With just binders in their hands, a group of storytellers took viewers from their device screens to places like the Argentine Dirty War and the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Each story highlighted a Jewish character who was confronted with an injustice that they remedied using not just their faith but their dedication to democracy.
There was “I, Citizen,” by Academy Award-winning writer Susan Baskin, in which she contemplates the American dream of freedom that drew her ancestors to the United States and how recent antisemitic events scared her for what the future may hold. Her fears heightened as she watched on the news as white supremacists marched in Charlottesville chanting hateful rhetoric like “Jews will not replace us.” She recalled yelling at her TV that this country was also hers.
“We were granted a new home here, not by God but by the majesty of the people. For the first time in our history we were citizens. When we say ‘next year in Jerusalem,’ we say it from the perks of being here. A new Jerusalem,” the actress performing Baskin’s story said. The night of storytelling over Zoom on Dec. 15 was a collaboration of the Capital Jewish Museum and The Braid, formerly the Jewish Women’s Theatre. “Worth Fighting For” featured five stories at the intersection of Jewish values, American democracy and activism, each of them a lived experience.
“Kindling the candles this year helped me crowd out the darkness in this world,” the Braid’s artistic director, Ronda Spinik, said while introducing the performance. “So, too, does this show shed light on the lives of Jews who overcame dark forces to bring about a better world. Through sharing our stories we open hearts, create empathy and understanding and ultimately make change.”
Unlike traditional plays, The Braid presents “salon theater” performances. This art form combines the true accounts collected by the group with compelling storytelling from the performers to create an authentic show for viewers.
In “No Joke,” a Jewish-Chinese man is left feeling conflicted after he encounters unexpected racism from a head writer at a Hollywood pitch meeting. Because of the character’s biracial heritage, the Hollywood writer thought that the comment wasn’t going to be offensive.
“Jewish people generally see me as just Jewish; Chinese people generally see me as just Chinese,” the actor performed.
The main character felt like he was betraying his Chinese family by not correcting the head writer. But instead of dwelling on the what-ifs, he used the situation to motivate him so that in the future he’ll be the one rewriting the narrative.
“One day I’ll be on the other side of the table. I won’t be telling those jokes, instead I’ll be writing stories centering on actual people, not caricatures,” the storyteller said.
L.A.-based screenwriter David Chiu not only wrote the piece but experienced microaggressions, just like the one presented in the story, a number of times while working in Hollywood. Just like he said in his narrative, Chiu was able to accomplish his goal and even included a picture of his Chinese father standing proudly next to him in front of his studio.
The actors have had to go virtual over the course of the pandemic, but the theater group has continued its shows. For some of the performers, the change was a mild one.
“When COVID first created a reason for a lockdown, I was already doing shows in my home studio,” performer Joshua Silverstein said. “So the only difference for me is the lack of feedback from the audience such as laughter or clapping.”
Although the virtual audience’s mics were muted, their praises could be seen in the chat with positive reviews and clapping emoticons.
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