The Matzo Ball Diaries

January 21 – February 26, 2017

This show reveals the secret stories of food and home. Laugh and cry and discover the power of food to nourish, heal or move us to action.




Adapted, Curated & Produced by Ronda Spinak
Directed by Susan Morgenstern
South Bay Producer Liz Altman
Dramaturge  Lisa Rosenbaum
Assistant Directed by Michelle Altman
Associate Producers Susie Yuré & Rose Ziff
Literary Manager Suzanna Kaplan

Challa — Adapted from Poems For My People (Euclid Press, 1986)
Written by Rose Taylor.  Performed by Kate Zentall.

Eat, Eat — Adapted from The Best Boy in the United States of America (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2015) Written by Ron Wolfson.  Performed by Cliff Weissman and Ensemble.

Iranian Tar-off
Written by Esther Amini.  Performed by Emma Berdie Donson.

American Dream — Adapted from  Living the Gift of Time (2015)
Written by Albert Kallis.  Performed by Cliff Weissman, Kate Zentall and Emma Berdie Donson.

Written by Deirdre Hennings.  Performed by Emma Berdie Donson and Kate Zentall.

The Tomato Omelet — Adapted from Cosmpolitian
Written by Barbara Bottner.  Performed by Kate Zentall and Cliff Weissman.

Food Glorious Food — A Commission of Jewish Women’s Theatre
Written and performed by Shelly Goldstein.

My Lekker Figure — Adapted from her novel in progress, The Tokoloshe
Written by Robyn Travis.  Adapted to the stage by Lisa Rosenbaum.  Performed by Emma Berdie Donson.

Tasty Morsels — A compilation of short pieces, adapted by Ronda Spinak
Written by:  Sherry Mendelson, Steve Bluestein, Lynne Himelstein, Monique Barry, Arlene Schindler,
Allyson Himelstein, Liz Altman, Wendy Hammers.  Performed by the Ensemble.

It Was Mommie Lila’s Food That Kept Us Together
Written by Amy Flanzbaum.  Performed by Cliff Weissman.

Feathers and Hair — Adapted from The Flying Camel, Edited by Loolwa Khazzom (Seal Press, 2003) Written by Farideh Goldin.  Performed by Kate Zentall.

The Secret to Brisket
Written by Rene Moilanen. Performed by Shelly Goldstein, Emma Berdie Donson and Kate Zentall.

A Jewish American Love Poem — Adapted from Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for
Every Woman of the Tribe (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2012)
Written by Lisa Alcalay Klug.  Performed by the Ensemble.


LIZ ALTMAN (Writer) wrote “Almost a Sacrifice,” previously performed at the JWT salon Unknown Stories of Biblical Proportions.  Other credits include song lyrics for activities at the University of Michigan and the Dallas Bar Follies; co-directing, co-writing, and performing in the annual SMU law school follies.  JWT:  Advisory board member and South Bay producer.  Professional:  Vice president of a real estate company.  Hobbies:  tennis, art, and travel.  Special love to her muse, Louis.

MICHELLE ALTMAN (Assistant Director/Tech Director/Stage Manager) graduated from Drake University with a BFA in Theatre/Acting in 2012. Since then she has been performing, writing, and directing in Chicago. Performance credits include Silent Night of the Living Dead, The Cherry Orchard (Charlotta) and Beast Women (Standup/performance art). Directing credits include The Chocolate Affair, Sure Thing, A Smell of Burnt Feathers, Immature (co-writer), When Angels Wept, Everybody Needs a Good Night Out, and The Titus Andronicus Project (co-writer). Thank you to all who support the arts community!

ESTHER AMINI (Writer) is an author and a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. Her writings have appeared in Elle Magazine, Tablet, The Jewish Week, Barnard Magazine, Inscape Literary Magazine, and Lilith. Five of her stories have been performed in Los Angeles by Jewish Women’s Theatre. Two were staged at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan in a show entitled Saffron and Rosewater.  She was recently awarded the Aspen Words – 2016 Emerging Writer Fellowship.  Ms. Amini lives in Manhattan and is on the faculty of the New York School for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis.  She is currently writing a memoir about growing up first-generation American in an Iranian/Jewish home in Queens.  To stay updated, follow Esther Amini on Facebook.

MONIQUE BARRY (Writer) is a Chinese Jew who has an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA. She was a recipient of the Barbara Streisand Fellowship for Comedy Writing.  Monique has blogged for The Huffington Post and written for O Magazine. She spends her time caring for her two young daughters, writing, and obsessing about trivial things like whether the salmon she bought at the market is really wild.

STEVE BLUESTEIN (Writer) Doing standup comedy for more than 30 years, Steve Bluestein has finally come into his own as a playwright, with several plays under his belt. He is a contributing writer to The Huffington Post,  the nationally syndicated comic strip Shoe, and a founding member of the Groundlings. He’s also penned two books, It’s So Hard to Type with a Gun in my Mouth, and 49-1/2 Shades of Blue…stein. 

