Corrections or additions?

This article by Anne Rivera was prepared for the December 15, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Lighting the Way Against Bigotry

The Passage Theater’s family holiday presentation, an original musical

entitled "Nightlights," opens on Friday, December 17, to run through

Sunday, December 19 at the Mill Hill Playhouse. Billed as a "workshop"

production, it is based on events that took place in Billings,

Montana, during the 1993-’94 holiday season; and it is definitely a

musical with a message.

Adapted by Montclair resident Janice Cohn from her 1995 children’s

book, "The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate," the production

features music and lyrics by Harvey Edelman and Neil Fishman. Passage

Theater’s associate artistic director David L. White directs; and a

12-member cast includes both area professional actors – Erika Becker,

Devon Jordan, Rachel Lavery, Adam W. Nardini, and Peter Ogden – and

Trenton youngsters from the theater’s State Street Project.

When Cohn, a psychotherapist and children’s book author, first heard

the story of neo-Nazis who had terrorized minority families in

Billings, but were defeated by townspeople joining forces to fight

them, she felt compelled to write about it. The events rated only a

brief mention in The New York Times, she says, but they touched people

around the country "in extraordinary ways."

The campaign against minorities in Billings escalated as Hanukkah

began in December, 1993, when bricks were thrown through the windows

of Jewish homes displaying menorahs. Thanks to an enlightened police

chief, a newspaper editor who denounced the bigotry, ministers who

urged members of their congregations to display menorahs in

solidarity, and the courage of thousands who did so, the violence

eventually stopped.

The amazing thing about the way Billings residents came together to

combat prejudice is that the town was very conservative, Cohn points

out, with no previous history of activism. The population of 80,000

included only 50 Jewish families and about the same number of


Cohn went to Billings, where she met the town leaders and the families

who were involved. Some events in the book – and the musical – have

been slightly altered, she says, but they are all true, including the

names of the protagonists.

The action begins on the third night of Hanukkah. Isaac Schnitzer

(played by 11-year-old West Windsor resident Joshua Rose, who was

"Tiny Tim" in McCarter Theater’s 2002 production of "The Christmas

Carol") is doing his homework when suddenly he hears a loud crash. He

rushes into his bedroom to find the window shattered. The electric

menorah that had been on the window sill lies in pieces on the floor.

The police chief (played by Nardini) is called; Mrs. Schnitzer (played

by Lavery) is interviewed by a local television station; and the

Schnitzer family makes headlines. Soon the entire town is aware of the

situation. "In my play and in the book, there is one town meeting,"

Cohn says. "In reality, there were many meetings, as a series of

escalating acts and threats took place."

She points out that well-meaning people urged the Jewish families to

take down their menorahs; but that in the end there were menorahs in

every window. "This play is about not being a bystander," Cohn says,

"but about standing up to bullies. Fortunately, the people of Billings

realized prejudice was not a problem for only the Jews or the

African-Americans but for the whole town."

Cohn has traveled throughout the United States, discussing the book in

schools, synagogues and churches. "Kids love the story," she says.

"They seem to identify with Isaac. No one wants to be alone."

It is one thing to write a children’s book about the events in

Billings, but a dramatic production is a different matter. Director

White, who worked with Cohn on the play, says that transforming the

noted children’s book into good theater was a challenge. "We have used

movement and music in place of words," he explains. "It is meant to be

performed by kids," Cohn adds.

At one recent rehearsal youngsters from the State Street Project – Kya

Dixon, Valona Givens, A.J. Holland, Sarah Kate Levy, Lashae Averhart,

and Shountia Portis – were working on a snappy rendition of the song,

"If Everybody Looked the Same," complete with a dance routine by

Portis. "I’m not a dancer," White says. "One day during rehearsal

Shountia just started dancing to that song, so I asked her to

choreograph the entire piece."

Following each performance, there is an interfaith panel discussion of

the issues it raises. Sponsored by the Kidsbridge organization, which

conducts diversity appreciation and character education programs in

Mercer County, the panel includes representatives of the Jewish,

Muslim, and Christian faiths. Also participating are spokespeople from

the NJ Center for Character Education at Rutgers and the NJ Commission

for Holocaust Education.

"Unfortunately, bias crime is a current problem in Mercer County,"

says Kidsbridge executive director Lynne Azarchi. "The interfaith

discussion will provide an opportunity for the audience to understand

the issues."

Before she began working on the musical, Cohn was developing a project

for use in the classroom, to include background material and a

discussion guide on the Billings events. She invites teachers to call

800-666-6465 or E-mail theater@hold.com.

