David Bishins is a temporary Seattleite, playing the role of Atticus Finch in the Intiman Theater’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird, which has been extended through November 10.
The New York-based actor came to Seattle just for this part. Bishins felt he could learn from Atticus’ “sense of value about what is important in life….When we have a sense of our real values, and don’t overinflate them, it allows us to give others equal value [and] equal consideration, which is a large part of what Atticus talks about in his summation speech,” (which is the apex of the play).
He says that the script connects him with the basic values he had as a child, when he was just becoming aware of both monetary and racial differences in his world. The play “makes me think about innocence lost.”
Growing up in a close-knit community in Temple Hills, Maryland, his family attended Conservative synagogue Shaare Tikvah and lived across the street from a Methodist church.
“Everyone in the neighborhood was either Methodist or Jewish,” he says.
Life was simple then. “I learned to ride my bicycle in the street,” he says, and his earliest Jewish memories were in synagogue, “sitting next to my father, my feet not reaching the ground, his hand on my knee, watching the tzitzis on his tallis swaying back and forth.”
Bishins regrets not seeing his family for the High Holidays, which fell during the three weeks of rehearsal, with Rosh Hashanah falling on the “three long days” of technical rehearsals. His brother and sister live on the East Coast.
All roles change him one way or another, says the actor.
“You discover things about yourself you didn’t know exist[ed],” he says. “Some things you want to slough off, and some things you want to invest in.”
He enjoys the post-performance audience talks that the Intiman holds. “My challenge for the audience is, having experienced this with us…[is to] look a little closer inside and be honest with yourself. Ask yourself what prejudices do you harbor?... Ask yourself: ‘how can I let go of those prejudices? Why do I hold them?’”
Bishins has had only limited chances to see the sights during his Seattle tenure.
“My transportation is a pair of shoes,” he notes.
He can see the Space Needle from his apartment, and he’s been to Pike Place Market to “watch them throw [the] fish around,” as well as walked along the waterfront and seen the Olympic Sculpture Garden.
“You can’t stray too far during show days,” he explains.
Since the formation of the Puget Sound Jewish Coalition on Homelessness almost one year ago (www.jtnews.net/index.php?/news/item/552/), members of this task force have been working hard to ensure that the organization grows both in terms of membership and in its role as advocate for the rights of the homeless.
The organization recently launched an interactive Web site — a wiki — at psjch.wetpaint.com, where you can find out what they are doing as well as what individual member congregations and organizations are doing to serve homeless people in the Seattle area (providing services such as serving meals, collecting supplies and providing funds).
David Horne, who developed the site and is also social action chair for Congregation Kol Ami in Woodinville, stresses that “the best approach we can take is long-term political change.…I’m hoping we develop as an advocate within the political process for a long-term solution. It’s important that we alleviate immediate suffering, but I’m more interested in what we [can] do in the long term.
“I think homelessness is one of the most fundamental of human rights issues,” he adds, and one that is very appropriate for Jews to tackle. One, she might argue, that we are commanded to tackle.
The organization has had four meetings, and at each one a speaker has addressed how to communicate the coalition’s concerns to local, state and federal governments in the strongest possible way. Nancy Amedei of the UW School of Social Work will continue in this vein when she speaks about grassroots advocacy at the group’s fall kick-off event on Sun., Oct. 21.
“We’re hoping to jump-start things after a slow summer,” says Horne.
Sally Kinney, from Temple Beth Am in Seattle, feels very strongly that the Jewish community be represented in homeless advocacy at a time when loss of government funding is forcing more charitable and volunteer organizations to feel compelled to assist with social services.
“It’s nice to be able to represent a Jewish organization working on homelessness,” says Kinney. “Except for [Jewish Family Service], there isn’t any other social service agency identified as Jewish working on homelessness.”
Representatives of PSJCH come from all different religious and community backgrounds, points out Carolyn Cohen, of Seattle’s Congregation Beth Shalom. “It’s truly trans-denominational,” with representatives ranging from Orthodox to the secular at every meeting. Jewish Family Service has been a “blessing,” she states. “They have supported us in every way.”