Opening Minds, Bridging Differences, Living Jewish Values.

Alumni Spotlights

Heschel is proud to have alumni around the world with impressive accomplishments, both personally and professionally. We will be posting these spotlights regularly and encourage you to share your stories with us. Please contact us at alumni@heschel.org for more information or to send us your spotlight.

Alumni Spotlight: Lucy Panush (Heschel Alum)

Spring of 2020 found Heschel alum Lucy Panush in a similar position to many people, including some friends of hers from Heschel: in a virtual lurch with her senior year at Northwestern University cut short due to COVID. But it turned out that her Zoom audition for the First Broadway National Tour of Tootsie: The Musical, a comedy based on the movie of the same name, was a success. Though Lucy got the offer in September 2020, she had to wait until the entire Broadway industry restarted in summer and fall 2021. In time with Broadway reopenings in New York including Wicked and Waitress, the Tootsie tour kicked off in September 2021, joining a number of shows on the road including Ain’t Too Proud and Mean Girls

Lucy chatted to us from Houston, TX, and Kansas City, MO, just two of the 27 cities on their 9-month itinerary. “I absolutely love being on tour,” she said. “My favorite part is asking the locals of each city their favorite parts of town and going there. In all honesty, I am quite lucky in that this is actually my very first professional theatre gig!”

Of course, it took years of training to get her where she is. After attending Heschel from Nursery to 9th grade, her theatrical education included The School At Steps Pre-Professional Program, where she was dancing 27 hours a week while also going to Children’s Professional School full time, and American Tap Dance Foundation Tap City Youth Ensemble. She studied Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Modern, Contemporary, Hip-Hop, and Theatre Dance, and at Northwestern, enrolled in the School of Communication as a Theatre Major with a certificate in Musical Theatre. 

As for all Theatre Major seniors, Lucy created a showcase for managers, agents, and casting directors. But graduation in the pandemic meant that students had to create a series of videos (either monologues or cuts of songs) to send around, instead of a live showcase.

In June 2020, an agent who had seen Lucy’s showcase videos reached out to her and, after seeing Lucy’s rendition of a song from Tootsie called “What’s Gonna Happen” sung by a character named Sandy, asked if she would be interested in submitting for the Tootsie tour. Lucy got called in to audition for Sandy, which required filming herself performing the song she already knew, in addition to two cuts (short scenes), and a dance combo which she taught herself off a video. “This was the beginning of the pandemic so a lot of shows were doing everything virtually, and you had to teach yourself material.”

Two weeks later, Lucy got a callback for Sandy. After setting up her computer, light, and speaker in the living room, she got on a Zoom with the creative team of Tootsie, which included the director, book writer, choreographer, music supervisor, casting team, and some members of the production team, all on the Zoom call. Despite how difficult it was, Lucy says it was one of the best auditions of her life. A second callback followed, this time a chemistry read for Sandy and some actors auditioning for the character of Jeff, the role playing opposite Sandy. 

And then? Silence. “Even though I thought I had done a good job, I had to let it go and move on with my life,” she said. And then a month later, to her delight, Lucy got the offer for Ensemble/Understudy Sandy in the Tootsie tour. “When I auditioned I had no intention of... getting it. This industry is just SO competitive. I did it because the opportunity presented itself.” 

But of course, in July 2020, actually beginning the position was more than a year away. 

“The first day of the rehearsal we found out some actors [like me] had been waiting a year and a half and some had just found out they got it a month before. The casting process for Tootsie had been a long time—but the creatives said ‘you were all hand selected’. I feel it because we have SUCH an AMAZING cast.” Even some of the actors Lucy auditioned with during the Sandy/Jeff chemistry read are part of the company.

Currently in Kansas City, the Tootsie tour will move to Baltimore MD, Washington DC, and Naples FL, all before January 2. “I am just so beyond grateful to be doing this right now and to be bringing laughter to people across the country after this hard (almost 2) year/s,” Lucy said. For tickets to see Lucy and her Tootsie castmates and for tour information, visit https://tootsiemusical.com/.

