Seidl. Lassy. Cohen. Kanani. Schnipper.
Zelinsky. Gilinski. Bacall. Weiza. Friedman.
These surnames — Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Mizrachi — stitched together form a quilt that represents the stories of generations of Jewish women.
The names and stories in “Between the Threads,” an hour-long collaborative theater piece, delved artfully into the family histories of the six women who make up the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Jewish Women Project. Together on stage, each in turn shared the story of the women who came before — mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins — powerful matriarchs who set examples with their grit, determination, courage and love.
The production – two years in the making — brought together an all-women creative team to devise the ruminative dance-theater piece. Its four-weekend run in Brooklyn was reshaped for performances last Sunday at the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.
Clad in white and barefoot, the four performers, all ranging from their mid-20s through early 30s — Tatiana Baccari, Hannah Goldman, Daniella Seidl and Laura Lassy Townsend — shared family stories of emigration and arrival, reminiscences of growing up Jewish in various cultural milieus, and, over the course of the evening, the challenges facing Jewish women in the 21st century.Goldman, a District native and graduate of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, opined about wrestling with her unruly curly hair and how her classmates nicknamed her Frizz. Goldman, of Moroccan decent, revealed the truly horrifying history of Mizrachi children who, when brought to hospitals in Israel in the 1950s, were given to Ashkenazi parents to raise, while hospital doctors told the birth parents their children had died.
Seidl shared the circuitous trek her Ashkenazi family took from Poland to Caracas to Miami and how her multicultural or intersectional identity shapes her. She ended up in Boston, but her name follows the Latin American custom of incorporating both her mother’s and her father’s last names, noting, “in my name is the legacy of women who had to make different choices.”
The rangy work played out in vignettes of a sort, accompanied by Zoe Aqua’s electronically enhanced and looped violin. At times a didactic, heavy-handed lecturer’s tone overshadowed the stories. What worked best was the drama woven into these different yet universal life stories — about girls jealous of the bat mitzvah and impending womanhood of their older cousin, or the expectations – both dashed and realized – of teenagers on their first visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, or their mixed and mixed-up identities — as a French, Moroccan, Israeli American woman who feels pulled in so many directions her identity seems like a tapestry.
Baccari wrestles with her mother’s identity as a “chosen Jew” — a Jew by choice — recalling when together with her Italian mother they used the ocean as a mikvah for their conversion on a South Florida beach.
Lauren Barber’s set featured six oversized dream catchers, along with long swaths of fringed rope, a rich metaphor for the interwoven nature of the production, while colorful textiles draped across the front of the Pozez JCC’s stage. The women lifted their voices in song and chant, regrouped their bodies in choreographic sequences and struggled through finding a way to assert their individual Jewish identities in a world where intersectionality is both a buzzword and a lifestyle.
Each woman knitted together her multiple identities. They are all, in a sense, Jews by choice, each choosing and crafting a Jewish identity that embroiders their disparate ideas and stories into a singular idea that they have all come together as Jewish women who create and do.
“Between the Threads” worked best when it grappled with these women’s struggles to navigate their multiple ethnic, religious and national identities – their intersectionality. The work waned when they fell into lecturing about feminism, socio-economic oppression, equity and spirituality.
Ruth Lis of Chevy Chase said watching “Between the Threads” reminded her of her own girlhood and her desire for a bat mitzvah. “I have daughters and I was hearing a lot of different women’s voices” here,” she said.
Samantha Chyatte connected particularly to Townsend’s story, noting that her mother’s Moroccan background felt similar.
And Larry Kugler of Springfield said, “Being male, I came at this piece in a different way. I found it very moving to hear from a female perspective as women progress through life in different stages I saw how they perceive life in a male-dominated society.”