(April 20, 2022, EFRAT, GUSH ETZION, ISRAEL, JNS Wire) Raise Your Spirits Theatre released, on the morning of April 15, on the eve of Passover, the video (for women only) and audio recording (for everyone) of our latest biblical musical, “REBECCA! Mother of Two Dynasties.” It is a story of great faith, love, courage, and the hope of reconciliation between the descendants of two brothers.
Rebbetzin Shani Taragin, after viewing the performance in Jerusalem, exclaimed, “Absolutely wonderful! Every student of Torah should see this show!”
On stage in Beit Shemesh (Photo by Dorron Kline)
Jerusalem Post columnist Barbara Sofer called it, “A spirit lifter!”
Rochel Sylvetsky, in Israel National News, called it, “riveting…well written, well acted, inspiring…and memorable.”
For a preview promo click here.
Feedback we have received on the video includes this from Henya Storch, whose Storch Agency International represents many Jewish performing and creative artists: “Fabulous biblical musical. Loved the music, costumes, acting and of course the quality Torah lessons. Just a treat, with so much depth and fantastic actresses and crew. Bravo!”
Miriam Leah Gamliel, founder and co-director of ATARA (The Arts and Torah Association), wrote: “I am watching now and all I can is WOWWOW WOW!! The voices…the music…!”
When the COVID lockdowns began, almost all the theater troupes in Israel (and most of the world) shut down, but we kept going. And now Baruch Hashem we can share the fruits of our labor with the rest of the world.
The show grew out of four years of learning p’shat (straightforward text), the commentaries and midrash. The first song I wrote in 2017, “Here am I!” (“Hineni” in Hebrew) was inspired by Dr. Bryna Yocheved Levy, my Tanach teacher in Matan, who told me that there is a midrash that when Rebecca and Isaac were childless for twenty years, he took her up on Mount Moriah to pray for a child, referencing Akedat Yitzhak, the binding of Isaac, and in that merit pleading with God.
I wrote “Here am I,” while I was going through chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. It is especially meaningful to me that today, more than five years later, I too can say, Baruch Hashem, “Here am I.”
Two years later I was joined in the writing by Tamar Kamins, who also contributed some of the melodies, and the composing and arranging was by Mitch Clyman, who has also composed for four other RYS shows. Both Tamar and I are graduates of the Tanach (Bible) department of Jerusalem College for Women.
Tamar and Toby writing REBECCA! (Photo by Esther Parnes)
Our goal was to perform “REBECCA!” in 2020 but COVID got in the way.
As director, I made a decision to proceed with the project.
Our chairwoman and my co-producer, Tammy Rubin, agreed, as did our music director, Elisheva Savir, and our choreographer, Ashira Allon, both of whom came up with creative ways to teach songs and dances via Zoom.
Zoom dance rehearsal (Photo by Toby Kein Greenwald)
As time went on, so did the uncertainty. In addition to Zoom, we sometimes were allowed to rehearse face to face but masked, socially distanced, and not more than ten in a room at our local Gush Etzion community center. Sometimes we rehearsed outside in the open air.
But we kept going.
One of the comical scenes of the play is “Lentil Stew,” in which dancing lentils (costumed in large round multi-colored polygal circles) sing and dance as Jacob convinces Eisav to sell him his birthright. In a song called “Letting Go,” we hear a deeply moving, imagined conversation between Rivka’s mother and Devorah, her handmaiden, who accompanies Rivka, with Eliezer, on the way to meet Yitzhak. They are accompanied by dancing camels. In “Two Children” Rivka sings a lullaby to the young twins, in which she wonders:
On stage in the Begin Center, Jerusalem (Photo by Sharon Altshul)
We nurture them and teach them
Our words to each the same
But do they hear them differently?
How else can you explain
Why one boy is so gentle
The other is so rough
I know that we must love each one
But is our love enough?
The “Blessings” scene includes all the dilemmas and heartbreak, including a howl from Eisav that shakes the rafters, in the fraught story of the blessings given to Jacob and Eisav.
On stage in Gush Etzion (Photo by Rebecca Kowalsky)
There is a magnificent modern dance scene to accompany “Jacob’s Ladder,” and Lavan, seen earlier in the show, reappears as Jacob pleas for the hand of Rachel, and that drama plays out with four wives and many children eventually on stage. In the “Finale,” a rousing spiritual number that is a reprise of “Here am I,” we raise and try to answer, with the help of the Netziv, Rav Kook and the prophet Zephaniah, the question: Can there be reconciliation in the future?
There are 22 scenes and songs, and the full video and audio recording also include p’sukim (Torah verses) prefacing some scenes, and occasionally short spoken texts.
How it all began
We have a history of continuing, in the face of crises, in Raise Your Spirits.
We began our theater in 2001, during a bloody intifada, when I joined two friends, Sharon Katz and Arlene Chertoff, in performing “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” to raise our spirits (which became the name of our theatre company). We thought we would perform two or three times. And now, in the last 21 years, we’ve staged 12 productions, including eight original shows, one revue and two revivals, and we’ve performed for more than 50,000 people – all women in Israel, and licensed to mixed groups also in schools, camps and shul abroad.
We continued to perform, through the years, during wars and military operations. We took our shows to Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron before the destruction of Gush Katif in 2005. In May 2021, during Operation Guardian of the Walls, when more than 4,000 rockets fell on Israel, an actress from Be’er Sheva said to us before one of our Zoom rehearsals, “If I disappear from the screen, it’s because I’m running with my children to a bomb shelter.” Three of our actresses contracted COVID during the rehearsal period but, miraculously, everyone was healthy for the performances in June, November and December 2021.
To order REBECCA! go to our home page at: www.RaiseYourSpirits.org. The video may be bought for $15. The full song album is $10. We have intentionally made the price affordable and request that people respect our request to not share the links with friends who have not purchased it.
Proceeds will help us to continue to create and perform Torah musicals so that “Torah will go forth from Zion and Jerusalem” through theater, song and dance.
May we all merit to a happy and kosher Passover, and a healthy and safe spring, and may we merit to the final redemption, and see the words of Zephaniah realized: “For then I will convert the peoples to a pure language that all of them call in the name of the Lord, to worship Him of one accord.”
On stage in the Begin Center (Photo by Sharon Altshul)
The author is an award-winning theatre director, a recipient of American Jewish Press Association Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism, and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com. REBECCA! was produced with the encouragement and support of the Matanel Foundation (www.Matanel.org)