Four years ago, we offered a play from Israel that involved an unseen rabbi’s violent tendency towards his wife, as she slowly revealed her drama to a group of women in her monthly visits to the neighborhood mikveh. Hadar Galron’s play, Mikveh, was a long-running hit in Israel and caused a sensation, and some concern, when we presented the English language world premiere on our stage in 2010.
MIKVEH by Hadar Galron, directed by Shirley Serotsky – illustration by David Polonsky
The play showed the beauty of the mikveh ritual and the power of women coming together to seek solace in the cleansing, healing waters and blessings associated with ritual submersion. But because the play involved not just spousal abuse but also a death by drowning in the mikveh (and not just one suicide, but ultimately, in the end, two!) it was feared that the play would “give a black eye to the orthodox community” in its melodramatic portrait of life in and around the mikveh. It’s worth a visit back to our blog entries from that Voices From a Changing Middle East 2010 Festival dedicated to the Voice of the Woman. Lots and lots of drama surrounding that show. Was it right to put such a frank (or heightened) portraiture on our stage? Certainly at the time, the Embassy of Israel thought it was worth it. They loved the play and bought the entire house for one performance to share it with friends from the diplomatic community. This was the kind of work coming out of Israel—a play that brought Israeli audiences from secular as well as religious background together by the thousands—that wanted to be shared with American audiences; that demonstrated the Israeli theater fulfilling its cultural mission and purpose.
Amal Saade and Tonya Beckman Ross in Mikveh
Now a new real-life mikveh drama has unfolded before us and I’ve asked those who want to, to respond personally and associatively to what they’ve been reading or hearing. Many will be learning about the mikveh ritual for the first time in reading about this terrible violation. But most of us—especially the women amongst us—know what it means to be watched and to be made to feel unsafe because of that furtive gaze.
This is a chance to share your thoughts about the recent scandal at Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown. And to reflect on the sensitivity of discussing—and indeed, perhaps, someday maybe dramatizing—such events in public.
I’ve ask students to think about this story, and its relation, in whatever ways come to mind, to G-d’s Honest Truth. We’re approaching our comments with care and sensitivity.
What does it mean when these crimes and violations are made public?
How do we feel about the theater’s role in returning to these stories of religious scandal?