Facebook: It’s a Small World, After All

March 26, 2009

It’s been a long time since we gathered for our first introductory broadcasting course in the basement transmitter room of the Butler University’s 50-thousand watt radio station. This was my very first college class, on a very early 8:00AM Monday morning in Indianapolis. Also in that class was an out-of-place Jewish kid named Tom who’d never seen so much green in one place as we have in Indiana.

Democrat Tom Weiss may have been out of place in conservative Indiana, but he is certainly one-of-a-kind. A Marv Albert wannabe sportscaster, Tom was the son of then-Congressman Ted Weiss of New York. The same Ted Weiss who represented midtown Manhattan and Wall Street also sent his son to school in the Hoosier state.

Tom’s dad had emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary, fleeing the Nazi invasion. Educated as an attorney and elected to the New York City Council, he ran for Congress and won a seat in the 1976 bicentennial year. He died while in office as a Congressman, one day before the state’s primary election in 1992. Even with five Democratic challengers on the ballot, Ted Weiss still posthumously won that election with 89% of the vote.  

At Butler, we were all adjusting to a new reality of being away from home.

Tom joined the same fraternity that I did, and we were classmates from that first day through four (or in his case, I think, six) years of school. We learned a lot. We had wonderful times with our band of merry men. He’s always been a good singer – someone you could count on when trying to fill out the ranks for Spring Sing competitions.

(One night we heard Tom’s dad on Larry King’s national call-in radio show. This was during the Reagan Administration, and Congressman Weiss was railing against the President and his policies. We goaded Tom into calling up the show and asking his Dad for money, since he was just a poor college student. That was a fun night.)

At 13, Tom played the role of Benjamin Franklin in a local production of the musical “1776.” 

Now, almost 25 years after graduating from college, I found Tom Weiss – the first Jewish man I’d ever met – alive and well and living in Jerusalem.

This year, he is reprising his interest in American history and the musical “1776.”

The story of the American revolution, told in song, is playing now on an Israeli stage? But why?

“Leadership, Courage, Freedom, and Independence. And we have the first African-American President. Slaves built the White House in 1792, and John Adams was the first president to reside there,” wrote Tom on Facebook chat earlier tonight. The show is being done all over the country, in English.

In this production, Tom Weiss plays Roger Sherman – who opens the show. Connecticut’s Sherman was the only American to have signed all four of the great state papers – a signer of the Declaration of 1774, the Declaration of 1776, the Articles of Confederation of 1781 and the U.S. Constitution of 1788.

“We’re trying to teach coalition building. We call it musically harmonized, creative charismatic coalition building. That’s where Israel and Bibi Netanyahu is today,” Tom explains, referring to the incoming Israeli prime minister.

The show has actors from north and south, from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The theatre company has been going for two years. The show’s director is from Broadway in New York.

“We were in a bus last week heading to Ra’anana above Tel Aviv and we watched the movie ‘1776’ together. For some it was the first time,” Brother Weiss wrote, noting that the cast on the bus sounds better singing together than do the actors on the DVD.

For seven weeks now, Israeli audiences have been lining up to see the story of the American Revolution told in song.

“We had Knesset Night tonight,” Tom relays. “From what I am told, this is the longest running in the history of the English speaking theatre in Israel.”

Tom’s Facebook message had a special offer for Knesset Night – get three tickets for the price of one. “Special for my Facebook friends, like Broadway TKTS @ 47th Street,” he wrote, referring to the same-day discount ticket show offers in Times Square.

Small world, indeed.

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