I’m pleased to share two more dramaturgical essays (both packed with research) that relate to Renee Calarco’s G-D’S HONEST TRUTH, coming from Jodi Kanter’s dramaturgy class at George Washington University. The topics were each inspired by the play, but the pieces investigate their themes in even greater depth. The first essay reflects on Jewish Marriage throughout history; the second examines the relationship between Jews and commerce.
Josh and Alanna in G-D’S HONEST TRUTH (photo by C. Stanley Photography)
by Jeremy Neff
Judaism, like any ancient culture still alive today, has undergone massive shifts in social mores and customs. Judaism is unique, however, in the way that it has fractured and partially assimilated into mainstream culture (particularly in America). Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed Jews share many common marriage practices or beliefs, but vary greatly in their tendencies. This research will examine historical Jewish marriage, the differences in modern Jewish marriage, and particularly the current state of Reformed Jewish marriage (the most populous in the United States).
Historical and Religious Background – Jewish Marriage Age Pre-Holocaust
“Traditional Judaism was based on a system of early marriage. The mishnaic statement ‘at 18 a man marries’ [ben shmoneh-esreh le-huppa] was often regarded by medieval commentators as representing an upper limit in age” There would often be marriages between 14 year olds, etc. There is anecdotal evidence of marriages between children of 11 or 12 years of age, but this is not strongly supported by statistical evidence.
Jews became increasingly assimilated into European culture in the 19th century and even more so in the 20th century, and marriage age followed suit – although not uniformly. By and large, Germanic Jewry adopted late marriage by World War I, either because of general acculturation to the majority or because of legislation that prevented early marriage in Germanic lands. Indeed, in Germany there is a trend away from early marriage among Jewish people in the 19th century even compared to the general population, while marriage age was still low in Russia until the turn of the century. “In 1867, for example, 43 percent of Jewish grooms and 60.8 percent of Jewish brides were under the age of 21 in the Russian Empire; by 1897, however, only 5.8 percent of grooms and 25 percent of brides were under 21.” Continue reading
Leading up to our final weekend of performances for G-D’S HONEST TRUTH, we’ll be rolling out several essays written by dramaturgy students in the theater department of George Washington University. We are thankful to Professor Jodi Kanter–a noted educator and theater artist herself–for her wonderful work with these young ‘turges. We were so happy to have them sitting in on our process.
The first is a personal essay by student Josh Bierman reflecting on his own Bar/Bat Mitzvah experiences–both as a guest and as the Bar Mitzvah boy himself.
The “Bar Mitzvah kids” from Renee Calarco’s G-D’S HONEST TRUTH (Photo by C. Stanley Photography)
Today, I am a Wax Hand: Tales from a Bar Mitzvah Veteran
For a solid four of years of my parents’ life, one of the biggest parts of their weekend was figuring out how my sister and I would be getting to that weekend’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah. My sister is two years older than I, so immediately after she finished the two-year grind of her classmates’ Bat and Bar mitzvahs, I started mine. Parents would alternate carpooling duties on Saturday nights to the farthest pockets of Manhattan (or, God help us, Brooklyn) or arrange walking groups of acne-covered teenagers across Central Park on a Sabbath morning to hear the latest Bar Mitzvah boy crack through his thoroughly unmelodic Torah portion.
And if it was hard for the parents, one can imagine how difficult it would be for the kids. Maybe I’m in the minority, but you can bet I dreaded the walk to the Upper West Side, and the endless two hours of speeches (in which every single family member was thanked for traveling all the way from Israel, South Florida, Paris, Great Neck, Calcutta, you name it) that followed it, and then the luncheon where the same food was served week in and week out. With every cream colored oversized envelope you got in the mail you prayed that you find an invitation that would be asking you to join Mikey and his family for their special Bar Mitzvah weekend in Jerusalem. No parent would ever be willing to carpool that far. And of course every few Bar Mitzvahs, it would finally be the special weekend of a close friend of yours and as happy as you were for them, you started getting anxious about yours and how it would stack up.
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My husband loves to watch HGTV renovation shows–I’ve been known to sit in for an episode or two (okay, or more). Inevitably, in these shows, a family reaches a point where their home feels a little too busy, too filled with knick knacks, in need of a new look. They love the memories and the history that is contained within their home–but they want people to feel like they can move around easily; that their floor plan makes sense; and that everyone has an accessible and livable space in which they can grow and flourish.
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