Gemma @ #FringeNYC ‘Observance’ - Unwilling to behave precisely according to Jewish law

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Observance is an original play about Gabby Goldblum, a nonreligious Jewish college student who suddenly becomes more observant while studying abroad in Israel, stunning her parents and boyfriend.

MY EXPERIENCE.

  According to my 23andMe ancestry results, my Judaism is even observable in my DNA!

According to my 23andMe ancestry results, my Judaism is even observable in my DNA!

I have always identified as Jewish, emphasis on the ish.

God was never a big factor in my life. I vaguely remember praying as a child, but I never fully bought into the concept that my behavior according to a holy text determined whether or not I was a good person and would therefore be granted access to an afterlife. My relationship with Judaism was and is more cultural than anything else. It’s a major facet of who I am, and I feel a connection to the history of my people, the languages they speak and the food they eat. That being said, I am unwilling to behave precisely according to Jewish law to satisfy any higher power.

My mother was raised Jewish, as was everyone on her side of the family before her. Her grandparents were Orthodox while her parents were Reform. Growing up, she would attend Temple, eat kosher meals at her grandparents’ house and celebrate Jewish holidays (and I don’t just mean Hanukkah). Interestingly, she became the first woman in the family to marry outside of the faith — and she did it twice! This was quite a big deal at the time. It might not feel like it in places like New York City, but Jews are a minority, and there is often a lot of pressure from our relatives to keep the religion in the family. I guess it’s the feeling that there is safety in numbers and tradition. My mother didn’t mind so much about the religion of the person she married, she only cared about her children being raised Jewish. So when she met my father, she made that clear to him. My father was so unfazed by her ultimatum that he offered to convert to Judaism for her, but my mother assured him such a gesture was not necessary.

My brother and I basically grew up as secular Jewish kids with Greek last names. Neither of us had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah or even wanted one. Most of our friends weren’t Jewish, and our faith remained a tiny piece of who we were, without it overshadowing the other layers of our personalities. But I looked at Judaism as a lifelong gym membership kind of thing, where even if we didn’t attend, we were still members for the rest of our lives.

College came around, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel for FREE! I jumped at the chance. My mother couldn’t quite share my level of excitement, because she was understandably worried about my traveling to such a war-torn country. I got that, and admittedly was nervous about my safety as well.

I related to Observance’s Gabby, a Jew who didn’t actively practice Judaism, flying to Israel, a land considered to be holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews alike. I was in her shoes a little under three years ago. But Gabby wasn’t just in Israel for a ten-day Birthright trip like I was — she was studying abroad for multiple months. She was a bacon-loving partier who had smuggled weed cookies into the Middle East and had punched a guy in the face for making a joke she didn’t like. Shoshana, her roommate, was a by-the-book, Shabbat-keeping Orthodox Jew who refused to so much as be alone in a room with her boyfriend (or any man, for that matter) until marriage. While Gabby liked to wear sleeveless crop tops and tight jeans, Shoshana wore modest clothing that covered her body completely.

  Standing in front of the Dead Sea

Standing in front of the Dead Sea

Gabby and Shoshana didn’t hit it off immediately due to their many differences. Shoshana even tried (unsuccessfully) to get her roommate changed. But over time, the girls learned to see past any tension between them and just accept each other. When Shoshana asked Gabby what sex was like, Gabby, having experienced sex, was happy to describe it for her. Shoshana’s curiosity didn’t make her any less of a Jew, just as Gabby’s non-observance didn’t make her any less of a Jew. And as they got to know each other better, Gabby quickly developed an appreciation for prayer, keeping kosher and wearing religious attire that would shock the people closest to her.

  Riding a camel. Lucky #13!

Riding a camel. Lucky #13!

When I visited Israel, I felt much more in touch with my Judaism. I had never been surrounded by so many people who shared my faith. It was heartwarming to feel so accepted. I ate my first Shabbat dinner, swam in the Dead Sea, rode on a camel and even had a Bat Mitzvah at 21 years old! I chose Chen, meaning "charm" or "grace," as my Hebrew name. I wanted to honor my late grandmother, who was named Charlotte, by using the first two letters of her name.

  The best part of my Bat Mitzvah!

The best part of my Bat Mitzvah!

As it turned out, Gabby had a particularly painful past. Her sister, Ally, had tragically died of cancer at the age of 20, a couple of years earlier. And all of a sudden it made sense to me why she would so desperately be searching for meaning, and why she’d ask to be called by her late sister’s Hebrew name, Aviva, and why she would punch a man in the face for making an idiotic joke about cancer. I didn’t consider it a bad thing that Gabby had, in a few months’ time, changed her entire way of life. Just because a choice wasn’t best for me, didn’t mean it wasn’t best for others. But it bugged me to see Gabby’s newfound religious values distancing her from the people she loved most: her parents and her boyfriend.

I know that if my future daughter decided to explore her Judaism and ended up being observant, I would want her to feel comfortable enough to talk to me about it, and not worry about facing rejection from the person who gave birth to her. And I would also want anyone I was seriously dating to support me in all ways, even if that meant some lifestyle changes in the name of religion. The world is way too divided already for religion to come between love.

Religious and non-religious people should be able to coexist. Compromise, listen, learn, talk it out. Stop acting like we’re not all people. Ultimately, you get to define the role religion plays in your world. Nobody else can regulate that for you.


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