“Bubby’s Kitchen” is opening in Kirkland, but it’s not a restaurant. It’s a one-woman musical presentation created and performed by Shira Ginsburg, a cantor, mezzo-soprano, and proud granddaughter of “Bubby” Judith Ginsburg. The one-run show plays at the Kirkland Performance Center on April 21 to benefit the Hadassah women’s Zionist organization.
Shira Ginsburg grew up “in a family of Holocaust survivors and resistance fighters.” She has fond family memories, such as those of her Bubby Judith serving up generous amounts of food, conversation, and advice around the kitchen table. She later transformed these memories into “Bubby’s Kitchen.”
Ginsburg identifies herself as a “second-and-a-half generation Holocaust survivor in an extraordinarily tight-knit family. My father was the only son. There were three daughters,” she said. “I grew up part of a large family and one of 10 grandchildren. [My grandparents’] story was a very big part of my life.”
As a teenager in war-torn Europe, Judith (then Yudis) Ginsburg survived the Nazi occupation of her hometown of Lida, Poland. Her family did not. She lived in the forest, became a member of the Bielski partisans — the group characterized in the film “Defiance” — and fought with the Jewish resistance. After the war, Ginsburg married another partisan fighter and lived in a displaced-persons camp.
In 1949, they immigrated to the U.S. with two children who had been born in the camp. The older child was Shira’s father. The family lived in Troy, N.Y. and owned a dairy farm, where they raised what were eventually four children.
Shira Ginsburg’s pride in her grandmother’s survival and love for the family’s kitchen-table conversations were enhanced by a talent for being comfortable in front of an audience.
“I performed at [age] 4 with my aunt in her high school production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’” she said.
Ginsburg graduated from Syracuse University’s Drama and Musical Theatre program. After stints as an actress, singer and songwriter, she entered Hebrew Union College’s cantorial program. In 2009, she presented the 75-minute “Bubby’s Kitchen” as her cantorial thesis. The show premiered in New York City and has been travelling ever since. Performances have been staged in Jewish Community Centers and synagogues around the East Coast and Florida.
While the story is very Jewish, the performance has “a universal message of being raised in a family, lessons in life learned around the kitchen table,” Ginsburg said. It “resonates with people from any culture.”
The Seattle chapter of Hadassah booked Ginsburg for the benefit performance, with proceeds supporting Hadassah Hospital’s pediatric oncology department in Jerusalem. The Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center is a sponsor as well.
“Seattle Chapter of Hadassah is thrilled to bring Shira’s ‘Bubby’s Kitchen’ to Seattle for her West Coast debut,” said event chair Karen Ovetz. “We have heard great things about the performance from our friends on the East Coast and want to share this fabulous piece of history and song with our community in Seattle.”
On stage, Ginsburg demonstrates her vocal range, her emotional connection, and solid Yiddish chops; a video clip on her website, bubbyskitchen.com, shows her performance of “Shtil Di Nacht.”
She sings “Yiddish opera, musical
theatre, chazzanut [cantorial singing], more contemporary,” she said. “It’s fun — a big range — and challenging.”
Ginsburg’s enthusiasm exists even over the telephone. She lives in New York, where she serves as cantor at East End Temple Congregation El Emet, but she spoke with JTNews from Florida, where she observed Passover with her Bubby, now in her 80s, and the extended Ginsburg clan.
“My energy is awesome around the show. I am the most proud of [it] in my life,” she said. “[It’s] a legacy to my grandparents…Every time I perform [I feel] a powerful impact on myself and others.”
An updated version of “Bubby’s Kitchen” will have new music from collaborator Jonathan Comisar. It is waiting in the wings, with the hope of a re-premiere in New York and a “more commercial run,” Ginsburg said, to increase the visibility of her grandparents’ story.
“I so wanted to have original music, and I’m just completing the last song now,” she said.