Naot shoemaker on spiritual journey joins paths with singer for healing event in NY
As the co-owner of Israel’s best-selling Naot Footwear, Susan Lax may be better known as an entrepreneur than a spiritual counselor – but a transformation is already underway.
Years ago, Lax began composing inspirational messages to help a friend who was battling cancer. In time, those missionaries turned into a three-weekly newsletter, which became the basis for a book. And now, thanks to a collaboration with fellow Israeli-American musician Shira Averbuch, that book has a night of live music, poetry and more.
Titled “The Heart-to-Heart Songbook,” the program celebrates healing with inspirational performances and readings. Part concert and part conversation, it will debut live on March 26 at B’nai Jeshurun, a historic congregation located on New York City’s Upper West Side known as “BJ.” Co-sponsored by Naot Footwear, the program will be broadcast live to ticket 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 for a more spiritually connected world.” .
“This immersive spiritual conversation together is a testament to the interweaving of music and spirituality in bringing people together, healing, and lifting our spirits,” says Mintz.
Speaking to The Times of Israel in a separate Zoom interview, Lax and Averbuch describe the hybrid program as an onstage conversation between the two women designed to “evoke joy and invite healing.”
“Shira and I are generations apart but our hearts come from the same place,” says Lax, who, at 64, is a mother of three grown daughters and grandmother of five. “We rejoice and offer the miracle of joy in different ways. This is 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, sadness and gratitude.
“There is always a spiritual talk going on between the two of us. That’s one of the great things about this,” says Lax. “We put ourselves out there and share things very closely on that stage. Because we can only connect through real contact, and only through real connection can we make the world a better place.”
Like Lax, Averbuch grew up in both the United States and Israel, and now lives in Manhattan, where she is an artist-in-residence at BJ.
“The Heart-to-Heart Songbook” includes two of Averbuch’s previously released original songs, as well as 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 by Lax self-published in January 2022. Robin Roberts, television co-anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America, named the book a “Top Pick”.
Averbuch – known simply as Shira on stage – was called a “golden singer” by The New York Times. During the hour-long show, she will play nine songs and lead the audience in community singing.
“Merging Shira’s voice and music with my words has created an amazing inspirational experience that I’m excited to share with our audience,” says Lax.
Averbuch was also surprised by the process. “Until Susan came to me, it had never occurred to me to create something that combined music, poetry and prose in a spiritual conversation,” she says. “While weaving ‘The Heart-to-Heart Songbook’ we realized that there is nothing like it out there that makes it more magical and exciting.”
An Israeli girl, Averbuch spent her childhood in New York and Israel. After completing her Israeli military service as a leader of the army’s musical ensemble, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the American Academy of Music and Drama and the New School. The country singer-songwriter and actor went on to become a popular song leader at Jewish centers in New York, Tennessee, Arizona and elsewhere in the US. When her friend, Shirin Tinati, was battling stage 3 breast cancer, Shira wrote the song, “Am I Beautiful.” The ballad went viral on Facebook with more than 340,000 views, plus more than 50,000 on Spotify and more than 47,000 on YouTube.
In “Heart-to-Heart,” Shira plays “Am I Beautiful” solo on ukulele. Other songs feature Paul Carbonara, Blondie’s longtime music producer, 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,” says Averbuch. “He lifts me up when I lose faith, we challenge each other and we have the best time together… It’s like a family.”
Shira’s second previously released original song featured in “Heart-to-Heart” is from her album “Till the Sun Comes”. Called “Warrior,” it’s produced by Carbonara and features a six-piece band, including Grammy-nominated drummer Dan Pugach.
Averbuch co-produced the remaining seven “Heart-to-Heart” songs with Lax.
“That’s the beauty of our connection,” says Lax. “In our work, medicine is the foundation. My words, her music and her voice combine and create a ‘very good world’. I don’t want everyone to come with the promise that they are coming to be healed. This is not a revival meeting. Here’s a moment for you, whatever you want.
“I don’t know if that moment can be free from anxiety, but it can allow us to be mindful,” says Lax. “It could be joy, sadness, sadness … we have a buffet of emotions. I hope in this concert it awakens you all to that spirit of feeling and acknowledges that you are beautiful just the way you are.”
Lax’s worldview flourished after training at Chochmat HaLev, a Jewish spiritual community in Berkeley, California. Before that, the American-born Lax earned a teaching degree in creative drama from Kibbutzim College in Israel, where her family moved when she was nine. In addition to pioneering workshops on “awareness and enabling joy,” Lax is a columnist for Patheos and has long been the creator of “Morning Inspiration,” the no-cost newsletter that formed the basis of his book. She also works as a spiritual counselor specializing in illness, grief, and what she describes as “loving through death.”
These days, Lax divides 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 their board of directors. Her husband serves as chairman worldwide and her eldest daughter is the CEO of Naot USA.
Although the name “Heart-to-Heart” accurately describes the meaning of the show, sometimes Lax is asked to step away from the microphone.
“I was told not to sing,” says Lax. “I have a terrible voice.”
That hardly dampened her enthusiasm. “The intention of this concert, my hope for this moment,” says Lax, “is to awaken people’s moments to what they need to make their moments better.”