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Shaina Taub won two Tony Awards for ‘Suffs’ — and quoted the Talmud

The musical scribe reminded audiences that we have work to do to keep American democracy intact

This article incorporates material from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that originally appeared here.

For a Father’s Day Tony Awards, what better Jewish text is there to quote then the Talmudic book of aphorisms known as “Ethics of the Fathers?”

“You are not obligated to complete the work,” Shaina Taub, the writer, director and star of the musical Suffs, said as she accepted the award for best score. “But neither are you free to abandon it.”

The quote from Rabbi Tarfon is one of the most oft-quoted lines from Pirkei Avot, or perhaps the whole Talmud, and forms the epigraph of Taub’s script about the divisions in the women’s suffrage movement (she also won for best book). In her acceptance speech, Taub was talking about — what else? —  the state of our American democracy, an ongoing project.

“This is a hard year in our country, and I just hope that we can remember that when we organize, when we come together, we are capable of making real change and progress in this country for equality and justice,” Taub said. “And so I hope we can all do that together.”

These words are good to remember going into November.

The saying has animated legions of Jewish activists, from acolytes of the late liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the acting attorney general at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, who have sought to battle against steep odds to make change.

Taub, who was raised in a Jewish family in Vermont where she said she had little access to Jewish community, first shared the text on Instagram on Oct. 27, 2018, after a white supremacist murdered 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. There, she posted a meme that shows several lines from Jewish texts, including an exhortation to “do justly” that appears in the Bible.

“The only thing bigger than my rage toward these white supremacist cowards is my love for the Jewish community and all its allies,” she wrote at the time. “These words from the Talmud ground me in these times, so I offer them to you.”

Taub elaborated on her connection to the quotation in an interview with Hey Alma in 2021, at a time when the public launch of “Suffs” was on hold because of the pandemic.

“It’s part of the thesis of the show,” she said at the time. “So much of the language of activism is about this finality of finishing a struggle — never again, enough is enough, if not now, then when. But the fights and the struggles for equality and justice are never finished, and no generation really completes that work. It doesn’t mean you don’t still have to work and fight and organize as if you could finish it. It’s holding that contradiction in your head as an activist, and as any person working towards a better future.”

Taub was one of many Jewish Tony recipients Sunday night, including the directors Daniel Aukin and Danya Taymor, actor Daniel Radcliffe and playwright David Adjmi, whose Stereophonic was the night’s big winner.

Before the broadcast, Alex Edelman also won a special Tony for his show Just For Us. The comedian said his show, about his infiltration of a neo-Nazi meeting in Queens, was also relevant to the crisis in the Middle East and its repercussions around the world.

The show was“about people sitting in a room who disagree with each other in ways that are fundamental and profound and try to understand something about ourselves and those others,” Edelman noted.  

Given events in Israel and Palestine, he added, “It’s all the more necessary to find ways to do that.”

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