 

Alumni Spotlight: Zachary Levine ('09)

While building healthy food, fitness and wellness retail brands in New York and San Francisco, Zach Levine (HS ’09), noticed something wasn’t working about healthcare. “As I spent more time in the health and wellness space I realized consumers were interacting with alternative medicine and wellness services on a daily and weekly basis but had virtually no touchpoints with traditional primary care. As I dug deeper, I started to realize how broken our healthcare system had become and how polarizing and disjointed many of our solutions were.... What if [healthcare] wasn’t an either/or but a both/and?” he said. “We’re seeing the same thing occur with capital investments in telehealth-only or mental health-only businesses. It’s not that these solutions can’t be helpful; it’s that they are not truly addressing Whole-Person Health.”

 So he decided to do something about it. Wholesome Roots Health, which Zach started in February 2021 with co-founder Geoffrey Talis (MS, MD), is dedicated to blending lifestyle medicine with traditional primary care and mental health services, treating the mind, body, and spirit collectively with individual care and attention. 

It’s a community-centered, membership-based primary care platform focused on blending and streamlining care for every person as an entire whole. It’s care for the mind (therapy, support groups, education), body (primary care, chiropractic, and nutrition), and spirit (lifestyle, meditation, and creative expression).  

At Wholesome Roots Health, a member’s journey is uniquely based on their case, and includes facets from functional medicine as well as homeopathy. One struggling with chronic stress might take supplements for body wellness, get acupuncture and chiropractic intervention, life coaching sessions, see a therapist, receive a heart rate monitor with data tracked in the Wholesome Roots app, and see a functional doctor. Other suggestions might include meditation practice, classes to boost creativity, and medication as needed.

“The past year and a half has been an incredibly challenging time for so many of us but it has also been a time of deep reflection—a narrowing in on what we truly value for ourselves, for our families, and for our communities,” Zach says. “[At Wholesome Roots Health], we focus deeply on asking the right questions, allowing our members to feel heard and supported, and providing evidence-based alternative and conventional treatment recommendations that align with each members’ values and needs. I couldn't think of a more valuable use of my time.”

Zach, who was recently married over the summer by Heschel founder Peter Geffen, has many other exciting developments in the works. Wholesome Roots is launching virtually in April 2022, with its first in-person location opening in summer 2022, and a second in winter 2022. The brick and mortar spaces will offer treatment rooms, communal spaces, complimentary tea, coffee, and snacks, aromatherapy, traction tables and therabody devices, and select wellness products for purchase. For updates and more information, visit https://wholesomerootshealth.com/.

Alumni Spotlight: Jake Bohrer and Jesse Abed

Jake Bohrer and Jesse Abed ('19) have always been good collaborators. They were both captains on the championship varsity basketball team of (2019) together and enjoyed partnering on small business ideas, like reselling sneakers and sports memorabilia. So when Jake had an idea for an app which allows people to enter chat rooms based on their current location and communicate with those around them, Jesse, who attends Tulane University, was an obvious choice for his business partner. The pair have a third partner, Aaron Levine, who is Jake's roommate at Indiana University. The two came up with the name Shmooz, a common Yiddish term, which was colloquially used in both Jake and Jesse's households growing up. However, when asked what the word means to them, Bohrer and Abed had a different response, "The meaning of the word Shmooz is to be able to communicate with those around you." Useful for interacting with fellow fans at sporting events, socializing with others at bars or restaurants, or even sending messages in emergencies, Jake additionally noted its utility in the time of Coronavirus. "It's a good platform for where we're at right now as a society with COVID," Jake said in an article in the Indiana-Bloomington University news. "Somebody might not feel comfortable tapping somebody on a shoulder [in person], but they might feel more comfortable communicating with them at first over this platform."

