working in a library, and I have a collection of things left tucked inside books that were returned or donated to the library. Letters, cards, assignments, notes to self, pamphlets, doodles, photographs. They’ve always brought me great joy as discovered treasures and secret insights into peoples’ lives, from the very mundane to the very personal. But especially now, they feel like profound little declarations of life going on.

Sometime during the run of Home/Place, the phrase “found/remembered” floated into my head in relation to these items. I wrote it down, but it wasn’t until the invitation to participate in the Winter Salon that I sat down to compose something out of my found words. Every line or phrase in this poem is taken from one of those discovered treasures.

Found/Remembered


Dear Helen,
Joe,
Professor,
Papa,
Dear Friend,

Let me write you a picture:

My desk is speckled blue.
Johnny and Jimmy both got up Sunday with chicken pox.
I am thankfull for knowing you.

I wanted to go to the beach before it got really cold.
If we’re being honest 
that’s one of the things 
I’m sad we never got to do.
I sang it alone in the house, 
holding down the long dark chords,
tucked away in my copy of The Old Man and the Sea.

I keep wondering if you’ve changed much.

Are you playing baseball this year?
Why am I in love with Kyle?
Remember how I told you 
that halfway through winter quarter I cracked
and went to Build-A-Bear 
and made a dragon?
If you get a minute could you please call me? 
When everything is empty 

where can dust collect?

I will surely use your words.
You told me once,
“Revelation is objective and from above.”
You told me once,
“One can reasonably utter a hurrah 
for man’s evolutionary struggling.”
You told me once,
“There is a certain mystique, 
a certain magnetism, 
about the Clydesdale.”
You told me once,
“I kiss your hands,” in Romanian.

In the new world,
I am what I dreamed.
Yes, I think.
Her door was open, 
she wanted to hear my music.
A birdcage hung
in the sunny window of her house.
A light to the modern world,
subjective and from below.

Johnny is rocking the crib so guess I had better go. 
The chicken pox haven’t slowed him up at all.

So here’s to all the little things:
My reading chair and bookshelf.
The garden of live flowers.
Someone complimented me 
on my handwriting yesterday. 
Won’t be long until you’ll be home.

Love and kisses from all.
Please forgive me.
Please return.

Dec. 25th, 1903.
1856.
2015.

From the desk of Mrs. J.P. Savage,
Mr. Mortimer, Treasurer,
from Phyllis.

Madrid,
Woodbury,
Flossmoor, Illinois.

I sang it alone in the house, 
holding down the long dark chords:
Turn on light. 
Turn on heat. 
Just before the blessing,
after the blessing,
rain or shine.


Cynthia Shur Petts is the Administrative Assistant at Third Rail.


#ENOUGH: Meet the Discussion Panelists

Panelist Kathleen F. Carlson, MS, PhD is an Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Oregon Health & Science University-Portland State University School of Public Health, and a Core Investigator with the Health Services Research Center of Innovation at the VA Portland Health Care System. She completed her BS at Oregon State University, and her MS and PhD degrees at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, focused on injury epidemiology. Dr. Carlson’s research examines the spectrum of injury prevention and control, from the epidemiology of intentional and unintentional injuries to the rehabilitation of military veterans with combat injuries. Her current research grants examine firearm-related injuries, opioid and other medication-related injuries, and short- and long-term functional outcomes of veterans’ traumatic brain injury. Dr. Carlson leads the OHSU-PSU Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue initiative, an effort that started in 2016 in response to the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting in Florida that summer. Her leadership roles with national injury prevention organizations include serving on the Board of Directors for the Society for Advancement of Violence and Injury Research and with the Injury Control and Emergency Health Services section of the American Public Health Association. Dr. Carlson directs the VA health services research post-doctoral fellowship program at the Portland VA and teaches/advises MPH and PhD students in epidemiology at the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health.

Born and raised in rural Oregon, Dr. Carlson grew up with firearms and is a firearm owner. In 2013, she also experienced the loss of a beloved family member – a combat veteran – to firearm suicide.


Panelist Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana joined Congregation Beth Israel in July 2006, becoming the 18th Senior Rabbi to serve CBI in Portland, Oregon. Leading synagogues in the Midwest and the East Coast, Rabbi Cahana has strived to create vibrant and inclusive Jewish communities. Through his leadership and programming, Rabbi Cahana has reached out to unaffiliated Jews, interfaith families, and others who have struggled to find a home in the Jewish community. Rabbi Cahana brings to Congregation Beth Israel his passion for creating a warm, supportive community in which Jewish learning and worship are exciting and engaging.

Rabbi Cahana’s academic interests are at the interface of religion and science with a particular emphasis on medical ethics. He has served on the Central Conference of American Rabbi’s Committee on Human Sexuality and chaired its ad hoc committee on Physician-Assisted Suicide and its the Resolutions Committee. Rabbi Cahana continues to serve on community boards and inter-religious councils; and is a past President of the Oregon Board of Rabbis. Rabbi Cahana has published on such diverse topics as physician-assisted suicide in Jewish law, the Unvoiced Tetragrammaton, and the role of religion in the T.V. series “Battlestar Galactica.”

