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Sinai students perform third annual play, to warm applause

‘Peter Pan’ packs the house

The cast takes a bow. photos by jeanette friedman

More than 300 people filled the auditorium at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck on June 1 (renamed the Sinai Theater for that night) to watch 14 young actors from the Rabbi Mark & Linda Karasick Shalem High School present their version of the musical “Peter Pan,” a perennial childhood favorite. The audience roared with laughter when Peter returned to the Darling family home to search for his shadow and Wendy’s attempt to attach it by using spray-on glue failed — but happily, Velcro worked. Shadow in place, Peter lured the Darling children to Never Never Land, where the “lost boys” cracked wise and insisted that they didn’t want a mother. Captain Hook and his pirates had the audience singing their anthem along with them, and the audience cheered when Peter fought a duel with Hook to rescue Tiger Lily. The play was clearly a resounding success, made more so by the challenges these children faced.

Shalem High School is a Sinai program for children diagnosed with developmental and/or profound learning disabilities. The boys’ school is at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck and the girls’ school is at Ma’ayanot. What made the play possible is that at the Sinai schools, according to Sam Fishman, their managing director, teachers and volunteers focus on skill development, teaching to a child’s abilities instead of disabilities. Their goal is to create independent and confident learners, and this year’s production of “Peter Pan” was just one piece of that educational mission.

The stars of the evening were Yosef Taubes as Peter and Dov Saks as Captain Hook. In one of the play’s last scenes, Peter enlists a woman from the audience to replace Wendy as the lost boys’ mother. The woman was Bassie Taubes, Yosef’s mother, and the bit drew laughs from friends and family.

Dov Saks, right, is Captain Hook. With him is the crew of the Jolly Roger.

Yosef, Dov, and the rest of the cast earned a standing ovation for their roles, as did Sinai principal Shira Greenland and director Meryl Charlap and producer Rochel Weitzman, both teachers at the school. The three women say they have made these annual plays their passion, and this year special kudos went to Meryl Charlap for her scenery.

“These plays,” she told The Jewish Standard, “give us the opportunity to lift these children to a higher plane. We planted seeds, nurtured them, and watched them grow. We continue dreaming of what our students can accomplish if just given the chance.”

“These plays,” said Rabbi Michael Taubes, Yosef’s father, “allow these children to shine in the spotlight. They are so different when they are able to be on stage and show their strengths.”

Greenland told the audience that the world generally takes the extraordinary for granted. “There are things that are extraordinary in that they are commonplace and unremarkable and were once awe-inspiring — airplane travel, microwaves, computers…. In halacha,” she said, “when an act or behavior is repeated three times, it is presumed to be constant.… This evening… [is] Sinai’s chazakah play,” meaning that because it is “our third annual production,” putting on a play has become a tradition. “Just two years ago,” she said, “our students’ play was a groundbreaking innovation. Their achievement generated awe and amazement…. [Yet] it is [now] simply taken for granted. Predictable. Stable. Consistent. In this way, tonight’s performance of ‘Peter Pan’ is even more remarkable than the production of ‘Newsies’ two years ago. We have set a new standard for ourselves, and in doing so, we have rewritten the special ed norms for our community.”

Fishman told the Standard that he “was in awe when I saw the first two performances (‘Newsies’ the first year, ‘Charlie and The Chocolate Factory’ last year): in awe of the kids and in awe of Shira Greenland and her staff. My emotions ratcheted higher and higher each time I glanced back and forth from the stage to the faces of the parents and grandparents in the audience who could not believe what they were witnessing. For the first time in their lives, they were experiencing the joy, the nachas, and the good kind of fingernail-biting anxiety that you feel when you watch your child perform in a school play. There was so much emotion coursing through the room. Tears of joy, just bittersweet because of the journey it took to get these kids to this point and because of the uncertainty in their journey ahead. It was the kind of moment you have as a Sinai parent when you feel like making the ‘Shehechiyanu’ blessing, because you have lived to see something wonderful that you never expected to see in your lifetime.”

Yosef’s mother, Bassie Taub, spoke about how different the world is when seen through the eyes of an autistic child and how heartwarming it is to experience nachas in a totally unexpected way. “We didn’t know what to expect when we first learned of our child’s issues,” she told the Standard, “but Yosef has been an unending source of nachas to our family.”

His father, Rabbi Michael Taubes, added, “As the father of a child with special needs, one of the many things I’ve learned is that these children too want very much to be loved, to be recognized and admired, to be praised for their accomplishments, touted for their achievements, and applauded for their performances. They too want to have their moment in the sun, their chance to have all eyes on them, their opportunity to be cheered as a star — just like all other children. This play enables all the Sinai Shalem High School students to shine in accordance with their individual abilities and to be — at least for one evening — at the center of the action, the focus of the crowd’s attention, the main attraction.”

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