Another piece of my heart fell off on October 7, 2023. I suppose my hypersensitivity to death is because I lost both of my amazing parents a week apart in April of 2020 to Covid. Eighteen months later, I lost my younger sister to cardiac arrest. She never got over the fact she brought in the evil virus that caused my parents’ demise. I am an Italian American Christian, and I felt every inch of that pain on the day that will live in infamy for Israel, the Jewish people, and all of us who honor and respect humanity. This story really isn’t about me; it’s about you, the Jewish people; the Israelis, the State of Israel – and my affinity for all of it.
I grew up in a small upper middle class town in New Jersey. It was ethnically diverse with mostly Jews, Italians, and various wonderful people from Eastern Europe. My closest friends were Jews, and I loved every bit of them. I was intrigued by the culture. I got to indulge in their Seders, and learn about their religion and their music. They graciously invited me into their homes where I ate their food, had fun sleep overs and took their mom’s wise advice on many occasions. “When you give JoAnn, you get.” BE GENEROUS!
I first sat Shiva at age 14 when my friend’s beautiful mom died of breast cancer. My Mom and Dad sent me with a box of chocolates and cookies. I had no idea what to expect. This home seemed so familiar – Italian even. Wait! What? Where is the corpse in a box??? Holy Shit, I thought to myself, this is civility!!! There was food everywhere and all the women were so glamorous and stylish. There were lots of neighbors and family – plus tears and comfort – you could feel the love! It was even a bit LOUD! This is what I want when I die!! My beloved parents always said, “The Jews do it best!” I got to sit Shiva in my own way when I lost my parents. We couldn’t have a funeral even if we wanted to; it was that horrendous time during Covid. We sat an Italian Shiva. Another great lesson I learned from the Jews!
I often wondered how a race that was beyond brutalized during WWII, could make such a spectacular comeback! What was it? Never once, in all of my years around Jews did I ever hear any one of them say, “Listen, Jojo, I refuse to go to that party because that German bitch and her posse will be there!” I never heard anything close to that. I mean some Jews even drive German cars!!! Shame on me! I don’t think I could be that generous. Another come to Jesus moment for me; the Jews taught me again! FORGIVENESS!
About 10 years ago, I was commissioned by a New York State Senator to arrange a commemorative evening of song based on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. He was Italian American, and had lost his relatives in the blaze. It was always a Jewish story – I knew nothing much about it. But thank G-d for the Jewish girls! They were the scribes, the innovators, the precise seamstresses, the best to sew pleats and most of all, the activists who fought hard for women’s rights. It was a very sad story; one of young women trapped in that awful fire March 25, 1911 with only two ways out – jump or burn. Together with the Jewish girls in that factory were the Italian girls who couldn’t speak a lick of English. I did extensive research and told the story through the eyes of an Italian. It eventually morphed into a play with music and we put it up in libraries, community centers and performing arts theatres throughout the tristate area. It was another learning curve for me on how innovative and brave the Jews were and still are! COURAGE!
My life as an entertainer and actor has led me all over the world. Since Covid, I sing and entertain in independent living, assisted living and nursing facilities. It has become my day job, as the elderly need us more than ever. Most of these places, especially in New York, are owned by Hasidic Jews. I know, I know, most of you may say, they need “modernity.” Let me just say this, they are kind and generous and they take care of everyone! Moreover, they are peaceful. Ever go to a Jewish Community Center? Same thing; they are not privy to only Jews. They take care of everyone in their community! Of course you have to pay to pretty penny to join and to swim in the gorgeous pool, but come on!!!! COMMUNITY IS EVERYTHING!
My sweet Jewesses, there are many of us non-Jews who love your culture, heritage and bravery. We are rooting for you in every way. We pray for peace for Israel in our churches and at night with our children. You get an honorable mention to G-d at least twice a day. “Please Lord, we beg you to wrap your arms around the people of Israel. Give them your peace, wisdom and courage to decimate the enemy. Keep all Jews safe and armed.” WE LOVE YOU!
My father had a famous saying. It’s the only thing I have to offer you right now. He would to say to me no matter what, “Keep punching!” I say to you, no matter what, never give up or give in because you have many people in this world that love and respect you.
I attended Catholic School for 8 years where we were taught that the Jews were G-d’s chosen people. Now I know why.
JoAnn Roberts (Robertozzi) is an Emmy Nominated/Telly Award winning Actress, Singer, Producer and teaching artist. You can follow her on instagram here: @Artists_In_Development – Follow her band and go see her perform, dates and info here.
Photo of Joann by Carol Siwek