playing for life

Michael H. and Nora Jean Levin, Authors,
Co-Producers, Narrators
Kenneth Hoffman, Narrator,
Exhibit materials, collaborator
Stanislava Varshavski and Diana Shapiro, Pianists (Vanessa Briceño Photography)


Papers Please.  After Two Pianos' Philadelphia premiere our formative relationship with the Judische Kulturbund Project (JKP) ended by mutual agreement.  In July 2018 we formed a new production entity, Papers Please, to bring the Two Pianos performance/exhibit to broader audiences in Europe and the U.S.  Its Board and Advisory Committee include representatives of the Levin-Hoffman families, a former Director of Planned Giving for the Metropolitan Opera (NYC), and a former board member of the Raoul Wallenberg Committee - U.S. 


Nora Jean is a Philadelphia native and the first “real American” in her 1930s immigrant family. She earned political science degrees with minors in history from the University of Pennsylvania, where she met Michael.  


From 2004-18 Jean directed Caring From a Distance, Inc., America's only nonprofit providing information and advocacy for long-distance caregivers ( The organization's award-winning website reflected insight and content from her caregiving experience and step-by-step eldercare book, How to Care for Your Parents: A Handbook for Adult Children (Storm King Press, 1987,1990, 1993). That book's successor, How to Care for your Parents: A Practical Guide to Eldercare (Norton, 1997) introduced caregivers to the then-new world of the internet as a resource tool. Jean's articles on personal life interests have appeared in the Washington Post and Vineyard Gazette

Jean's other career highlights include: high school social studies teacher (1966-69); policy research at the Brookings Institution and the National Academy of Public Administration (1969-74); co-founder of The Workplace, Inc., Washington D.C.'s unique shared-office suite for writers, consultants and small non-profit organizations (1976-85); and co-author with colleague Janet Steiger of To Light One Candle: A Handbook for Organizing, Funding and Maintaining Public Service Projects (ABA Press, 1978-1979).  Her public service activities have ranged from stints on a U.S. Department of Education Advisory committee on Accreditation and Institutional Eligibility, through participation in the 1995 White House Conference on Aging, to  terms on Washington D.C. lifelong learning advisory committees as well as synagogue,  mental health and  women business owners boards.


Michael has been writing creatively all his adult life, legal deadlines notwithstanding.  He has degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Law School, and Oxford University (U.K.).   Pursued by a Vietnam-era draft board, he declined play-writing fellowships to Carnegie and Yale Drama Schools, likely saving American theater.  He has published poems in three chapbooks, several anthologies and dozens of periodicals, and has received poetry and feature journalism awards.  His collections Watered Colors and Man Overboard  were named Best Poetry Books for May 2014 and December 2018 respectively by the Washington Independent Review of Books. A third collection, Falcons, was published July 2020.

Before private practice Mike served as an appellate lawyer and executive in several federal agencies; in the Carter White House as Deputy Director of a Cabinet-level OSHA Reform Task Force; and as legislative aide to former Rep. Andrew Maguire (D-NJ) and Senate Judiciary Committee aide to the late Sen Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA). In 1982 he was awarded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Gold Medal for Exceptional Service.  An environmental lawyer and solar energy developer, he also is Contributing Editor to BioCycle Magazine.  He has been listed in Who’s Who in American Law, Who’s Who in Business and Finance, and Who’s Who in the World.  Some of his work is at

Mike and Jean married in England in 1966 and are based in Washington DC.  They have two sons, Jeremy Ben and Daniel Hirsch, and two grandsons.

Kenneth Hoffman.  Ken Hoffman is Halina Neuman’s oldest grandson.  Halina and Ken’s mother Jola survived exclusion, displacement, and labor and DP camps largely because of music.


Halina and Jola emigrated after WW II to England and then the U.S.  As a new immigrant to New Jersey Jola met and married American-born Eli Hoffman.  Jola and Eli were lifelong civil rights activists who marched for peace and worked for desegregation and equal rights. Ken and his brothers Marc, David, and Edward inherited their social justice values.


As her first-born grandson Ken had a devoted relationship with Halina. Among other adventures she took him across the U.S. at age 11 and they visited Tanya and Walter Ury in California.  Neither Halina nor Jola told Ken much about their experiences “before America.”   That history gradually unfolded – partly through Halina’s long friendship with Anna Bieler, and partly through research by Jean and Michael Levin.  Ken’s involvement with Two Pianos has brought this story to a special conclusion for him. 


Ken has a BA from Cornell University, an MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School, and an MPH from Harvard. He surprised everyone by choosing to practice medicine in the U.S. Army, where he served 23 years.  During his service he became board certified in psychiatry, preventive medicine and addiction psychiatry, participated in the first mental health evaluations of active-duty personnel infected with HIV, established a Center in Addiction Medicine at the Uniformed Services University, and served as the Army’s primary alcohol and drug consultant.  For the next 12 years he served the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as a senior medical officer developing guidelines to identify and treat opioid addiction and other substance use, and at the U.S. State Department as Clinical Director for Mental Health Services.  

Ken lives in Rockville MD where he maintains a consulting private practice. At his December 2017 “retirement” he was in Tanzania at a zonal referral hospital, mentoring safe scale-up of a new opioid treatment program that also covered patients who were heroin-addicted, HIV-positive, possibly pregnant, and infected with hepatitis or tuberculosis. Since 2009 he has served on the Board of Directors of Oxford House (, a national network of over 2400 self-supported self-run substance-abuse recovery homes.  In 2010 he was appointed by Maryland’s Governor to the Montgomery College Board of Trustees ( He recently was appointed for a second term.


Ken has been married to Ann since 1983.  They have one son, Jay, and two daughters, Leah and Phoebe.


Stanislava Varshavski and Diana Shapiro began playing together in 1998. They have captured top prizes at numerous competitions including the most prestigious competition for piano duos, the Murray Dranoff International Piano Competition in Miami. A winner of Astral Artists’ 2012 National Auditions, the Varshavski-Shapiro Piano Duo also received first prizes at Italy’s XV Piano Competition “Rome 2004,” Jerusalem’s Kol HaMusica Young Artists Competition, the Israel Chamber Music Competition, the XIII Schubert Competition in the Czech Republic, and the First International Piano Duo Competition in Bialystok Poland.

Varshavski and Shapiro hold Bachelor and Master degrees from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, where they studied with legendary Israeli duo Alexander Tamir and Bracha Eden. They continued their education under renowned American pianist Victor Rosenbaum. In 2011 they each received doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Shapiro is an Assistant Professor of Piano and Chair of the Music Department at Silver Lake College. Varshavski is Director of Education at the Holy Family Conservatory of Music. They live near Milwaukee.

The Varshavski-Shapiro Piano Duo is internationally represented by Astral Artists of Philadelphia.

Exhibit Designer

Exhibit Designer Stephanie Reyer (left) receives flowers from Nora Jean Levin after the premiere, 9 June 2018, Philadelphia PA.