Two years ago, Denise Brown faced a defining moment. It required giving up a lifetime of fear, of relinquishing forever her deepest secret and proclaiming to the world her true self.
The 84-year-old woman, who 60 years ago founded the renowned City Ballet, teaching generations of Dallas children how to dance, would announce to the world what she had hidden all those years from her dancers and their families — that she is Jewish.
More arts news"My oldest daughter was becoming a bat mitzvah," says Denise’s youngest of four children, Evelyn Brown Johnson, 52, who learned at 16 that her mother is Jewish, a secret she, too, agreed to keep.
Denise wanted to present to her granddaughter Madison the tallit, or prayer shawl, that her father had worn at his bar mitzvah, years before being killed at the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in 1942. The circumstances of her father’s death were among the many things that Denise had kept private.
Her secret intact, her mother’s wish posed a problem, Evelyn says: A bar or bat mitzvah is all about announcing to your community your Jewish identity. How could her mother even stand on the bimah, a platform reserved only for Jews, when the congregation at Temple Emanu-El had no idea that Denise is Jewish?
"I told her that it would be awkward," Evelyn says. "If the tallit was going to be used, then the story needed to be told. She had kept this secret all along, because she felt it was frightening. Keeping it secret was, for a very long time, literally, the key to her survival."
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