In 1999, Rabbi Cahana was featured, along with his family, in the critically acclaimed documentary “The Last Days.” The film tells the true stories of five Hungarian survivors of the Holocaust, including Rabbi Cahana’s mother – the renowned Holocaust artist Alice Lok Cahana (z”l). “The Last Days,” which was produced by Steven Speilberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, won the 1999 Academy Award for “Best Documentary.” In 2009, he accompanied his mother to Rome where one of her large-scale paintings became the first piece of Holocaust art on permanent display in the Vatican museum.

Born in Houston, Texas, Rabbi Cahana comes from multiple generations of rabbis including his late father, Rabbi Moshe Cahana, and his older brother, Rabbi Ronnie Cahana. Rabbi Cahana began with a career in theater, including acting, directing, and theatrical design. He later earned an MFA in Architectural Lighting from Parson’s School of Design. Soon, however, family tradition of the rabbinic life called him, leading to his ordination in 1994, becoming the first Reform rabbi in his family’s long rabbinic history. Rabbi Cahana integrates his rabbinical training with his theater background to create an environment in which prayer becomes an art form. During worship, there is an aesthetic of thought, when individual moments can inspire movement and change.

Rabbi Cahana is also highly engaged in social action, embracing the concept of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) to make our community and nation better. He serves on the leadership team of Lift Every Voice Oregon, an interfaith movement to pass gun safety legislation in Oregon. He also is on the Board of Cedar Sinai Park and an at-large member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.

While studying in Jerusalem, he met his wife, Cantor Ida Rae Cahana who is formerly the Senior Cantor of Manhattan’s Central Synagogue and now serves as Senior Cantor at CBI. They live in Portland with their son, David, and triplets Sarit, Liora, and Idit.


Panelist Roy Moore is an outreach worker at Healing Hurt People, a hospital-based intervention program that supports young men of color who have experienced violence. He is also a performance artist and co-founder of Men Building Men, a peer mentorship program for men of color who are victims of gang and gun violence.

“As a survivor of gun violence, I know what it feels like to be vulnerable in that moment and how hard it is to deal with the aftermath. There’s a lot of fear: Will I survive? Will I heal? Am I going to have the support I need to get through this? In the days after I was shot, there was no crisis response to help me deal with the trauma. No recovery resources to help me get my life back on track. No advocate to fight for my healing, safety, or rights. It took a lot of strength and determination to come out of that situation. I was able to rebuild my life, but nobody should have to go through that kind of trauma without support or resources.

Sadly, the reality is that so many people never receive the care they need when they’ve been harmed by violence. There’s a huge gap in resources. A lot of us don’t get the real help we need, like with relocation, medical care, or other services that allow us to recover. For people of color, there’s also a lack of trust in the criminal justice system. There’s a lot of fear, and there’s a lot to lose if you participate in the system. People of color who’ve been hurt by violence often get treated like they’re the ones who committed the crime. It’s this reality that motivates me to be an advocate for change.

Today, I provide trauma-informed care at local hospitals to people of color who have been affected by violence. I’m on call 24 hours a day. I show up, and I provide culturally specific support for victims and their families at a time when it might feel like it’s just them against the world. Doing this work is helping me heal as much as it’s helping others overcome their trauma.”


Facilitator Nike Greene, MA LMFT, was born in Portland, Oregon. As a wife and mother of four, family is her primary value. Nike is a graduate of George Fox University with a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. Nike is currently a Licensed Marriage & Family therapist, and ministers alongside her husband, Pastor Herman Greene, at Abundant Life PDX Church in North Portland.

She has traveled throughout the US, speaking and teaching to diverse audiences. Nike’s gifts have been utilized beyond US borders in Uganda, Mexico, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Congo. She is dedicated to serving in missions for the last 5 years in Uganda and Rwanda.

Nike’s mission in life is to bring healing, inspiration, and a message of hope. She helps serve families throughout the year in a specific north Portland housing community. She believes that the more we reach out to others, the more others will gravitate towards us, and that when we remove our masks of fear we will find trusting relationships that will prove valuable in our life. No one is an island unto themselves. Her mission is to stand committed to her faith, to live a healthy and balanced life which directly affects her husband, children, physical health, and everyday interaction with people and lastly to use her gifts to help build people up daily. Nike uses her platform and her personal lived experiences as an athlete, coach, survivor of domestic violence and more to demonstrate resiliency and encourage hope.

She is the Director of the Office of Violence Prevention under the Mayor’s Office. Nike’s endeavors remain connected to her passion around collaborative communities, education, engaged families and celebrating diversity. As a therapist, she believes that healing and unity can build stronger communities. She is known for her vibrant personality, experiences within school and correctional systems, community leadership and her stand for social justice.


