Theater As A Tool For Jewish Communication

While there is much of which we can be proud as American Jews, it is no secret that we also have a lot of problems. We have changing demographics, a deep core of co-religionists who are either apathetic about Judaism or downright hostile, and a turning away from traditional institutions of Judaism without replacing them with new ones. Is there something that Jewish theater can do to help address these issues?

Picasso said, “Art is the lie through which we see the truth.” Theater has always been a reflection of society, a mirror through which society’s positives and negatives are displayed. Jewish theater has the unique ability to confront the issues facing the Jewish community, free from the institutional expectations or agendas that a synagogue, education center or federation would have.

​     In 1992, I wrote a play called “Closet Space.” It was about a gay student applying to rabbinical school. In the play, one of the rabbis who is on the committee knows that Jonathon is gay, and must decide whether or not to “out” him. The play was presented at the Pargod theater in Jerusalem. It was my attempt to explore the issues involving gay rabbis without having to deal with the political issues that dominated the discussion during that time. One of my proudest moments was when friends who sat on both sides of the issue told me that the play helped them understand those on the other side better.  Theater is able to reach into the core of a problem and pull it out for all to see. Whereas institutions and bureaucracy get bogged down in politics and agenda, drama provides us with the ability to clear away the cobwebs of self-interest and see something as it truly is.

This should be the mission of Jewish theater in our time–a hard, unflinching look at our community and a statement as to where we are and where we should be going.

As always, your reactions and comments are welcome.

About the Author
Rabbi Dan Wolpe is the rabbi of the Flushing Fresh Meadows Jewish Center, a noted educator, and a produced and published playwright. In addition to having served as a rabbi for 25 years, Wolpe has had plays of his produced in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Orlando, Philadelphia, Jerusalem, Latham and Westhampton Beach,. Wolpe is a proud member of both the Rabbinical Assembly and the Dramatist's Guild.