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Tikkun Olam: Repairing the World … The Remarkable Story of Jacque Caplan

by Jude Southerland Kessler … https://www.johnlennonseries.com

I first met Jacque Caplan when I was 11 years old. It was 1964 when she phoned me (not my parents) to inform me that I’d won a part in Alexandria’s Little Theater production of “The Sound of Music.” She told me when and where the first rehearsal would be, what to bring, and what to expect. She treated me the same way that she treated all the other (adult) actors and actresses. And so … I behaved like an adult. Jacque Caplan always expected and therefore, got the best from everyone.

To call her remarkable is a sweeping understatement. Jacque was magical. She arrived in Central Louisiana in 1955 — after a wonderful childhood and teen years in New Orleans, where she had graduated as Valedictorian from Tulane. As she and her husband of just a few months, Edwin Caplan, settled into their new hometown (where they would eventually assume the family clothing establishment, Caplan’s Men’s Store), Jacque carefully unpacked her passion for the arts, her love of the theater, her delight in baking and cooking, her enthusiasm for meeting new people, and her deep, enduring faith. Almost immediately, Jacque set about making friends: entertaining, directing local theater musicals, enriching her synagogue, and making Alexandria a happier, more exciting place to live.

Each nook that Jacque inhabited was transformed into a wonderland. Her home was like no other. Every loaf of bread was hand-baked; each dessert was a Jacque creation. As Jacque and Edwin traveled the world (to every U.S. state and more than 80 countries abroad), she studied the exotic repasts that were presented to her and then returned home to recreate each dish for her family. “Day and night, night and day,” music swirled from the Caplan’s credenza Victrola: classical music and Broadway show tunes held sway. Daughter Judy and son Stephen grew up to the sounds of “Oklahoma,” “The Music Man,” and “Most Happy Fella” mingled with Beethoven, Schubert, and that 1960s perennial favorite, Mantovani. And during the holidays, when other children received pogo sticks or Slinkies, Judy and Stephen received season tickets to the symphony … and they cherished them.

Not long after her arrival in Central Louisiana, Jacque enthusiastically directed her first production for Cenla’s Little Theater. It was “The Boyfriend.” That was the first of several dozen musicals that Jacque lovingly brought to life over the next two decades. Her children — who were never left at home with a babysitter — enjoyed countless rehearsals in the front row of that darkened theater. “We knew every word in ‘Carousel’ and ‘South Pacific’,” Judy Caplan Ginsburgh told me. “TV was boring compared to the live drama we grew up with! In fact, television was rarely turned on in our house! My brother and I could sing every song in every show. We knew every line, every entrance and exit.” And that ardor for the arts was instilled in unlikely actors as well. I well remember Jacque recruiting Travis Funderburk to play the role of Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.” Travis was a noted Louisiana educator and school administrator in Rapides Parish. No one would have ever expected such a serious academician to “take to the boards.” But Jacque always saw hidden potential. And persuaded by Jacque’s overflowing enthusiasm for the bright lights, grease paint, and “the show,” Funderburk and so many other unlikely thespians became true believers.

Belief in oneself and belief in one’s God guided Jacque’s life. She was dedicated to the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, which (loosely translated) means “repairing the world” or “making the world a better place.” Jacque left every soul whose life she touched happier, more confident, and more open to possibility. Tikkun olam urged her to direct Easter and Christmas pageants for Alexandria’s Emmanuel Baptist Church and First United Methodist Church. Tikkun olam lived in her heart as she volunteered in her temple and was elected the first female President of the Jewish Temple in Alexandria.

Jacque fostered kinship with others. “She wanted to help people,” Ginsburgh lovingly recalled. “She wanted to be there for people. They knew they could call her. They knew they could trust her because … she listened.” Indeed, in the early 1960s, when many people felt that children “should be seen and not heard,” Jacque gave them a voice. “She never pushed young people aside,” her daughter said. “She gave them the time of day.” This abiding belief in the importance of youth inspired Jacque to create the Central Louisiana Summer Student Theatre, bringing the enchantment of acting, singing, dancing, painting sets, designing costumes, and living creatively to hundreds of children and young adults in the heart of Louisiana.

All of this work was completely volunteer. Jacque was never paid for creating monthly seasonal menus made from Louisiana products for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture. She was never compensated for appearing monthly on KALB-TV’s “Ethma Odum Show,” where she would showcase a wonderful new cake recipe or offer fabulous suggestions for a New Year’s Day brunch or summer al fresco dinner. Jacque wasn’t paid for the hours of time spent serving on the board of the Arts Council of Central Louisiana or working with the Central Louisiana Community Foundation. These things (and so many more!) Jacque did because she wanted to; she gave because it made her happy.

Although Jacque was never a classroom teacher, she taught so many of us so much. In his famed Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer defined the essence of a true teacher in these words: “Gladly would he learn  and gladly teach.” Jacque embodied that spirit. The days and years of her life were spent teaching us about music, art, great books, creativity, theater, food, and travel. And though she was awarded the Louisiana Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Women of the Decades Award from the Alexandria Town Talk for being one of the “Women of the Century” in Central Louisiana, I think she would be most proud of the young people whom she inspired across our state, the youth who followed in her footsteps … and most of all, of the three incredible children that Edwin and she raised.

