Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Birthday Party for Abby

"Hey, Steve, it's my 30th birthday and I was wondering if you would come and sing a concert at my birthday party."

"Sure, Abby, I'd do anything for you but..."

"And I want you to sing all your songs about AIDS."

"You want me to sing songs about AIDS at your birthday party."


"Okay, when and where?"

"June 21st at the Adat Ari El synagogue."

"You want me to come sing songs about AIDS at a synagogue on your 30th birthday."



And that's how it started. See, Abby is someone I've known for 7 or 8 years now. As she tells the story, she was up late one night really depressed about life, health, etc. when she stumbled onto my website. She spent the rest of the night reading it. Laughing with me, crying with me, and "becoming uplifted and inspired."

Abby is a rabbinical student. Since then, we've met quite a few times. The first time was when I sang for an area-wide gathering of Jewish youth. Then, in subsequent years, she came and saw our shows and also invited me to sing at the University of Judaism.

Abby is one of the reasons I'm kinda in love with Judaism and its principles of healing the world and feeling compelled to serve, heal and minister to people who are sick. So, this would be her 30th birthday party and after she told me it would be a benefit for Project Chicken Soup, it all made sense. Its mission, from its website:
Los Angeles Jewish AIDS Services/Project Chicken Soup is a non-profit organization which provides nutritious, kosher meals to people living with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles County, in observance of the Jewish commandment of tikkun olam, healing the world through service to humankind. Project Chicken Soup provides nechama - comfort - to those in need, regardless of race, religion or creed, and provides a connection to the Jewish community.
Adat Ari El is right down the block from our house.

This is the inner courtyard.

I've always enjoyed loved the signs out front. They're consistently witty.

Jim Brochu with Paul Zollo, my old pal from National Academy of Songwriters days.

Jim singing his heart out, as always.

There were about 50 people who came to the party. They sat rapt as I sang my songs for them -- and when Jim got up and joined me. What made the evening particularly poignant was the wonderful speech by Molly, a wonderful little "Jewish grandmother" who started Project Chicken Soup. She spoke of her son who died of AIDS, how he was a very well-respected researcher in the field. His death made her want to do something to help others.

So, in the spirit of "tikkun olam" she began making "what every Jewish mother makes best, chicken soup." That, along with a lot of other great kosher meals, would go out regularly to people living with AIDS. Her all volunteer "staff" shows up on a Sunday morning at 8am, cooks massive amounts of food, and then packages for more volunteers who drive around delivering the food to people in need.

Steve, Molly (founder of Project Chicken Soup), and Abby.
Abby is a regular volunteer in the kitchen and she wanted her birthday to be a night to celebrate Project Chicken Soup. Rather than gifts, people made donations.

I have to tell you, dear reader, that it is extremely humbling for me to be in the presence of people like this, who let their faith guide them out past their own communities and families to help others. Like the Hollywood United Methodist Church with their giant AIDS ribbon and constant community outreach, people like Molly and her volunteers realized that, while they couldn't heal the whole world or cure AIDS, there was something they could do. They could cook a nice meal and bring it to someone who might be feeling very alone. Someone who needs something as simple and as life-giving as a bowl of Molly's chicken soup.

My contribution, according to Abby, was simply to bring all these folks into a room so they could "hear, taste and touch" what this disease does to people. There was one woman there who was literally drenched in tears as I was singing. Afterwards, she came up to me and said that her teenage daughter had been infected during a hospital stay -- and that she had died at the age of 15. She said my songs brought it all back, and brought her little girl back to her, for just a little while. She thanked me for being there.

But I'm the one who feels grateful. Grateful that people like this exist on this planet. Grateful that there are people out there who really know what love is. And grateful that I could give something back to them. Happy birthday, Abby. Can we do it again soon?

(Photos by Paul Zollo.)

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Anonymous said...

Thanks Steve,
I was at Abby's birthday party and she was a dear friend of mine. I am in shock and numbed by her sudden passing, but reading this posting from you, regarding her final birthday celebration, has brought a smile to my tear-stained face. She was an awesome lady. It's too bad that we now know the answer to your last sentence, "Can we do it again soon?" is "No."
Keep singing-for all of us with HIV/AIDS!
Shelley Singer
October 11, 2006

Steve Schalchlin said...

Shelley, losing Abby is a total shock. I'm still mourning her absence. Thank you so much for your kind words.

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