Noah (and Jacob) Bake Bread for the Soul

By Steven Libowitz   |   February 6, 2020
Marjorie Luke Theatre presents An Evening with Noah benShea as his character Jacob the Baker on Tuesday, February 11

More than three decades ago, Noah benShea created Jacob the Baker, a simple but wise character whose plainspoken wisdom and commonsense approach to life are delivered as parables and often funny pearls of wisdom. The Jacob books, four in total now after We Are All Jacob’s Children ended a 20-year hiatus in 2018, have provided solace and support for millions of people and reached round the world. The original 63-page Jacob book, presciently subtitled “Gentle Wisdom for a Complicated World” in what was surely actually a simpler time, has been translated into 18 languages, while over the years Jacob’s sayings and wisdom nuggets have decorated everything from Starbucks coffee cups to hospital meal trays.

Meanwhile, benShea himself – a former UCLA dean who struck gold as the founder of the New York Bagel Factory – has lectured all over the world and advised businesses and individuals throughout the land.

But never – save for a one-off years ago when he narrated a symphonic adaptation – has benShea purposefully showed up anywhere as Jacob. There were lots of offers for a one-man show, and movie scripts have been bandied about. But nothing came to fruition largely because benShea was so busy with business.

That all changes on Tuesday, February 11, when the former longtime Montecito resident who now resides in Summerland hits the stage at the Marjorie Luke Theatre embodying his famed character for a 90-minute Q&A session in the opening event of the Luke’s second Mind Body Soul series.

It probably won’t be much of a stretch.

“People have always asked me if we were the same person,” benShea noted. “I’d say yes, except I’m the one with character flaws… But often halfway through a conversation they begin calling me Jacob anyway, because I seem so congruent with the character.

Still when series producer Rod Lathim, who is a longtime friend, asked benShea to appear as Jacob, the poet-philosopher woke up in the middle of the night wondering what he had committed to.

“But in the morning my wife told me, ‘What are you worried about? You’ve been Jacob the Baker for fifty years.’”

The format for the evening is simple: when people purchase their tickets, they’ll also be asked to submit a question about something in their lives they might want to ask Jacob, benShea said.

 “When I come on stage, I’ll step into the character and respond in the voice and soul of Jacob as if they were talking to me in the bakery. It’s about being very live and present in the moment to help people with questions that may be plaguing them. Jacob is so much my alter ego, and I’m blessed because he’s a much better person than myself.”

Indeed, when asked why now for the event, benShea spoke largely in pithy parables much as Jacob might.

“Time doesn’t wear a watch. I don’t know why. I only know it is. But that’s enough. As Jacob says, knowing doesn’t change the weather… Just like with my last book, the gestation of all things is a gift from God. We can’t presume how or when things will be born, come and grow. It was a long pregnancy, But Jacob is still being born, and has been for a long time. I’m honored with this event that I get to be in the maternity ward that night.”

If it seems that benShea goes back and forth between the two characters, the answer is yes. But it’s not an issue.

“It’s an occupational hazard with me. I’m never sure who has their hand in what dummy,” he said. “But it’s not like I’ve slipped out of sanity. I don’t think I’m channeling. But, as Jacob said, because we shut our eyes does not mean that God goes into hiding. So Noah’s question is if God is omnipresent, but the only question is, ‘Am I present?’ Jacob reminds me to be present in the moment with God because it’s only your blindness, deafness, and ignorance that keeps you short of that experience.”

Which is why benShea is clear about how and why he brings Jacob to life, creating a path for his own self-growth.

“In order to write you have to slip the bonds of your own ego into something larger, more important and connected. What I wanted to do was to slip into higher consciousness absent of hubris. The character of Jacob knows he’s nobody special.”

When I mention to benShea that recently I’ve actually found myself slipping into a character who, apparently, comes from New York in the 1950s – which at first was just a lark but has happened when I’m not paying attention – he wasn’t surprised. In fact, he encouraged what others might think of as madness.

“People are always telling you to be more yourself. But there’s an equal truth about being less yourself,” he said. “Don’t confuse your ego self with who you are. When you take off the parts you’ve dressed yourself in for so long, you come to a place of peace and rest.”

That sparked another thought for benShea.

“I’ve been meditating on how parents used to say, ‘Go outside and play.’ But perhaps you should come inside, then go outside and play. On February 11, I’m going to come inside, and then come outside, as Jacob, to play.”


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