After 29 years and close to 80 productions, the Jerusalem English Speaking Theater (JEST) is bringing down the final curtain. It was founded in 1985 as a private venture by Sheldon and Inez Klimist, and remained so to the end.

Its very first show was Terence Rattigan’s Separate Tables.

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“Age, illness, reduced audiences, lack of a continuing generation have all hastened this decision,” wrote Lea Stoller, JEST’s artistic director from the beginning almost to its end. She has directed over 50 of those productions, the last being On Golden Pond earlier this year. Her first show was the musical You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. In between there were such as Pygmalion, The Sisters Rosenzweig, Spoon River Anthology and Annie Get Your Gun.

Lea did the shows. Husband Larry was JEST’S business manager.

“For almost all of the time Lea and Larry were the group’s heart and soul,” says Bruce Oppenheimer. He is a clinical psychologist and in the past was an enthusiastic JEST member both as actor and director. He did three shows for the company, among them Kinder Transport and Mrs Klein.

Lea Stoller announced the end of JEST in an email, adding that from the start “it was decided that we would never consider JEST as a business [i.e.

for profit], but rather as a vehicle for expressing our deep love for the theater, and for fostering camaraderie among people of similar interests.”

She pays heartfelt tribute to the many people, whether on or backstage who worked so hard for JEST’s success, and quotes George Bernard Shaw who said that amateurs give more to their performances than professionals “because they do it for love.”

JEST chairwoman Rachel Keene says that most of the comments she’s been receiving have all said the same thing: without JEST English speaking theater in Jerusalem wouldn’t be where it is today – which is flourishing.

Most, if not all the companies performing in English in the capital had their start at JEST, Keene says. These include The Encore Educational Theater, which produces musicals, and Shakespeare in the Park, which is run by Nathan Skop, “who joined JEST as soon as he’d arrived as an immigrant,” she recalls.

JEST never had its own space. At first they played at Gerard Behar in the center of town, Then they moved to Beit Shmuel and for the past few years they’ve been performing at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel’s auditorium.

Mrs. Stoller’s final valediction says it best.

Ave atque vale, she wrote. Hail and farewell!
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