Dick and Sherri Belkin, known for their dedicated energy and philanthropy in the Tucson Jewish community, recently donned new hats as Broadway producers. The couple attended the New York premiere of “Come From Away,” a musical about 9/11, at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre last week.
A musical about 9/11? As incongruous as that may seem, says Dick Belkin, “it is a very special show that validates love and community in the aftermath of horror.”
Within an hour of the terrorist hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001, 38 planes, carrying 6,579 passengers, were diverted to the remote town of Gander in Newfoundland (population of roughly 9000), as all U.S. and most Canadian airspace had been shutdown. “Come From Away” (Newfoundland slang for people who aren’t from their province) portrays the generosity and kindness that the townspeople of this once strategic air refueling station showed to thousands of stranded international travelers.
The townspeople began by opening their public facilities to shelter the deluge of refugees. Within days, though, Belkin explains, the Canadians were feeding and housing the “come from aways” in their homes, treating them as welcome guests. That hospitality created friendships and connections that exist to this day.
“When we first read about this new show in 2016,” explains Belkin, “Sherri and I felt that we had to go see it at the La Jolla Playhouse (one of the successful pre-Broadway productions, which included Seattle, Toronto and Washington, D.C.). “When we saw it, we knew that we had to be a part of this very special and incredibly inspirational story.”
“Come From Away,” says Belkin, resonated deeply with touch points in his own life; he and a business partner had had the concession rights to operate the viewing platform at the top of the Twin Towers at the time of the disaster. He had also been to Gander on a refueling stop when he was with the U.S. Army Soldier Shows, entertaining troops stationed overseas. (See azjewishpost.com/2013/from-broadcast-career-to-jewish-community-local-retiree-stays-in-the-game/ for more about Belkin’s history as an entertainer, broadcaster and producer.)
“When you go to see this show,” says Belkin, “you walk out feeling so much better than you did walking in. People in the audience can be crying one minute and then laughing in the next. It is so emotionally uplifting and yet unique and genuine. I feel very lucky to be a part of it. And who knows, maybe the show will become a huge hit and we’ll make a good return on our investment.”
But after acknowledging his good fortune in finding and associating with “Come From Away,” Belkin says, “I know that the absolute luckiest thing that happened to me, though, was meeting and marrying my wife Sherri.
“We met on a blind date,” he explains. “I was asked to chaperone a fraternity party and they only allowed married couples to do that. So when we were introduced, I told Sherri that for that evening, we had to play husband and wife. So what began as a play-acting thing turned out to be the real thing.”
Renee Claire is a freelance writer in Tucson.