I spoke to Sonya Schneider after she had wrapped up the production of her play, Wake, which she began writing about a year ago. “It’s the first production of any play I’ve written, so it was exciting and terrifying on many levels.”
Wake had eight performances the first two weekends in April at Seattle’s Little Theater. The cast “did a pretty rigorous rehearsal schedule for almost a month. I was very pleased…I often heard that it was a very intense play, and I think people were drawn into [the story].”
The family drama is loosely based on Sonya’s experiences. “Its roots are definitely in my family, although…it certainly took on a life of its own the more I wrote and rewrote it,” she says.
Wake deals with identity, and “the concept of duality,” which fascinates Sonya. The children in the fictional family are half-Jewish, like she is. The character of the daughter assumes the role of the skeptical atheist countered by her aunt, an optimistic, practicing Jew.
“It was particularly interesting to dwell in that rivalry,” says Sonya, “because I have dwelled in it myself, within myself and within my family.”
While Sonya, 29, was raised secular, she says her strongest Jewish influence was from her bubbe (who lived in Israel for a while) and her uncle. After high school, she spent a summer in Israel on an Edgar Bronfman fellowship.
With family roots in Seattle — her great-grandparents settled here and her grandparents met and married here — she always imagined living here while growing up in San Diego.
She met her husband, Stuart Nagae, at Stanford University, and as luck would have it, he was from Vashon Island. After graduation, they moved to Seattle. She worked at Intiman for four years, first as an intern and then as an artistic assistant, then left that job to write full time. (The rest of her immediate family has slowly made its way up here, too.)
She may not produce Wake again, but hopes to write other plays and to revisit its themes. “Our identity as Americans is so fascinating,” she says, also saying that Americans are free to — and often do — change the way they see themselves. “Familial relationships and identity will always interest me.”
In fact, she already has a new idea. “I’m going to start writing this weekend.”
Former Seattleite Rubin Salant recently received an honorary doctorate from Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel in March. The degree was presented at a gala dinner at Florida’s Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort.
Rubin has been a strong supporter of the university since he first started in real estate development in Seattle in the 1970’s. As he told me over the phone from Miami, where he is enjoying retirement, the late Jack Spitzer was one of his first bankers. (Spitzer was international president of B’nai B’rith for many years, and a major contributor to Ben Gurion University’s School of Social Work.)
“Jack was a very persistent individual,” he recalls. “As soon as I completed my first building, he was at my office to teach me about tzedakah, whether I wanted to know or not.”
With each building that Rubin completed, Jack came over to discuss the next donation. One of those donations was to Ben Gurion University, back then “just a handful of buildings in the middle of the desert,” he said. “Jack was a big supporter.”
Salant quickly became a founder, and as he progressed in his business, his support of the university grew.
“Before Jack died, he came to see me about completing a pet project of his [on the campus]… They were building a social science building.” Rubin didn’t make an immediate commitment, but soon after, Spitzer died.
“As my farewell gift to him, I completed the building at Ben Gurion University.”
Rubin laughed and added, “Small time boy does well, ken ein hora (literally, ‘no evil eye’ in Yiddish)!
A Brooklyn native, Salant discovered the Pacific Northwest when stationed in Spokane while in the service.
“During the Jewish holidays, the Jewish mothers of Seattle would invite soldiers to seder, and that introduced me to Seattle,” he says. “I said someday I was going to return.”
Back in Brooklyn, he soon decided he preferred the West.
“Without anything other than a bag full of clothes, I went to Seattle,” he says.
He first worked at Boeing and then opened a nightclub on Yesler. After he married, he worked with his father-in-law, the late Jack Pruzan, and his brother-in-law Herb Pruzan at the family’s telecommunications business. (“Mr. Wonderful, that’s what I used to call him,” Rubin says of his father-in-law.)
After three years there, he went into real estate, becoming one of Seattle’s first condominium developers.
“One of the things I loved about Seattle was Rabbi Falcon [of Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue].… He’s very inspirational to me.” He and his late wife raised three daughters here, and he still returns each year to visit and for a family business meeting.
“I still consider Seattle my real home,” he says.