Only in Jerusalem: From Mr. T to Paddy Chayefsky

I felt as if I had just completed the Boston Marathon for the first time, or had just conducted Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Two months before I closed my store Mr. T in Jerusalem, a buddy of mine invited me to join him for a directors', writers' and actors' workshop in Tel Aviv sponsored by the Tel Aviv Community Theater. The truth was, the offer came at just the right time. I was very worried about going into one of those retirement depressions, as I had seen happen with many of my friends. Suddenly one has nothing to do, nowhere to go. "I've lost my identity." The wife takes over. "Why don't you come shopping with me, dear?" Yikes, I just wasn't going to let this happen to me. So there I was, a week later, in a small room at the Tel Aviv Museum library watching a couple struggle through a small scene from The Audition by Neil Simon. It was a pathetic first reading. "Next!" Suddenly I was called upon to read from a scene by James Thurber. I was atrocious. I wanted to slink out the door and head back to Jerusalem. Most of us were catastrophic that night. However, there were a few who had had some acting schooling somewhere, or had been in numerous amateur productions in Israel and abroad. They were quite impressive. I felt that I should have acted better. For God's sake, I have an MFA from UCLA, one of the leading theater, film and television universities in the world. I had worked for the Israel Broadcasting Authority as a producer and writer. But, alas, that was over 30 years ago. Today, I was a boring businessman, and tonight, I stunk out the joint. At the end of this first evening, we were informed that the workshop would culminate with a showcase production to be performed in front of a live audience two months from now. I hadn't been on stage, as an actor, for over 50 years. Suddenly I had one of those Shalom Aleichem, Tuvia the Milkman moments: If I quit the workshop, it's "why don't you go shopping with me dear," - however, if I stick it out, I will make new friends and challenge my creative juices. Two months later I performed a monologue I had written in front of 300 hundred people at Beit Yad Labanim. It was based on Paddy Chayefsky's script written for the Movie Network, and I put an Israeli twist on it. The producer of the evening, Madeleine Mordecai, felt that I should be the last act to perform that night. I wasn't sure if this was because Maddy wanted to end the show with a bang or because I was just that bad. However, I did know that I had to wait for all my colleagues to finish their nine scenes before I did mine. It was Chinese water torture waiting for everyone to finish. But when it was my turn, I was ready and bursting with confidence. The audience loved it. And me, well, I felt as if I had just completed the Boston marathon for the first time, or just conducted Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The entire evening was a smashing success, everyone was wonderful and TACT had yet another exciting production under its belt. At Hanukka, TACT produced the musical Cinderella. It was outrageous and wonderful. There was lots of slapstick, music and audience participation. I played Major Domo, a minor character, but I also sang and danced in the chorus. We had five sold-out performances. This morning I woke up in Jerusalem and I knew, with certainty, that my past with Mr. T was history. When I took my morning shower, I belted out "there's no business like show business." One thing is for sure: Today, I feel like a young and energetic university student all over again. The writer has an MFA from UCLA in Theater Arts, and was a producer and writer for the Israel Broadcasting Authority. For the past 30 years he was the owner of the Mr. T Israel Army Navy surplus and T-shirt company in Jerusalem.