BARBARA BOTTNER (Writer) writes for adults and kids. Some of her more than 40 books for children and teenagers have garnered national awards and appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. Her award-winning animations appeared on The Electric Company and Sesame Street, and Jim Henson sang her lyrics. She’s also written for children’s television and full-length features and was staff on a prime-time sitcom. Her short stories appeared in Cosmopolitan and Playgirl; her essays, humor, and criticism in LAWEEKLY, The Miami Herald, and New York Times.  As an actress, she traveled through Europe with Ellen Stewart’s Café La Mama and worked with Sam Shepherd. She’s been teaching writing to a talented bunch of authors and just completed a young-adult novel, I See Thunder. Her newest book for children, Priscilla Gorilla, will be out in March 2017, and four more coming soon. Her forthcoming YA novel is From The Awful Girl, With Love. 2018.

EMMA BERDIE DONSON (Actor) grew up in Ossining, NY, and graduated with a BFA in acting (high honors) from the University of Michigan. Favorite roles include 9-year-old Edward and his mother Betty in Cloud Nine, Anna/Cecil in And Baby Makes Seven, and Amanda in For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, which she had the great pleasure to perform for Mr. Durang. Upcoming roles: Marley in The Last Room, of which she is also an executive producer, and a new adventure as a casting assistant. She has had the good fortune to work with Christine Lahti (Chicago Hope), Mark Cendrowski (Big Bang Theory), Gregory Doran (RSC), Charles Haid (Hill Street Blues, Breaking Bad), and Yuri Sardarov (Chicago Fire, Ides of March). She loves spending sunny days outside with her 4.5-year-old fox terrier rescue, Winnie. Thank you to the JWT for such a warm welcome!

AMY FLANZBAUM (Writer) Encouraged to start writing after hearing Libby Schwartz’s moving message (for us all to tell our “ordinary extraordinary” stories), she was further inspired to write by her life with her mother. Amy has enjoyed working in the healing arts for more than 20 years.

FARIDEH GOLDIN (Writer) Born in Shiraz, Iran, Farideh Goldin immigrated to the United Sates in 1975 in search of her imagined America. While she settled uneasily into American life, the political unrest in Iran intensified and in February of 1979, Farideh’s family was forced to flee Iran on the last El-Al flight to Tel Aviv. They arrived in Israel as refugees, having left everything behind.  Farideh’s memoir, Leaving Iran: Between Migration and Exile (January 2016), knits together her father’s story of dislocation and loss with her own experience as an Iranian Jew in a newly adopted home. The book is an intimate portrait of displacement and construction of identity, a story of family loyalty and cultural memory.  Farideh’s first memoir, Wedding Song: Memoirs of an Iranian Jewish Woman (2003) is based on Farideh’s struggle in balancing her opposing worlds in Iran: loyalty to her family, who obeyed strict social, cultural, and religious mores, and her western education that promoted individualism and self-reliance.  In her essays and scholarly articles, Farideh explores issues of identity in her own life as well as those of Iranian women writers.  For more information, please check her website:

SHELLY GOLDSTEIN (Writer/Actor) has written for every genre of TV, film and stage. Her one-woman shows have played to sell-out crowds throughout the US and UK. She co-starred with Sir Derek Jacobi and Vanessa Redgrave in the British film, The Riddle and with Vinnie Jones in the Irish film, Assault of Darkness. She has written or punched-up sitcoms, dramas, films, lyrics, documentaries, animation, award shows, jokes and special material for such artists as Steve Martin, Barbra Streisand, Sharon Stone, Justin Timberlake, Anne Hathaway, LL Cool J, Jane Fonda, Garry Marshall, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Yoko Ono. She wrote the book for the disco musical, Last Dance, which work-shopped on Broadway and she directed the critically-acclaimed hit comedy The Vic & Paul Show in L.A. and Chicago. She is currently writing the new musical, Somebody Feels the Water and is the L.A. correspondent for London’s Good Vibes radio. She recently won the New York Times Caption Contest.

WENDY HAMMERS (Writer) Author: What Was I Thinking? (St. Martins Press); (Marabout Press); contributing writer on Huff Po.  Actress: JWT Alum. 7-city tour of her critically acclaimed solo show, RIPE. TV: Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos, Mad About You.  Comic: Oprah; The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Producer: Creator/host of Tasty Words™, an LA-based spoken-word salon. As a human: Deep love for her husband, her son, and dark chocolate. Celebrating life every chance she gets. More here:

DEIRDRE HENNINGS (Writer) makes her JWT debut with Thanksgiving. She regularly reads her stories at Story Salon in the Valley and her poetry at the Rattle Readings at the Flintridge Bookstore, and her poems and a story have been published in The Writers Tribe Review and Melancholy Hyperbole. In a past life, she was a grant writer at Occidental College.

