On May 23, Valley Beth Shalom hosted an event designed to inspire the creation of new Jewish comedy and drama, and encourage the ongoing tradition of Jewish creativity and invention. Moderated by VBS Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein, the program was a presentation of the synagogue’s Jewish Writers Roundtable, a group of about 10 members. Over the course of the evening, six of these writers—including Sarah Goldfinger (executive producer/writer, “CSI,” “Hawaii Five-O”), Michael Halperin (writer and TV executive), Jamie Pachino (screenwriter and writer, “Fairly Legal”), Stephanie Liss (playwright and writer, “On Holy Ground”) Ronda Spinak (artistic director and co-founder of the Jewish Women’s Theatre), and Lynn Roth (executive producer/writer, “The Paper Chase”)—all shared excerpts from recent works in which they reflected on contemporary Jewish life. Set before symbolic stained glass windows and a well-lit ark, the pieces read throughout the evening addressed Jewish faith and tradition at important moments in Jewish history and daily life. In just an hour and a half, the audience eavesdropped in a women’s bathroom at a wedding (Goldfinger), hid in Warsaw during the Holocaust (Halperin), heard an unconventional mother’s speech at a bar mitzvah (Pachino), escaped Tehran during the violent overthrow of the shah (Liss), explored the experiences of female rabbis (Spinak) and watched as Sigmund Freud came to terms with the changing state of Vienna for a Jew like himself (Roth).
The main motivations behind the evening, Feinstein said, were to “create a place for Jewish artists and art within the community,” and to “use theater as a mode of sharing ideas.” Stories, Feinstein pointed out, can create community through shared anxieties, values and reflections on the Jewish condition. Storytelling, Feinstein said, “is elemental to being a human being,” and the six pieces heard that evening portrayed moments in Judaism in which individuals are tested, but ultimately triumph.
Just as important as the Jewish spirit of creativity that Feinstein hoped the audience would take away from the evening was the notion that the writers should leave with the understanding that “the community appreciates their work.”
In his opening remarks about the evening, Feinstein explained that in Jewish tradition the “revelation of ultimate truth is through a book,” and that in this tradition of literacy as a spiritual element, the “people who assemble words share in the creation of the world.” Feinstein said he hopes to hold similar events in the future in order to open more eyes to new Jewish writing as well as to learn how to incorporate drama into synagogue life.