Author Archives: Barbara T. Blank

Barbara T. Blank

About Barbara T. Blank

Barbara Trainin Blank is a freelance writer and editor.

Jewish Theater Receives a Revitalization

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Productions in the New York’s first Jewish theater festival–which runs from May 20 to June 14–are eclectic, including a puppet show, comedies, a midrashic interpretation and an adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s story The Jewbird. The 15 staged works and three readings in the festival come from Atlanta, Los Angeles, Kalamazoo, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Israel.

A Jewish theater festival of this scale has been long overdue. In 1980, at Marymount College in Manhattan a much smaller festival inspired the creation of the Association for Jewish Theater (AJT), an international network for the enhancement of Jewish culture through the theater arts, and a co-sponsor of this year’s event.

Since 1980 a few large companies in New York City–including American Jewish Theater and Jewish Repertory Theater–showed several mainstream Jewish plays. In the intermediate years, some people have felt, “there was a feeling there was no need for a Jewish festival,” speculates Edward Einhorn, artistic director of this year’s festival

Even today, with fewer Jewish theaters than there were in 1980, there are those who “aren’t excited” about a festival in Manhattan, Einhorn notes. “They say, ‘There’s so much Jewish theater, why do we need a festival?’ Maybe some people are afraid to be characterized as doing ‘Jewish theater.’ They don’t want to be ghettoized.”

But Kayla Gordon, executive director of AJT, represents a more enthusiastic constituency: “It has always been our dream to do a Jewish theater festival in a large city.”

Some of the plays in the festival are “more Jewish” than others. Doctors Jane and Alexander, written and directed by Einhorn, is, he explains, “not Jewish in certain ways.” The documentary play explores the life of the writer’s grandfather, co-discoverer of the Rh Factor in blood, through interviews with his mother, a psychologist who had a stroke.

“They are a Jewish family, though not a religious one,” Einhorn says. “But what makes the play ‘Jewish’ is that their interests–science, the arts, psychology–are ‘typical’ Jewish interests. I’m interested in what connects Jews to these interests.”

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Jewish Adoption in America

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Since ancient times, Judaism has valued and encouraged adoption. But most biblical and rabbinic references to the practice relate specifically to orphans, a paradigmatically vulnerable class of individuals for which the Bible mandates we protect and care.
 
The most famous example in the Bible, of course, is that of the orphaned Queen Esther, who was raised by her cousin Mordecai. The Talmud, however, illuminates–and approves of–more obscure cases as well. adoption family child baby
 
According to the book of Samuel (2 Samuel 6:23), King David’s wife Michal never had children–yet later five sons are mentioned. To explain the discrepancy, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b) states that Michal’s sister, Merav, actually gave birth to the children, but Michal raised them. The rabbis conclude: “Whoever brings up an orphan in his home is regarded, according to Scripture, as though the child had been born to him.”
 
Interestingly, though, there was no Hebrew word for adoption until the 20th century, when Israeli lexicographers chose ametz, which comes from the same root as amatz, meaning strength or fortitude.

Trends in Adoption

Jewish Americans, like Americans in general, have various motivations for adopting children. Some couples adopt for altruistic reasons–to give homes to older children or children with disabilities.
 
Single people, as well as gay and lesbian individuals and couples, are more likely to try to adopt than in the past, as adoption agencies become more open in their policies. But the reason for most contemporary adoptions–Jewish and otherwise–is a married heterosexual couple’s inability to have a child.
 
About 15% of all couples in the United States have some kind of infertility problem–defined as the inability to achieve or sustain pregnancy after one year of well-timed, unprotected sex. Adoption experts assume the infertility rate is higher among Jews, who tend to postpone marriage and childbirth.
 
Because of the emphasis Jews place on family, their relatively high socioeconomic status (adoption can get expensive), and this presumed higher rate of infertility, Jews are considered a population likely to pursue adoption.

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