ALLYSON HIMELSTEIN (Writer) Born in Los Angeles and raised in Indianapolis, Allyson is thrilled to have moved back home after spending time in Manhattan and New Hampshire. She is a career advisor at the University of Southern California, sings in the University Chorus, and serves as the Chairwoman of the Young Leadership Board of Smile Train. She would like to thank her mother for introducing her to JWT and for always encouraging her to find the silver lining.

LYNNE HIMELSTEIN (Writer) has dedicated herself to the Jewish community, assuming leadership positions on the board of National Women’s Philanthropy.  In great demand as a speaker on Jewish philanthropy, she has traveled around both the United States and Israel, inspiring people to give to Jewish organizations.  She is currently the chair of Lion of Judah Endowment for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and member of the board of Jewish Women’s Archive. Lynne is a returning writer for Jewish Women’s Theatre.

AL KALLIS (Writer) is one of the founders of IHOP, International House of Pancakes. A professional illustrator and art director, Kallis’ clients included Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and Capitol Records. As a documentary filmmaker, Kallis produced numerous foundation films. The Making of Amber Waves received the American Film Festival’s Blue Ribbon Award. Other documentaries include The Incredible Dream; a history of the Hebrew University; The Family Place, about the Julia Ann Singer Center for damaged children; Winning, Friends Forever, the story of the Jewish Big Brothers organization; and Partners, a Rockefeller-supported project documenting geo-political activists from around the world. A lifetime member of Variety International, he has also served on the board of the Beverly Hills Maple Center, is a founding member of the Los Angeles Children’s Museum, and in 2013 received the Young Musicians Foundation Humanitarian Award.

LISA KLUG (Writer) is an award-winning journalist, public speaker, editor, and bestselling author of two humor books, Cool Jew and Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guides for Every Member of the Tribe (Andrews McMeel). A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UC Berkeley with a masters in journalism, her writing appears in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, The Atlantic, Variety, and Times of Israel, where she is an international senior correspondent and previously covered JWT productions. The daughter of a Holocaust survivor and a descendant of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, her love of Jewish culture dovetails with her passion for the arts–themes she is currently exploring in a memoir. A winner of the Jerusalem Poetry Slam, Lisa’s contribution to Matzo Ball Diaries is her Jewish American Love Poem, which is excerpted from Hot Mamalah. This is the first time her work has been adapted to a theatrical performance. Visit her online at, on Twitter @lisaklug and at

SHERRY MENDELSON (Writer) is a retired psychiatrist. She wrote for the University of California San Francisco student newspaper, Synapse, from 1973 to 1977 as a medical student and co-led a poetry-writing group for psychiatric inpatients at UCSF. Recently retired from psychiatric practice, she returned to writing through a class taught at the Braid. She is currently working on a memoir about coming of age in the 1960s and finding her way to medical school.

RENEE MOILANEN (Writer) is a Los Angeles-based writer and former newspaper reporter whose work has appeared in publications across the country.  She now writes a regular column for the Southern California Newspaper Group, and she has authored a book on home birth. She lives in Redondo Beach with her husband and two young boys, who love to eat her brisket.

SUSAN MORGENSTERN (Producing Director) began directing in college by staging musical theatre concert readings while co-teaching American Musical Comedy with Tom Lehrer at UC Santa Cruz.  She went on to teach and direct at the renowned Stage Door Manor performing arts camp in upstate New York.  In Los Angeles, Susan has directed several shows at Theatre West, including Saturday Night at Grossinger’s, book by Stephen Cole, music by Claibe Richardson; and Barbara Nell Beery’s play, The Socialization of Ruthie Shapiro.  At the Falcon/Garry Marshall Theatre, she directed Leap, by Arnold Margolin, Surviving Sex, by David Landsberg, and the hit comedy, The Psychic, by Sam Bobrick.  Susan directed Happy Days, a New Musical, book by Garry Marshall, music/lyrics by Paul Williams, at Cabrillo Music Theatre.  She directed an extended-run production of Meryl Cohn’s comedy Reasons to Live at the Skylight Theatre.  She co-authored and directed I’m Not Famous: A Musical Journey with Barbara Minkus, which had an extended 2017 run at the Santa Monica Playhouse.  Susan also works as a consultant show director at Disneyland Parks and Resorts.  She has directed numerous JWT salon shows, and most recently,  Annie Korzen: Famous Actress, at JWT’s performance and art space, The Braid.

