For the Platt brothers, Yom Ha’atzmaut is a family affair
Ben, Henry and Jonah Platt are slated to perform during star-studded event
Ask Jonah Platt about celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut and he will tell you about the year he spent the holiday in Israel. Ask his younger brother Henry the same question, and he, too, will tell you about his own experience celebrating Israel’s Independence Day in the Jewish state.
“I just remember it being, probably, one of the most joyous, most unique experiences,” Henry told JI. “That experience of being there,” Jonah concurred, “There’s nothing like it.”
This year, the brothers Platt will be marking the occasion from their homes in Los Angeles, but with a twist. Appearing in a virtual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration alongside their brother, Tony Award-winning Ben Platt, the trio will perform an original composition of the “Ahavat Olam” prayer.
The event, organized by the Jewish Federations of North America, will feature a number of celebrity appearances, including Unorthodox actress Shira Haas, singer Matisyahu, cookbook author Adeena Sussman, renowned sex therapist Dr. Ruth and actor Joshua Malina.
The brothers, who spoke to JI via FaceTime on Tuesday, came up with the idea to perform “Ahavat Olam” after being asked by JFNA to participate in the virtual gathering. Their mother, Julie Platt, is the former board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and sits on the boards of a number of Jewish communal organizations.
“We were kind of racking our brains about what to do for this,” Jonah told JI. “Someone had suggested ‘Shower the People’ from James Taylor, but that didn’t feel quite right. We didn’t want to just do some pop song. We wanted to do something that really spoke to celebrating Israel and for the moment.”
Wanting to perform a piece that matched their contemporary vocal styles, the brothers considered their options. Jonah remembered seeing a recording of his friend Gabe Mann performing a version of “Ahavat Olam” with his children at his daughter Piper’s bat mitzvah. Jonah reached out, and Mann tweaked the key to better suit a balanced three-person performance.
Family celebrations — such as Jonah’s 2016 wedding — have given the musically inclined siblings opportunities to perform for family and close friends. Today’s Yom Ha’atzmaut event marks the first time the brothers have performed in public as a trio. Despite the age gap — Jonah, at 33, is 12 years older than Henry, while Ben is in between at 26 — the brothers are close, and the family has been brought even closer by the pandemic.
It’s a rare occasion for the whole family — which also includes sisters Hannah and Samantha — to be in the same place. Ben can usually be found in New York, but has been in Los Angeles since mid-March. Henry, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, wasn’t planning to be home. Over spring break, he was touring the West Coast with his a cappella group when the university told students it would be moving classes online for the remainder of the semester. Already in California, Henry stayed put and hasn’t been back to Philadelphia.
Henry told JI the unexpected end to his junior year has given him a chance to recalibrate and spend time with his family. “For some reason the universe wants us to take a pause and hit the pause button, which I think is really hard to do,” he said. “When the world is always go, go, go, go, go. And obviously this is not a natural state to be in. But I do think that there are some blessings in disguise that I’ve been trying to lean into when it gets tough.”
Even when the family isn’t quarantining together, Henry told JI that they find ways to stay close despite the distance. “We always make a point to show up for each other. And I think that’s something we’ve always strived to do. When we grew up all in the same city, it was easier to do, but I think even now, if I have a performance in Philadelphia or Jonah has a performance in Los Angeles or there’s a big event in someone’s life, we all make our most concerted effort, if not to be there in person, to make our presence felt in some other way.” Jonah added that it is “a very big value that has been implanted within all of us, the importance of just showing up. And I think that’s a way that we always stay connected, even if we’re geographically apart.”
For the brothers — whose father, Marc Platt, produced the “Legally Blonde” films and the Broadway musical “Wicked” — there was never an expectation to go into show business. “As kids you’re into whatever your parents are into and kind of make available to you. And so musical theater and singing and all that was just always a part of our upbringing,” Jonah explained.
Henry, who is studying English and minoring in music, has appreciated his parents’ support as he begins to contemplate his post-college plans. “My parents are always there to lend an ear, lend their advice, make as many connections and offer as much advice as they possibly can. And I think we all have very much felt their support no matter what stage we are in that process.”
Last fall, Henry penned an op-ed detailing the social pressures he felt as a college freshman. Originally published in The Conversationalist, the piece soon garnered national attention. Henry told JI he was surprised by the feedback.
“I got a lot of texts from many people just saying that they were able to relate to at least a certain part of it and just were very grateful that I was willing to be open and honest about it,” Henry told JI, explaining that the reactions ”validated how I was feeling and validated everything I wrote about, but also just made me really feel honored that even in some way, if anyone could feel empowered to maybe be more transparent about what they’re going through, that is more than I had ever imagined for that piece.”
While Henry is finishing up his junior year online and contemplating what will happen after he graduates next year, Jonah is working on a new project: a musical adaptation of Lois Lowry’s The Giver.
The idea to turn the classic children’s book into a musical came from a friend of Jonah’s.
“He and I were looking to write something together,” Jonah said of his friend and longtime collaborator Andrew Resnick. “We were like, alright, we’ve now made up 100 musicals. It’s like, sit down and actually write one. And he said, ‘What about The Giver?’ because he loved a lot of the themes in it, and he was dead on. But there’s even more to it — I don’t think he realized how cool of a musical narrative idea that story actually was. And it was like, genius.”
The script and lyrics have been written, and they’re still in the process of recording demos. Jonah was hopeful the show would make it to the stage in 2021, but the coronavirus pandemic has pushed back the timeline.
While audiences may have to wait to see Jonah’s adaptation of The Giver, they won’t have to wait much longer to see another Platt brother reunion — the trio plans to reunite for a yet-to-be-announced performance that will leave viewers…Plattisfied.