MOT: The art of health and the health of the arts

MOT: The art of health and the health of the arts

Ben Bridge

By Diana Brement, Jewish Sound columnist

1 “For improving health — and giving hope — to the world’s most vulnerable people,” Celina Schocken recently received a distinguished alumni award from Lakeside High School for her work in international public health. Now living in the New York area, Celina returned home to accept the award in March. “I didn’t expect to win,” she says, adding that Lakeside appears to be encouraging students to “look at non-traditional careers.”

Courtesy Celina Schocken Celina Schocken sits with a pregnant woman in a Ugandan hospital.

Courtesy Celina Schocken
Celina Schocken sits with a pregnant woman in a Ugandan hospital.

After giving a presentation at the awards ceremony, she was blown away by students’ questions. “They understood pretty complex things” about Africa, she says, where the Mercer Island native says she’s really lucky to be doing work that “can really make a difference…in maternal health, HIV and malaria.”

An independent consultant, Celina works with medical technology companies that are developing or marketing products in Africa. Opportunities for innovation there are “just enormous,” she says.

Public health has changed dramatically since she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea-Bissau in the mid-1990s.

“When I moved to Rwanda in 2002,” she recalls, “there were about 200 people who were getting antiretrovirals. Now everyone [there] gets them for free.”

She spent over two years there working for the Ministry of Health.

She travels frequently for work, saying it’s critical to get “out in the field and see what’s working and what’s not.” In Uganda in February, she observed surgeries and saw a rural hospital facing “challenges that you wouldn’t see if you weren’t there.” She documents her trips in more depth and with great photos on her blog, www.celinaschocken.com.

Growing up at Herzl-Ner Tamid, Celina attended the Jewish Day School through 7th grade and the Community High School of Jewish Studies extra-curricular program. She has been to synagogue in Nairobi, Mozambique and Ethiopia, but says Rwanda was the place she felt most proud of being Jewish.

“The Rwandans think very positively of Jews and Israel,” she says.

The daughter of Judy and Joe Schocken, and granddaughter of Ruth Schocken, Celina says her 101-year-old grandmother “follows my stories very closely” and asks “really good questions.”

 

2 In a town filled with theater companies, Art Feinglass came to Seattle and started another — Seattle Jewish Theater Company (SJTC).

Moving from New York to be close to his daughter and two grandchildren (another daughter and two other grandchildren live in Los Angeles), he wanted “to do something meaningful,” and particularly something Jewish, “[to] keep me engaged up here.”

It gets “my Jewish interest and my theater experience melded together,” he says.

Art lived in Seattle once before, in the 1970s. Coming from a kibbutz in Israel where he fought in the Yom Kippur war, he got a master’s degree in English at the University of Washington. His thesis, a novel based on his war experiences, is still archived in Suzzallo Library.

Returning to his native New York, he worked in public relations, then started a murder mystery theater group. That work branched into corporate training. He still operates the mystery company with the help of some assistant managers, and still does sexual harassment and diversity training.

SJTC is a wandering Jewish theater, which may have helped it survive.

“I started this right in the middle of everybody losing everything,” says Art.

Productions are held at varying venues, including the Stroum Jewish Community Center and synagogues. Host venues share costs of purchasing rights and renting equipment, and the company and the house split the proceeds. This way, he says, about “900 to 1,000” people have seen the last few plays.

“You don’t go into it for the money,” notes Art, comparing it to entering the rabbinate — which he tried for a year. “You do it for Jewish continuity.”

Some of SJTC’s earliest productions mixed amateur and professional actors, but it is all professional now. A series of performances of James Sherman’s “From Door to Door” just finished, but Art hopes to present the show at A Contemporary Theater (ACT) in Seattle next year. An original play written about early 20th-century Jewish shopkeepers in our state, to be produced with the Washington State Jewish Historical Society, is being planned.

Art also took up running when he moved here. In mid-April he completed the Whidbey Island Marathon, his first, winning first place in the over-60 category. The day we spoke, he’d completed a 10-mile trail race.

His grandchildren, ages 8, 6, 4 and 2, he says, are really impressed with his medals.

 

Photo: Joan Golston

Art Feinglass onstage, providing direction for his production of “The World of Sholem Aleichem.”

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