Steal a Pencil for Me and More in NY

Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 7:30 p.m.

JTS will host a performance of excerpts and discussion of two important new operas: As One (music by Laura Kaminsky, libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed), following a transgender woman’s journey to self-acceptance. The other is Steal a Pencil for Me (music by H. L. Miller Cantorial School Assistant Professor Gerald Cohen, libretto by Deborah Brevoort), the story of a real-life couple who fell in love while imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps. Following the performance, the two composers, Laura Kaminsky and Gerald Cohen, will discuss their operas’ creation. Cantor Nancy Abramson, director of H. L. Miller Cantorial School, will moderate the discussion.

Tickets: $10

For Tickets:

JTS is located at 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027

All students with ID—as well as JTS alumni, faculty, students, and staff—may request up to two free tickets each.


A story about identity, authenticity, and compassion. Like every other boy. Unlike every other boy. Two voices—Hannah before and Hannah after—share the part of a sole transgender protagonist. The opera is based and inspired in part by the life experiences of acclaimed filmmaker Kimberly Reed. The story traces with empathy and humor Hannah’s experiences from her youth in a small town to her college years on the West Coast, and finally to her acceptance of herself. In a note from the opera’s composer and librettists: “Fallible, self-deprecating, and admittedly somewhat self-involved, Hannah’s journey is one that audiences can relate to. We eschewed any political agenda in creating her character and instead focused on someone most people can identify with. We also chose to tell her story with a healthy bit of humor. . . . It is our hope that you come to love Hannah as much as we do.”

Composer Laura Kaminsky’s music “is full of fire as well as ice, written in an idiom that contrasts dissonance and violence with tonal beauty and meditative reflection. It is strong stuff” (American Record Guide). Social and political themes are common in her work, as is an abiding respect for and connection to the natural world. Her opera As One (with co-librettists Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed; commissioned by American Opera Projects) is the most frequently produced contemporary opera in the US since its BAM debut in 2014. The team’s collaboration continues with Some Light Emerges, commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, and Today It Rains, commissioned by San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle and American Opera Projects.  Awarded the 2016 Gold Cross of Merit (Zloty Krzyż Zasługi RP), a decoration from the president of Poland for exemplary public service, Kaminsky has been recognized by the NEA, Opera America, Chamber Music America, and many other awards. Currently composer-in-residenceat American Opera Projects, Kaminsky is head of composition in the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College/SUNY.


Steal a Pencil for Me is the story of Jaap Polak and Ina Soep, who fall in love while imprisoned in the concentration camps Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen. According to librettist Deborah Brevoort: “Steal a Pencil for Me is an uplifting story about many things, most notably the enduring power of love and the imagination to help people survive horrors like the Holocaust.  The opera shows us what is essential: love, stories with meaning and the utter necessity of the imagination, which, once it has envisioned something, then has the power to make that vision real.”   Composer Gerald Cohen knew the real Jaap and Ina for more than 25 years. The opera had its semi-staged premiere at JTS in 2013; Jaap and Ina had just celebrated their 100th and 90th birthdays, respectively, and were in attendance at the JTS performance. Opera Colorado will present the world premiere production of Steal a Pencil for Me in January 2018.

Composer Gerald Cohen is an assistant professor at H. L. Miller Cantorial School at JTS, is on the faculty of Hebrew Union College, and has been cantor at Shaarei Tikvah (Scarsdale, New York) for 30 years. As a composer, he has been praised for his “linguistic fluidity and melodic gift,” creating music that “reveals a very personal modernism that . . . offers great emotional rewards” (Gramophone Magazine).  As a noted synagogue cantor and baritone, his experience as a singer informs his dramatic, lyrical compositions. Cohen’s best-known work, his “shimmering setting” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) of Psalm 23, has received thousands of performances from synagogues and churches to Carnegie Hall and the Vatican.  Recognition of Cohen’s body of work includes commissioning grants from Meet the Composer, National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, American Composers Forum, as well as Cantors Assembly’s Max Wohlberg Award for distinguished achievement in the field of Jewish composition. Cohen received a BA in music from Yale and a DMA in music composition from Columbia.