Asked about life-long passions, Naomi Wittenberg gives what some would consider a conventional response for a woman. “My husband,” she answered, speaking of Simeon “Sim” Wittenberg, the man with whom she traded insults on first meeting and later shared 62 years of marriage together.
However, Naomi is far from a conventional woman, whatever that is. A self-declared feminist schooled at Boston University, she and her husband were equal in all their endeavors. Deep love, enduring partnerships and the resourceful strength of the immigrant experience are her family heritage, so it’s not surprising to find all these qualities in her description of her own married life. Naomi says Sim, now seven years gone, was a stimulating companion and her one passion to the end. Her eyes say he still is.
Partners in parenting, they raised two smart, strong daughters in Syosset, Long Island in New York. They were very involved in their community, and the schooling of their daughters. For many years, Sim was the President of the Central School District #2 and Naomi was a leader in the New York State PTA.
They were business partners as well throughout those years building Wit-Craft Electric Corporation from the ground up. Sim was the technical lead while Naomi led the business side, yet they taught each other all they knew and built Wit-Craft as a team. Naomi understood the business inside and out and became quite comfortable in the world of electrical systems, motors and controls. Her no-nonsense confidence earned respect and the business of men who were at first ready to discount this woman in a man’s role.
After 35 years they sold the business so they could travel the world, which they did for another 20 years. One glance around Naomi’s East Garden home is a tour of many cultures and includes a collection of original art by Bjørn Wiinblad, a renowned Danish designer and artist in ceramics, silver, bronze, textiles, and graphics. She confesses that as an ardent Fund Shop shopper, she’s picked up many other treasures of which she is fond.
When Sim and Naomi moved to Sarasota in 1998, they found another world in which they could indulge a shared passion – theatre. Sarasota’s rich theatre culture afforded them the opportunity to both support this favorite art form, as well as participate. As members of the Asolo (Rep)Theatre Guild, they were instrumental in the activities of the Guild Play Readers group.
“Sim loved acting. He was a ham, and I was organized,” said Naomi. “We presented readings throughout the community to promote the Asolo, and,” she emphasized, “most importantly, to raise funds making it possible for public school students to attend live, professional theatre performances.”
Children, business, travel and now, theatre, had become the focus of their intensely involved lives together. “Sim loved acting, and I was organized,” said Naomi. They moved into Plymouth Harbor together in August of 2006 only to be shocked shortly thereafter with news that Sim was gravely ill. January 2007 found Naomi broken hearted. The couple had looked forward to joining the Plymouth Harbor Players, but she was not ready to take the stage alone. One year later it was a different story.
By the 2008-2009 theatre season, Naomi stepped in to adapt, produce and direct “The Cynthia Caper,” an early script by Howard Biermann, the resident who had written 19 of the 28 original plays performed annually by the troupe over the years.
The indomitable Naomi continues to follow this passion, now entering her seventh season with the Plymouth Harbor Players as the producer that pulls everything together. Her partners in theatre crime are now Peg and Don Wallace and they have great plans for this year’s production.
“The Stash on the 17th Floor,” another script by Don Wallace, includes multi-media surprises. There will be no formal auditions this year, but rather residents are invited to gather on Tuesday, December 10 and Wednesday, December 11 from 2 to 4 pm in the Mezzanine conference room where there will be informal readings of the play and a discussion of all the roles, on-stage and off-stage, available. This means the readings are not just for actors, but also for anyone wanting to serve backstage with props, lighting, prompting, costumes, or any other supporting crew role.
The performances will be at 8 pm on Tuesday, February 25, and at 2 and 8 pm on Wednesday, February 26.
Producing the Plymouth Harbor plays is a lot of hard work, but Naomi probably enjoys that collaborative effort as much as the audience enjoys the result. It’s clear that she’s not one to do anything half-heartedly. Committed and passionate about her family – daughters, granddaughters, and great-grandchildren – as well as political and community matters, Naomi knows what is important in her life.