Jake and Jesse are 50/50 partners and have self-funded their app; Jake, an advertising major at the Indiana University Bloomington Media School, deals with marketing campaigns, advertising, social media strategy, and other administrative work while Jesse deals with the program's IP, manages the finances, and liaises with attorneys and developers. Jake and Jesse are marketing the app within Indiana University's campus, and are intent upon the message that Shmooz is different than other apps. It allows for users to communicate in one moment in time, creating a unique live chat with people in a .2 mile radius.

For more information, check out the Indiana-Bloomington article written about Shmooz, as well as their Instagram page.

The app is available in the Apple app store: https://apps.apple.com/bh/app/shmooz-app/id1541787995

Alumni Update: Mickey Bronstein  ('06)

Mickey Bronstein (HS '06) has spent her time during the pandemic working on immigration and anti-racism action. Mickey volunteers with the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights, a nationwide non-profit organization which seeks to aid undocumented immigrant children who have crossed the border by themselves by providing them with a social worker, an attorney, and a caseworker to help with safe and legal integration into the United States. "The idea is to build a strong relationship of trust with the children," Mickey explains. "The volunteers act as extra eyes and ears, and write case notes after each meeting, so that the people in charge of making decisions for the child can make the best case for them." Through this work, Mickey says that she has learned a lot about the complexities of the immigration system, and has gained a further understanding of the importance of advocacy for those who have others making decisions for them.

She has been working with the same teenager for one hour a week since February, completely remotely since the onset of the pandemic. "We spend a lot of our time doing geography quizzes. He loves ancient history and he's really competitive," Mickey says. "One of the challenging things is that he's turning 18 very soon and he'll no longer be considered a minor. He'll be moved to another facility, like an adult detention facility where the conditions are very poor, so there's some anxiety there, but he's got a great case worker so we're hopeful."

Mickey has also been engaging in anti-racism teachings and facilitations. Through working with fellow alumni from her alma mater, Colby College, Mickey spent time learning and gaining tools to teach her family and friends the essential work of anti-racism advocacy and education. This includes collecting resources on anti-racism, and unpacking terms like white privilege, microaggressions, and appropriation. "We had a really great conversation," she says.

For anyone interested in volunteering for the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights or learning more about facilitating conversations on inclusion and anti-racism, feel free to reach out to Mickey at micaelabrons@gmail.com.


Alumni Update: Ariana Geller ('13)

In May 2020, Ariana Geller's ('13) father was diagnosed with leukemia. "It was very out of the blue," Ariana says. "He was getting some blood work done. He had no symptoms or anything." While May 2020 was not an easy month for anyone, the Geller family had to reckon with a sudden serious health issue that had nothing to do with the current COVID-19 pandemic. "A month or so later, [my dad's] doctors started talking to him about bone marrow transplants and that it was the best way to start curing the cancer," Ariana explains.

The hospital where Ariana's father was getting treatment works with an organization called Be The Match, which is a donor bank for bone marrow and blood stem cells. And luckily, while working with the organization, Ariana learned how simple it is to sign up to be a bone marrow donor and to save lives. "My main priority is to get people to sign up," Ariana says. The Geller family has a personalized QR code from Be The Match which donors can use.

"Once you sign up, they send you the kit to your house," Ariana says. "It's very convenient, especially during COVID, because you can do the swabbing yourself... we have about 350 people signed up to receive the swab kids, and 159 have been fully processed so far." Additionally, Ariana says that by adding to the Be The Match donor base, you can help families that are caught off guard by a cancer diagnosis like the Gellers.

There's also something special about using the Geller's QR code. "I had this idea while we were watching the news on Brionna Taylor and George Floyd's deaths and hearing about the Black Lives Matter protests, and I wanted to give back to a community that's been struggling for years," Ariana says. "My dad had also just read Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson, so he wanted to donate to the Equal Justice Initiative."

If you sign up for Be The Match using the Gellers' QR code, the Geller family will donate $5 to the Equal Justice Initiative for up to $1,000.

If you sign up for Be The Match using the Gellers' QR code, the Geller family will donate $5 to the Equal Justice Initiative