By Lisa Klug, 26 March 2023
As the co-owner of Israel’s bestselling Naot Footwear, Susan Lax may be more widely known as an entrepreneur than spiritual counselor — but a transformation is already well underway.
Years ago, Lax began crafting inspirational messages to help a friend who was fighting cancer. In time, those missives morphed into a thrice-weekly newsletter, which went on to form the basis of a book. And now, thanks to a collaboration with a fellow Israeli-American, musician Shira Averbuch that book has spawned an evening of live music, poetry and more.
Titled “The Heart-to-Heart Songbook,” the program celebrates healing with performances and inspirational readings. Part concert and part conversation, it debuts live on March 26 at B’nai Jeshurun, a historic congregation located on New York City’s Upper West Side known affectionately to its constituents as “BJ.” Co-sponsored by Naot Footwear, the program will also livestream to ticketed audiences everywhere.
BJ’s director of the Center for Prayer and Spirituality, Cantor David Mintz, calls the program a “truly unique partnership between two talented and creative artists,” and says it “aligns with our vision of a more spiritually connected world.”
“This immersive spiritual conversation in concert is a testament to the interconnectedness of music and spirituality in bringing people together, healing, and elevating our spirits,” Mintz says.
Speaking with The Times of Israel in separate Zoom interviews, Lax and Averbuch describe the hybrid program as an onstage conversation between the two women designed to “awaken joy and invite healing.”
“Shira and I are generations apart but our heart comes from the same place,” says Lax, who, at 64, is a mother of three adult daughters and a grandmother of five. “We share joy and the miracle of offering joy in different ways. What a gift for us to come together and offer that to people around the world.”
The event takes its name from their exchange, which explores themes of hope, grief, and gratitude.
“There is always spiritual talk going on between the two of us. That’s one of the cool aspects of this,” Lax says. “We put ourselves out there and we share very intimate things on that stage. Because only between true intimacy can we connect, and only through true connection can we make the world a better place.”
Like Lax, Averbuch grew up both in the United States and Israel, and now resides in Manhattan, where she serves as BJ’s artist-in-residence.
“The Heart-to-Heart Songbook” includes two of Averbuch’s previously released original songs, plus new material she and Lax co-wrote based on “A Heart’s Landscape: An Invitation to the Garden of Moments,” a collection of thoughts and photographs that Lax self-published in January 2022. Robin Roberts, TV co-anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America, designated the book a “Top Pick.”
Averbuch — known onstage simply as Shira — has been termed a “golden-voiced singer” by The New York Times. During the hour-long show, she will perform nine songs and lead the audience in communal singing.
“The merging of Shira’s voice and music with my words has created a surprising inspirational experience I am excited to share with our audience,” Lax says.
The process equally surprised Averbuch. “Until Susan approached me, it never occurred to me to create something that combines music, poetry and prose in spiritual conversation,” she says. “As we were weaving ‘The Heart-to-Heart Songbook’ we realized that there is nothing quite like it out there which makes it all the more magical and exciting.”
The daughter of Israelis, Averbuch spent her childhood in her native New York and Israel. After completing her Israeli military service as commander of the army’s musical ensemble, she earned a bachelor of fine arts from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and The New School. The folk singer-songwriter and actor went on to become a popular song leader at Jewish venues in New York, Tennessee, Arizona and elsewhere in the US. When her friend, Shirin Tinati, was fighting stage 3 breast cancer, Shira wrote the song, “Am I Beautiful.” The ballad went viral on Facebook with more than 340,000 views, plus over 50,000 on Spotify and more than 47,000 on YouTube.
In “Heart-to-Heart,” Shira performs “Am I Beautiful” as a solo on ukulele. In other songs, Paul Carbonara, Blondie’s longtime musical producer, joins on guitar, with Yonatan Gutfeld on piano and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. Off-Broadway, Shira starred in Carbonara’s musicals “Solitary Light” and “Evening 1910” to critical acclaim.
“When I met Paul it was like meeting the musical partner I’d always dreamed of,” Averbuch says. “He lifts me up when I lose faith, we challenge each other and we have the best time together… He’s like family.”
Shira’s second previously released original song appearing in “Heart-to-Heart” is from her album “Till the Sun Comes.” Titled “Warrior,” it is produced by Carbonara and features a six-piece band, including Grammy-nominated drummer Dan Pugach.
Averbuch created the remaining seven “Heart-to-Heart” songs in collaboration with Lax.
“That is the beauty of our connection,” Lax says. “In our work, healing is the basis. My words, her music and her voice connect and create a ‘world of a good’ moment. I don’t want everyone to come with the promise that they are coming to be healed. This is not a revival meeting. This is a moment for you, whatever it is you need.
“I don’t know if that moment can be free from worry, but it can allow us to be in an attentive heart,” Lax says. “It could be joy, grief, sorrow… we have a buffet of emotions. I hope in this concert, that it awakens all of you to that buffet of emotions and acknowledges that you are beautiful just the way you are.”
Lax’s worldview blossomed after training at Chochmat HaLev a Jewish spiritual congregation in Berkeley, California. Previously, the American-born Lax earned a teaching degree in creative drama from the Kibbutzim College in Israel, where her family moved when she was nine. In addition to leading workshops on “awareness and making room for joy,” Lax is a columnist for Patheos and has long produced “Morning Inspiration,” the no-cost newsletter that became the basis of her book. She also works as a spiritual counselor specializing in illness, grief, and what she describes as “loving through death.”
These days, Lax splits her time between Tel Aviv and Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where she worships with the Romemu prayer community. She remains involved with Naot Footwear on its board of directors. Her husband serves as worldwide chairman and her eldest daughter is CEO of Naot USA.
Although the name “Heart-to-Heart” accurately describes the tenor of the show, at times Lax has been asked to step away from the microphone.
“I was told not to sing,” Lax says. “I have a terrible voice.”
That has hardly dampened her enthusiasm. “The intent at this concert, my hope for this moment,” Lax says, “is that people’s moment will be awakened to what they need to make their moment a better moment.”