LISA PEARL ROSENBAUM (Dramaturge/Writer/Programming Director of The Braid) is the author of the novel A Day of Small Beginnings (Little, Brown & Co. 2006). When not engaged with All Things JWT she works on her new novel about the destruction of ancient Indian mounds at Cahokia, Illinois, the Blacklist, America’s interstate highways, and oh yes, love.  Lisa lives in Pacific Palisades with her husband, Walt Lipsman. They have two daughters, Ariana and Maya.

ARLENE SCHINDLER (Writer) founded the country’s first comedy-review column at The New York Post. She’s written for The Los Angeles Times, Daily Variety, and Playgirl. Currently, she’s a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post and Purple Clover and is a spoken-word performer in cozy LA coffee shops. Her novel The Last Place She’d Look is a raucous romp through the hidden sex lives of today’s “mature” woman. Follow and contact her at, and on Facebook.

RONDA SPINAK (Producer/JWT Artistic Director) created and produces JWT’s At-Homes Salon Theatre Series, now in its tenth season. She has curated more than 35 original Jewish-themed salon shows for JWT, as well as adapted many of the pieces performed. Spinak developed and produced Not That Jewish at JWT’s The Braid, which ran for 16 months, garnered an LA Drama Critics Circle nomination, only stopping to move to off-Broadway, where the show ran for over 200 performances.  Spinak co-wrote Stories From the Fringe, putting the stories of women rabbis on stage for the first time. Since then, she and her team have interviewed on videotape, 150 national and international women rabbis, and in partnership with Jewish Women’s Archive have made many of the interviews available online at www. She’s the author of the critically acclaimed exercise book, ProBodX (HarperCollins), wrote for Rugrats, and her plays include Oscar Wilde’s Wife, a favorite at the Ashland New Play Festival. Spinak graduated from Stanford University, completed her MBA at UCLA and her masters in writing at USC. She has served as a grant reviewer for the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, is on the board of the Alliance for Jewish Theatres and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. She feels blessed to be working with the many talented and inspiring women who give so generously to Jewish Women’s Theatre. Find more information:

ROSE TAYLOR (Writer) is a graduate of the Yiddishe Folks Shule in Montreal. She came to America with her husband, where they lived in the Midwest and then moved to California with their three children. She has published poetry and prose in the YMHA Clarion and was the sole female columnist for the YMHA Beacon.  Her poetry appeared in the Montreal Star, the Gazette, and several anthologies.  Her plays include It Is My Life, starring Nehemiah Persoff, Will of Happiness, and an adaptation of Leon Uris’ Exodus, produced by the Conference of Jewish Women’s Organizations.  Rose has given many book reviews, poetry readings, and talks at conferences, seminars, and conventions and has written columns and articles for a variety of publications. She served on the editorial board of Outlook, in which her prose and poetry have been published. Her books include Poems for my People and This Miracle, This Place, These Palisades.

ROBYN DIANE TRAVIS (Writer) was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, during the apartheid era. She made her way to the United States, where she happily lives in Pacific Palisades with her husband, Gabriel Travis; daughter Chloe; and dog Thorin. This piece is adapted from her first novel in progress, The Tokoloshe, about the role and effects of power at both the personal and political level that dominated South Africa in the ’60s and ’70s and its effect in particular on a white Jewish girl coming of age in that society.

CLIFF WEISSMAN (Actor) is an Artist-In-Residence at JWT and has appeared in several Salon presentations.  Recent theatre credits include the world premiere of Hole In The Sky by award-winning playwright Octavio Solis at Circle X, the lead role of Orgon in Moliere’s The Imposter with New Guard Theatre and the farcical Out to Breakfast, directed by Star Trek‘s Walter Koenig at Theatre of Note.  Cliff can currently be seen in the premiere episode of the Facebook Watch series Cruiser & Shakers and in the POOKA! episode of Hulu’s Into The Dark anthology horror series.

RON WOLFSON (Writer) is the Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, where he has been on the faculty for forty years and president of the Kripke Institute.  He is the author of fourteen books on Jewish life, including Shabbat, Passover, Hanukkah, God’s To-Do List, The Seven Questions You’re Asked in Heaven, Relational Judaism, and his memoir, The Best Boy in the United States of America. Each book features stories illustrating the power of Jewish living to strengthen Jewish family life, personal spiritual growth, and institutional vitality.  Ron grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and today lives in Encino with his wife, Susie, travels the world as a popular scholar-in-residence and speaker, and eats frozen yogurt just about every day.

SUSIE YURÉ (Director of Community Engagement/Associate Producer) has proudly worked with JWT for 7 years. She has volunteered in non-profit organizations, in which she has held leadership roles in fundraising, event planning, facilities coordinating, programming, membership, marketing, and administration. Susie has produced musical theatre productions, classical concerts, and cabaret performances. She holds a BA and MA in elementary education from USC, along with her California lifetime teaching credential. While at USC, she met her husband. Her fav