James R. Dixon on Cultural Advising

James R. Dixon

Being a Cultural Advisor was never something that I aspired to be. As a Black queer theatre-maker and arts administrator in a predominantly white and heteronormative industry, the need for one became even more clear for me. It is extremely important for us to tell our own stories and on too many occasions we often see completely Black casts written by Black playwrights with a non-Black artistic team. In some instances, these actors are given direction on vernacular by white dialect coaches! That is literally the equivalent of a white person telling you how best to speak like a Black person. 

For many of us, works from artists like August Wilson, Dominique Morriseau, and others focusing on the Black experience are often considered works of liberation. It doesn’t matter what degrees you have, what training you received, or how long you have been working in theatre…Black folks, queer folks, transgender folks, and women to name a few are fully capable of telling their own stories. I also became a director out of necessity and if you are lacking cultural awareness it is a very good idea to hire a consultant. 

In many ways, a Cultural Advisor is a dramaturg, intimacy coach, director, and equity facilitator all wrapped into one with a focus on cultural context. I find it useful to be available for table and scene work, and remain available as an advocate for the actors. Not only is it critical for the story we are telling and the safety of the artists in the room, but it is also critical to budget for this when choosing to produce these necessary bodies of work. I make a point of meeting with the director in advance to get an idea of why this story is important to them, set clear intentions for the process, and attempt the initial start of working through an equity lens. 

As a fellow actor, I ultimately want to make sure that other actors are taken care of mentally and emotionally with this work. We show up for rehearsal and curtain call with our full selves and often work and create through the identities we hold. The ultimate goal here is to get the right voices in the room, have clear safety guidelines and collective boundaries, and have as much love and care in the process as possible. 

James R. Dixon is an actor, director, cultural advisor, and equity facilitator.


Home/Place with Garrett Brown

Home/Place is a Company Innovation project conceived by Jennifer Lin, designed to create a collaborative dialogue between artists and audience. The project began with an invitation for members of the community to submit images and text in response to three prompts: The home I was born to, The road I traveled, and The home I made. We are sharing these submissions, the foundational components of the project, as Home/Place continues into the next phase of development.

This submission is from Garrett Brown, a member of Third Rail’s 2019-2020 Mentorship Company.


This is me the summer after freshman year of college when I was working in Seaside at a seafood restaurant. The owners hand-made their own mascot outfit (it was pretty bad to wear) and I waited all summer to try it on. It’s a fun photo!

In my high school, Key Club was in charge of planning our winter formal. It was a popular dance, but always got overlooked due to not being Prom or Homecoming. My junior year, Key Club was populated by a group of people (most of whom were queer or would come out later as queer) and had carte blanche when it came to planning the winter formal (usually some benign theme like “A Night in Paris.”) That year was around when Lady Gaga was top of the Zeitgeist, and I advocated for “Monster’s Ball” to be the theme (based on her album and tour). Basically it was our chance to go crazy and make it queer, camp, and pop arty. And for me, who came out as bisexual later in life, I think it was a way for me to safely express being queer (having not really realized it about myself yet).

This is a photo of a stray cat in front of a building at the Parthenon in Greece. I traveled while I was in England for study abroad late 2015. Although it wasn’t always easy, looking back it feels idyllic, almost like a weird time of my life that wasn’t real (before 2016, and onward). I want to return eventually, but I think of the beauty of the place a lot.

This is a chair that I accidentally broke when I was in the hospital in Portland (likely it already had structural damage and I was the final straw but still an apt metaphor for where I was in my life at that point). I had graduated college maybe 4 months before, and I was depressed and having issues adapting to post college life. I was struggling with mental health including self harm, PTSD, and depression. The program was a three week group therapy intensive, where I would spend 8 hours a day with a variety of other patients working to process trauma and pain. The chair happened on day two. For me, it kind of marks a sort of hilarious rock bottom: obviously the chair isn’t a big deal. But in the moment, it was funny, because it seemed that nothing else was going right, AND THEN THIS. Looking back at the photo gives me an amused smile.

Taken a few weeks ago in 2020. I spent my life trying to escape the coast. I love where I grew up, but to me, it feels like failure to return. My greatest fear for a long time post college was that I would “fail” at life, and need to move back in with my parents. My home place is a strange mix because I grew up with the (wrong) notion that money or achievement determined success: many people in my town stayed local for a variety of reasons (money, family, marriage, drugs, whatever) and I think there was always a worry that I would be “trapped.” 

And of course, due to COVID I have moved back in with my parents. It’s a strange feeling. Because I moved back in because I was worried about safety (have a few roommates) but also worried about my mental health. And although I still have worries for the future, I know I won’t be in Astoria (the coast) forever. It may be longer than I want, but I’ll leave. But I’m glad I’ve been here for at least this little bit.

I miss the Third Rail Mentees. I’ve spent the last several years building friend and peer groups in Portland, and I feel like the group of Mentees are inspiring to me. People I want to spend time with, individuals who I want to collaborate with, people I trust and love. It’s a lot not to be around them right now: I miss hugging them, and I miss the kinetic energy of seeing them in person. People live in Zoom now, and I can’t wait to be back in the same space with them.