Music, Monologues, and Mikva Memories: More than Entertainment

Two performances for women were held in the month of October in Jerusalem, Israel – on a topic usually kept quiet and whispered in secret.

Mikva the Musical, Music, and Monologues for the Deep, 2.0, was performed at the OU Israel Center on October 18 and at the Shalva Theater in Jerusalem, Israel, on Thursday night, October 27, 2022, to a women-only audience.

The production was created and co-produced by Myra Gutterman and Toby Klein Greenwald and has been presented previously in Israel and in the US.

It is performed in the style known as ‘Reader’s Theater,’ where songs, monologues, and dialogues, are without background sets. The powerful readings convey true stories collected from real women. The audience is drawn into the stories and responds in laughter and tears to the various situations encountered with the mitzvah of mikva.

One of the scenes, called “Killer Genes,” was written by an anonymous author with the BRCA gene who describes going to the Tel Aviv seashore with her husband, for mikva, before her prophylactic risk-reducing mastectomy. She dedicated the monologue in honor of Ahava Emuna Lange z”l, a young mother of five children, who died from ovarian cancer in August 2019.  

This monologue highlights the significance of holding the performance in the month of October. October is also National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which began in 1985, and was the first organized movement to bring attention to the dangers of breast cancer in the United States. Since then, campaigns to educate the public about the disease have continued to thrive and multiply.

One in 40 Ashkenazi Jewish women has a BRCA gene mutation, a much higher percentage than in the general population. Mutations in the BRCA genes raise a person’s risk of getting breast cancer at a young age, and also for getting ovarian and other cancers. That is why Ashkenazi Jewish women are at higher risk for breast cancer at a young age. Men can also carry the gene and get breast cancer. The mikva serves as a monthly reminder to self-check for cancer, which if caught in the early stages can be a lifesaver.

Adina Feldman, Melissa Kay, Gabrielle Shine, and Michele Thaler were impressive performers. Unfortunately, Thaler was missing from the Shalva stage for the first act. She was reportedly in the hospital the night before for an emergency, but no one would have known it, given her powerful performance when she appeared on stage in the second part of the show. Listening to Thaler’s story of her life after her paralysis and how she copes with difficult situations leaves one in awe of her resilience and courage – and comic talent.

Multi-talented Adina Feldman was not only the lead singer, but music/staging director, choreographer, and head composer. The all-female Tofa’ah Musicians provided excellent live music adding a new dimension to the quality of the show, three of the songs were from their collection of classics. There was also an original song with Klein Greenwald’s lyrics and music by Shalomis Koffler Weinreb. Also, Gutterman co-authored the lyrics to one of the songs.

The stated goal of the performance is to have the public develop an awareness and sensitivity to the joys of mikva. Another message conveyed is that in spite of challenges, women continue to perform this important and beautiful mitzvah. While there is a disclaimer on the program stating the show is not intended to be a resource from which to learn Jewish law, it underscores how far women will go to fulfill the mitzvah, even to the frozen ice-covered waters of Kathmandu. 

Mikva, the Musical, is produced under the non-profit aegis of Raise Your Spirits Theatre, an educational theater company dedicated to Torah values led by Klein Greenwald and Tamar Rubin along with a large cast of female performers and supporters. Female productions for women-only are not only becoming more common, but the quality of the shows is improving. 

The talented Tofa’ah Musicians are Yona Saslow Yacobovitz, Mindy Fuhrer, Tamar Attias, and Rahel Limor, with Ruti Sokoloff on the keyboard. Assisting with the technical aspects of the Shalva production was Bryna Billauer Ozarowski.

The colorful robes worn in this scene were donated by Judith and Luca Missoni from the Missoni fashion house.

Rebbitzen Shani Taragin provided words of insight at the end of the show during a question and answer session which gave the audience an opportunity to participate. 

It was a very fitting way to conclude October Breast Awareness month which began with Jerusalem’s iconic sites lit up at night in pink lights.

Jerusalem’s Steps to Future

With the holidays over and tourists returning home, one might think Jerusalem streets would be quieter this past week.

Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you would know that was incorrect.

The week started off slowly enough to appreciate the Jerusalem autumn colors while walking to the VERT Hotel for a conference.

But oh the new impressive views at the end of the week!

The olive trees are full of ripe olives, ready for picking.

The flowers by the garden established in memory of Sarah Herzog were in full bloom, bursting with color in the midday sun before the rain started.

The 23rd Oud Festival is one of the many events happening in November.

The Jerusalem nature strips and traffic circles were cleared and now new flowers are being planted along the Jerusalem streets.

Small areas were busy with gardeners working to beat the rain.

One shmita sign was still up.

But drivers nearby watched the new planting, which started as soon as the holidays ended.

New flowers line the Bloomfield Garden near the Montefiore Windmill.

And work on King David Street appears to be completed – at least for now.

A bigger landscaping project is now happening at the new National Library.

With the construction fences removed, the campus is now being developed.

Israel National Library cranes with Knesset in background

Remember when this was cleared and just a huge hole in the ground 3 years ago?

Jerusalem Israel construction new National Library

Located across from the Knesset, extensive work has gone on for years.

There is still more to do, but an end appears in sight.

The renovation work has finally started at the Prime Minister’s Residence which was unused for the past year. With a November 1st election day, maybe soon it will have an Israeli Prime Minister living there again.

The Wohl Rose Garden has big signs lining the road to say that it’s closed.

The estimated completion is set for December 2023, so that means no nature photo walks there for quite some time.

Construction site in Jerusalem Israel

However, who remembers the construction fence near the Gerald Behar Center? It was exciting to see the workers finally above ground in 2019.

On Thursday, the Sam Spiegel School of Film and Television opened its new building in the cultural complex, a project started under Mayor Nir Barkat.

I got Mayor Moshe Lion to smile at the morning dedication.

The mandatory ribbon cutting was a big red one, along with the red carpet.

The Jerusalem Mayor attached the mezuzah to the door.

One student smiled when handed a notepad with his photo on the cover – perfect for his grandmother he said.

There were dozens of other photos of students on these notepads too.

The film equipment, library work areas, theaters, everything excelled over the old Talpiot location of the past 3 1/2 years.

But as we went up the stairs in the seven-story building, the views became more exciting. Imagine having the city of Jerusalem as the backdrop in student lounges–the real thing, not a photograph.

With each new view as we went up, it was hard not to snap more photos!

And finally, we were on the roof of the new Sam Spiegel School.

From the roof, you see the VERT Hotel and the Chord Bridge in the distance, but look at all those new buildings that have gone up!

And as this busy week came to an end, I was at the Shalva Building.

There the stairs offer an important message – “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the FIRST STEP.”

Hard remembering the steps, and the years involved, as we see a few of Jerusalem’s major projects coming to completion. As Israel approaches 75, Jerusalem combines the old with the new.

Getting out and appreciating the sunset was a good way to start a busy week. The tour at Sam Spiegel was a great way to end on a high.

Looking forward to seeing you soon on the busy Jerusalem streets.