NY Jewish Culture Examiner: Review: The Birthright Monologues

Posted on April 30, 2009

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Your New York Jewish Culture examiner on his first trip to Israel, 1971. Scroll down to the beginning of the article.

Would you like to know a secret just between you and me
I don’t know where I’m going next, I don’t know who I’m gonna be

Jefferson Airplane

Remember the year or two or five between college and grad school? Do you recall not knowing what you wanted to do  with your life, who you wanted to be, and what role your religion and/or ethnicity would play in the future you would make for yourself (or did you go from college straight to graduate or professional school and postpone all that angst for a later midlife crisis)? Last night 14 young Jews each went on stage at The Triad Theater and told their stories of dealing with just such questions of vocation, identity, a search for meaning, and how a free 10 day trip to Israel with around 30 young adults in similar circumstances helped them work through these issues or at least find greater self-acceptance and clarity.

Some of the women cast members worked through their personal issues by dating and/or falling in love with Israeli men. One says she suspects that the Birthright organizers planted the Israeli security guard just so that he would seduce her into affirming her Jewish identity and loving Israel and concludes, “Well it worked!” Another (or maybe the same woman–I didn’t take notes during the performance) actually marries her Israeli boyfriend. About a third of the performers are the children of mixed marriages. One of these observed that her trip to Israel was the first time she saw people who look like her; when she returned the US she had an adult bat-mitzvah.

Birthright Monologues is ably directed by performance poet and playwright Vanessa Hidary who helped the 14 author/performers edit their monologues. Not surprisingly some of the monologues are in verse, sections of which rhyme. Imagine the people interviewed byAnna Deveare Smith or Eve Ensler for their monologues speaking their own words at a poetry slam; or imagine that a young Spalding Gray was forced by a strict editor/director to condense his hours long monologues to just six minutes. Between monologues there were brief pop song interludes. Doors open a half hour before the performance which takes place in a small nightclub/cabaret type theater with a cash bar.

Nine of the 14 Birthright Monologues moved me to tears; four others were also engaging but appealed to the left side of my brain allowing my eyes to dry, and the last one was really funny. Birthright Monologues should be performed  (or if a live performance is not practical a video of the production should be screened) at every Hebrew High School and campus Hillel club in the country; I heartily recommend it to audiences of all ethnic and religious (or secular) backgrounds from middle school to retirement community ages and everyone in between. There will be one more performance tonight after which the production will return to New York in the fall; don’t miss it!
To get a taste of Birthright Monologues take a look at this one by Ruby Marez.

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