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Malina defines herself as a “heretical Jew,” choosing her observances and reshaping others. She fasts on Yom Kippur and eats matzo on Passover, though the theatrical Seders the Living Theatre conducted each year utilized a Haggadah that Malina had revised to reflect a “nonracist, nonsexist” worldview.
Around her neck she sports a peace sign and a ring with the Jewish prayer in Hebrew, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
Lillian Booth’s residents, 35% of whom are Jewish, reflect an array of backgrounds and experiences. Rita Sussman was suffering from asthma and confined to a wheelchair when I visited her (shockingly, she passed away the day after our conversation). She is the mother of pianist Bette Sussman, who performed with Whitney Houston and Bette Midler.
Frail, 97-year-old Jennie Schulman served as a dance critic for half a century, mostly for Back Stage. Harold Cherry, 82, is a veteran regional actor, and the Juilliard-trained Joan Stein, 88, was a member of the chamber ensemble the Walden Trio and an accompanist on NBC’s “Your Show of Shows,” starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.
Indeed, the day I’m at the home, Stein is performing at a memorial for a beloved resident: actress Charlotte Fairchild, who appeared in the original productions of “Mama” and “Damn Yankees.” Audio and video clips are shown, reminiscences offered, and Stein plays, totally from memory, a touching rendition of “Clair de Lune.” It is a stunning performance.
“I try to practice as often as possible,” she said to me following the service. Like most of the others, Stein says she does not look back at her life with a host of what-ifs. She says she would not do anything differently, even if that were possible.
By contrast, Cherry wishes he had had more formal education. Still, he does not disparage his unsteady career as an actor, despite the stream of supplementary jobs he needed throughout his life. After all, he had the opportunity to perform in productions of “King Lear” and “Henry V,” starring, respectively, Morris Carnovsky and Philip Bosco, at the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre, in Stratford, Conn.