Adrian Bendick, left, coordinates the EVJCC’s Terrific Tuesdays program. She’s pictured here with pianist Patti Merrill in 2013.
When Adrian Bendick took over the role of coordinating the East Valley JCC’s Terrific Tuesdays group, she brought with her not only her love of learning and teaching, but also stand-up comedy.
“I start off every week with either a funny story from my life that cracks everyone up or a terrific joke that I’ve heard,” she said. “It’s always a feel-good kind of thing.”
The next season of Terrific Tuesdays, an EVJCC educational, cultural and social program for adults ages 55-plus, begins on Sept. 4.
A teacher’s devotion
Bendick’s 41-year teaching career started in Philadelphia, where she taught everything from kindergarten through eighth grade for more than 30 years. After moving to Arizona in 2000, she taught at charter schools and then worked as a substitute teacher before retiring in 2010.
Along the way, she found she was a natural comedian, often being asked to emcee school functions or retirement dinners. One evening, she was asked to perform stand-up comedy on a teacher’s bus trip to Atlantic City and one of the guests happened to be an agent who invited her to do stand-up comedy, first at an open mic at a club in downtown Philly and then at a senior living facility.
One evening she was visiting the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City with a friend during a taping of a special tribute filming. She found herself sitting next to Tony Bennett – “He was a doll, we had a great conversation” – and in the same room as Irwin c. Watson, a popular comic she used to watch on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” She approached the comic and mentioned that she had started doing stand-up comedy and he asked her to tell him some of his stories. He was impressed and on the spot asked her if she’d want to open up on a cruise show he was planning on going. She declined after learning that the cruise was leaving on the first week of the school year.
“I said, ‘I can’t do that to my principal, I can’t do that to my kids’. And I said, “I realize now in my life I have to make a choice. Am I going to do comedy or am I going to teach?’ My life is with the kids. They’re my children. And so I realized I wasn’t going to do it professionally.”
Occasionally she still does comedy for her temple, Sun Lakes Jewish Congregation, and other groups, in addition to her weekly gig at Terrific Tuesdays.
New path after retirement
Adrian was approached by former EVJCC executive director Steven Tepper to coordinate the program after its former coordinator, Claudette Adler, retired after running it for more than a dozen years. At the time, Adrian was on the EVJCC board, but stepped off when she took on this new role about five years ago.
Before becoming the Terrific Tuesdays coordinator, she served as the chairwoman of the East Valley Jewish Film Festival until the group merged with the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival (GPJFF) in 2010. Her work with the GPJFF included visiting schools to screen films, lead discussions and coordinate a student essay contest.
When she started coordinating Terrific Tuesdays, about 10 people used to attend each week. During her second year, the group made a profit for the first time and the attendance increased to up to 35 attendees, she said.
“I love these people. I call them my people,” she said. “I adore them, they’re all like family to me. Everyone that walks in puts a big smile on my face. It’s one of the most wonderful days of the week and it’s also afforded me the opportunity to meet such wonderful speakers and build friendships with the speakers.”
A new season begins
Each week, Terrific Tuesdays features a different speaker presenting on a different topic. The participants “want to be entertained and educated,” Adrian said. “Learning is a huge thing for them. They want information, history, art, music.”
After a summer hiatus, the next season will start Sept. 4. Here’s the schedule for September:
Sept. 4: Diana Banahan, a docent from the Phoenix Art Museum will speak about “What’s New in 20th-Century Art” (Adrian says that the Phoenix Art Museum presentations are among the most popular in her group.) This session is dedicated to the memory of Charlene Kersch, a devoted longtime participant in the program.
Sept 18: Jake Bennett, who does a great deal of Israel advocacy work, will speak about “Alternatives to the Two-State Solution in Israel.”
Sept. 25: After a screening of the documentary “Hava Nagila,” Terrific Tuesdays member Jerry Millman will lead a discussion about the film.
Terrific Tuesdays begins with “coffee, cake and conversation” from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and presenters speak from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (There’s an exception on Sept. 25, as the film will start at 10 a.m. so Adrian suggests people get there at 9:30 a.m.) There is a $4 suggested donation. There is no meeting on Sept. 11, because it’s the second day of Rosh Hashanah.
Adrian says she plans to continue coordinating the group as long as she can and says her favorite part is the people and the community it has created, noting that members of the group often go to lunch together afterward. Some have even discovered that they grew up in the same neighborhood in their childhood cities.
“As each person walks in, they light up my life and put a smile on my face,” she said. “So by the end of the session, I’m walking on air.”
Adrian is still looking for speakers for this year’s schedule. All speakers present on a volunteer basis. If you’re interested in speaking or have someone to suggest, contact her at Adrian@evjcc.org. For more information about Terrific Tuesdays, click here.
– Leisah Woldoff