Cantor Shira Ginsburg ’09 created Bubby’s Kitchen, the story of one young woman’s journey to live up to her grandparents’ incredible legacy, for her cantorial ordination recital in 2009. Since then, the show has evolved and has been performed in more than 50 communities around the country. Bubby’s Kitchen is inspired by the heroic actions of resistance Cantor Ginsburg’s grandparents, Yudis and Motke Ginsburg, took against the Nazis as Partisans as they survived years in the forests of Belarus on bravery, camaraderie, and the sheer will to live. Cantor Ginsburg weaves together a story of loss, survival, food, and family into this musical that explores the balance between the new and the old, responsibility and desire, and life and love.
Cantor Ginsburg has a theatrical background from Syracuse University and was a professional actress before attending HUC-JIR. In Bubby’s Kitchen, she beautifully bridges her formal training to create a moving and educational performance.
She explains, “It was a story that I was always going to tell, I just didn’t know how or when. Creating Bubby’s Kitchen was an ownership of my past, present, and future, an ultimate synthesis that I didn’t fully understand until the moment I performed it for the first time. I was overwhelmed by the positive response from so many people who said it had profound meaning and asked where I was performing it next. It took off from there.”
The show is unique in that it presents the story from the point of view of the third generation, rather than from the perspective of a Holocaust survivor or child of a survivor. Cantor Ginsburg believes it is her responsibility, and the responsibility of other descendants, to tell their stories.
Cantor Ginsburg feels a tremendous responsibility to tell her grandparents’ stories and to do good in the world. She says, “When you’re growing up, it’s very tempting to yield to the weight of that legacy. I believe we must first recognize that we each have our own spark and gift, a unique path and mission for which we are set on this earth. My grandparents survived to provide their family with a better life, never wanting their children or grandchildren to struggle. They were quite heroic and yet they would never ever call themselves heroes. I felt my responsibility was to cultivate my talents, educate myself in areas I was called to, and then to figure out how to educate others about the lessons I learned from my grandparents.
“Yom HaShoah is a day of remembrance and mourning, as well as a day to educate. We bear witness to ensure that the victims of the Shoah are remembered, that they did not die in vain. We must hear directly from survivors, their children, and grandchildren who have that first, second, and third-hand knowledge, offering perspectives that people and communities may never have had the opportunity to hear. For every survivor and their families,Yom Hashoah is 365 days a year. After our communal day of commemoration and mourning, we Jewish professionals, lay leaders, and community members must continue to honor, remember and educate, on each of the other 364 days.
“The Jewish practices of burial, grieving, and mourning that carry us through the lifecycle of death, are as much for the mourners as for the deceased,” she continues. “While we say Kaddish to ensure that the soul can ascend to a place of rest under the wings of God, we are also saying Kaddish to be held up by our community in our time of deepest grief. There is immense power and deep comfort in communal mourning. So too must we communally say Kaddish for those who have no one else to say Kaddish for them.”
Cantor Shira Ginsburg ’09 in “Bubby’s Kitchen”
In addition to performing her one-woman show, Cantor Ginsburg works conducting Holocaust education in schools. Before enrolling at HUC, she got involved with 3GNY, a nonprofit organization composed of the Jewish grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. After completing her studies at HUC, Cantor Ginsburg became involved with Facing History and Ourselves and was in the first cohort of participants being trained to teach in classrooms through the lens of personal storytelling. Upon completion of the training, Cantor Ginsburg taught and continues to teach whenever she can across New York City and the Tri-state area, balancing it with her work at her congregation.
She describes this teaching as incredibly rewarding work. “Many of my students are teenagers. When I make the distinction that my Bubby was exactly their age when she lived through the Holocaust, their eyes quite literally light up. Suddenly they see Bubby’s story through their own life experiences. Bubby always encouraged me to share her personal message with students, never to underestimate what one person can do.”
She adds, “Holocaust education is critical for so many reasons, but what is offered in schools is widely variable, some classes touching on the Holocaust for an inadequate and insufficient mere one to three days. When children take on the prejudices of their families, they have no reason to doubt what they have been taught until they are exposed to education and different reasoning. Having grown up in my grandparents’ home living their stories and reverberations of their trauma, I know that there is no better way to dispel such lies and ignorance than with firsthand knowledge. If I can’t be that first-hand knowledge, at least I can be second-hand and personalize the lessons of the Holocaust in an impactful and efficacious way.”
After 18 years as the Senior Cantor at East End Temple in Manhattan, Cantor Ginsburg is leaving this position to focus on Bubby’s Kitchen. She will begin touring again and is currently in the development of a television series based on Bubby’s Kitchen. Cantor Ginsburg is now in the process of engaging investors.
For more information about Bubby’s Kitchen or to help propel this story forward, visit bubbyskitchen.com.