"Children are exposed these days to a world that is such a dangerous

and hate-filled place," Cohn points out, "it is more important than

ever for them to appreciate the Billings story."

– Anne Rivera

Nightlights, Mill Hill Playhouse, Front & Montgomery

streets, Trenton. Friday, December 17, 7 p.m.; Saturday, December 18,

3 and 6 p.m.; Sunday, December 19, 3 and 6 p.m. $10; $5 for children.

Call 609-392-0766, or visit www.passagetheatre.org.

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Playful Theater Productions seeks actors for "Suessical, the Musical."

Auditions are Saturday, January 8, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cast of 25 adult

roles and six children’s roles (over 10 years old). Production opens

April 1 at Kelsey Theater. Call 609-882-9636 for appointment.

Pennington Players seeks actors for "The Truly Remarkable

Puss-in-Boots." Auditions are Saturday, January 8, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,

and Sunday, January 9, noon to 4 p.m. Roles are available for adults,

teens, and children over 10. Call 609-737-7529 for appointment.

The Academy Theater on Route 130 in Bordentown auditions for Kander &

Ebb’s "Cabaret" on Saturday and Sunday, January 8 and 9, from 1 to 5

p.m. Be prepared to sing 16 bars, dance audition, and read from the

script. All parts are open except that of Sally Bowles. Call


Donate Blood

The American Red Cross Central New Jersey Donor Center at 707

Alexander Road is open Monday through Thursday, 12:30 p.m. to 7:30

p.m., Friday from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 7

a.m. to 1:45 p.m. To schedule an appointment, please call 800-GIVE

LIFE (800-448-3543.)

Participate Please

Saint Peter’s University Hospital offers a Safe Sitter class for boys

and girls ages 11 to 13 on Tuesday, December 28, 9:15 a.m. to 4:15

p.m. The class will be held at the Sister Marie de Pazzi Conference

Center, 254 Easton Avenue, in New Brunswick. This medically accurate

program teaches youths how to handle emergencies when caring for young

children. Cost: $50. Call 732-745-6699.

Please Volunteer

CAPPS at Peddie School seeks people of all ages to assist with box

office, ushering, gift shop, refreshment sales, and administrative

help. Call 609-490-7550 for information.

For Golfers

Middlesex County golfers may register for the 2005 season at Middlesex

County courses. The fee of $35 for county residents ($45 for

non-residents and $30 for seniors) includes use of the automated tee

time system and discounted rates. The courses include Meadows at

Middlesex (609-799-4000), Tamarack (732-821-8881) or the newest,

Raritan Landing (732-885-9600).


Dorothea’s House offers Italian classes at Dorothea’s House, 120 John

Street, Princeton begin on Wednesdays or Saturdays starting January 5.

Adults pay $115 and children, ages 4 to 14, pay $75 for 15 week

sessions. Choose from beginner, intermediate or advanced level. Call

908-359-1564 or E-mail: j.mccauley@patmedia.net.

Arts Council of Princeton offers winter classes for adults, teens, and

children including ceramics, painting, drawing, mixed media,

photography, dance, drama, and creative writing. For information and

registration, visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org or call


Jewish Community Center offers winter drama classes for kindergartners

through fifth grade on Sundays, beginning January 1. Drama Stage

explores visual arts, music, movement, and storytelling. There are

also art and sports classes available. A winter sports camp will be

held on Monday to Thursday, December 27 to 30. Visit www.jcctoday.org

or call 609-883-9550.


Bucks County Writer seeks poetry, fiction, essays, and artwork

submissions for the spring issue. Submit by E-mail at

BCW@writersroom.net or to Writers Room of Bucks County, 4 West Oakland

Avenue, Doylestown, PA 18901. Deadline is Wednesday, January 5. Visit

www.writersroom.net or call 215-348-1663 for information.

Third Annual New Hope Indoor Sculpture Exhibition is open to sculptors

working in all media, deadline: January 1. Maquettes, proposals and

rendering for larger works, installations, and mixed media pieces are

welcome. Accepted artwork is insured.

Exhibition opens April 9 and continues through May 1. Applications may

be downloaded at www.NewHopeArtsInc.org. For more information contact

Newhopearts@aol.com or call 215-862-3396.

The Arts Council of Princeton seeks crafters, artists, food and

merchandise vendors, nonprofit organizations, and performers for the

annual outdoor festival, Communiversity, to be held Saturday, April

23. Deadline: March 14. For information visit

www.artscouncilofprinceton.org or call 609-924-8777.

Korean American Community E-Bulletin, announcements of events and

activities in the area, is available by sending e-mail to Sophie Kimm

at sophienj@comcast.net.

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