Judy Caplan Ginsburgh inherited her mother’s passion for song and outreach to youth. For years, Judy has been a successful, touring singer-songwriter, performing in Mexico, Sri Lanka, India, and almost every major city in the United States. On her website, https://www.judymusic.com, you will find exactly what you’d expect from a devoted daughter of Jacque Caplan: a score of photos of Judy singing to children, involving children, and making young people feel special. A few years ago, after an automobile accident altered her life’s path, Ginsburgh answered the call to express her profound faith in service. After thirty years of study, she became a rabbi and is now the rabbi in Monroe, Louisiana’s Temple B’nai Israel. Just as her mother was dedicated to unity in faith, Rabbi Ginsburgh embraces similarities rather than differences. “We all share the same God,” she reminded me. “We all have to remember that there’s so much we have in common.”

Similarly, Jacque and Edwin’s son Stephen Caplan has found his life’s work in music. He is an acclaimed oboist who has performed at the Kennedy Center, teaches music at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and performs with touring stars such as Andrea Bocelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Itzhak Perlman, Placido Domingo, Amy Grant, Ray Charles, and Tony Bennett. Stephen also inherited his mother’s gift for musical direction; he has long guided the award-winning group, Sierra Winds, heralded by the New York Times following their incredible performance in Carnegie Hall. Additionally, Stephen devotes his time to the study and instruction of Body Mapping, an art designed to help musicians prevent injury through “self-awareness, practical anatomy, and efficient, dynamic movement.” And I’m sure it won’t surprise you when I say that Stephen offers this instruction to musicians in a non-profit setting. (You can learn more about Stephen at Oboemotions – What Every Oboe Player Needs To Know About TheBody.)

Edwin and Jacque’s youngest daughter, Sherry, was no less artistically inclined. For her, it was beauty and majesty of dance that beckoned with such passion that Sherry left home at age 14 to study dance in the North Carolina School of the Arts. Sherry’s devotion led her, as one might expect, to New York City where she worked for Bonwit Teller while allocating every free moment to dance try-outs, rehearsals, and additional training. When Sherry auditioned – along with a thousand other performers – for a dance and aerialist role in the Barnum and Bailey circus … she won! “There,” her sister, Judy Ginsburgh, told me, “my sister met her future husband, Charlie Frye, who was the head clown. They’ve had a magic, juggling, and comedy variety act for over 30 years, and they’ve traveled all over the world performing as the team Charlie Frye and Company.”  www.charliefrye.com

The Caplan children carry on a great legacy. Many of us do. Or rather, we try to.

When I met Jacque, I was a pre-teen, a “Louisa May Alcott-wanna be” dreaming of writing a book someday. And Jacque told me, in no uncertain terms, that she was positive I would do just that! Three years ago, when Jacque invited me to speak to the Alexandria Rotary Club — premiering my fourth book on John Lennon and The Beatles — she hugged me and whispered in my ear, “I knew you would do it! You were always destined to do great things!” It was, as John Lennon would say, “a red lettuce moment,” but I knew Jacque also felt that way about so many others. She honestly believed that every soul was endlessly capable and beautifully unique. Jacque treated each person as if they were extraordinarily special … because she honestly believed they were!

Many of you have your own Jacque Caplan story to tell. Some of you might have met her when you shopped in Caplan’s Men Store. During business hours, she was there, smiling, welcoming, and working shoulder-to-shoulder with her beloved Edwin. Or maybe you encountered Jacque on the committee that dreamed, planned, and brought to fruition Alexandria’s lovely Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center. (One of the joys of her life!) You might have served with Jacque when she volunteered via the Alexandria Junior League or chaired the Rapides Regional Medical Center Board. Or perhaps, like me, you were a student in one of her musicals …  a student whose life was changed forever by this great lady. Like Jacque’s children, we have inherited her unquenchable spark. We have been given our own spotlight, the one that Jacque bequeathed to us. She taught us all to
“project to the back row,” “smile from your eyes and heart, not just your lips,” and most of all, “always leave them wanting more.”

Jacque did just that. We truly miss her.

In 1965, the Central Louisiana Community Theatre cast, for the first time, young children in major roles for their musical production of “The Sound of Music,” directed by Jacque Caplan. “Sound of Music Cast” Pictured: Jeanne Adams, Ann Evans, Robert Wiggins, Judy Southerland (Jude Kessler), Wesley Bowman, Celia Hanley, Judy Caplan, Margaret Waring, Cathy Normand, Travis Funderburk

 

This same sort of note, along with a gift from Wellan’s, was sent to every member of the ‘Sound of Music’ cast by Jacque Caplan.

 

Visit the Official Website of John Lennon Expert and Author Jude Southerland Kessler:

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