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A Room Full of Love

At last week’s human rights Shabbat, Ruth Messinger offered wise counsel on how we as individuals and a community can combat bigotry of all kinds in our country.  In her words: “Despair is not a strategy.”

That lesson has been lived by Anita Hollander, our children’s choir director and musical force, who this past Shabbat was celebrated for her 30 years at The Village Temple.  It was a perfect Anita evening—bursting with life, wonderful music, a packed room full of love.

At age 21 Anita was diagnosed with neurofibrosarcoma, a former of cancer of the nerves. After surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and 5 years of walking and dancing in a leg brace, the cancer recurred. Ag age 26, her left leg was amputated.

Anita went on to pursue her musical theater career, and became a tireless advocate of fellow performers with disabilities. She built a wonderful family with her husband, the actor Paul Hamilton and her daughter, Holland Hamilton, a gifted performer and teacher ( and former member of the Children’s Choir!). Along the way she joined The Village Temple, first providing special music programs and then becoming children’s choir director.

Preparing for Anita’s 30th anniversary celebration was a remarkable experience. The process has given us a chance to quantify (in a way) the unquantifiable—namely, what she means and has meant to The Village Temple all these years. We’ve seen an outpouring of love and respect from the choir kids and families who have learned so much from her, musically and otherwise. These feelings were beautifully captured by the Dorzback family, in a letter they contributed to the celebration. This excerpt captures the feeling shared by so many, l’dor v’dor:

Whenever our mother said  “the choir taught you this, the choir taught you that,” we used to roll our eyes -– choir seemed like just another activity.  But now we recognize the habits that we formed, the skills that we developed, the support that we received and passed on, the Jewish history and values that we learned through song, and the incredible role model that you provided.  We are proud to be part of the scores of children whom you instructed, engaged, and inspired, and we hope to be able to influence others in our careers as you have influenced us. 

And there is that large constituency of people whose children were not choir members, but who are huge Anita fans because of everything else: the beautiful music she has created for Shabbat services, the young musicians she has cultivated, all those Purim Spiels, Jazz Shabbats, Martin Luther King celebrations,  her one woman show “Still Standing,.” Et cetera, et cetera.

The groups are overlapping, which makes sense, because Anita brings people together.  All of us have been inspired by her talent, her ability to integrate the personal and professional, her courage,  her toughness,  her honesty, her tenderness.

Year in and year out she has made us better.

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