OU Israel Drama Therapy Department produces…SECRETS: The Diary of an Anglo Teen in Israel
“My name is Talia and my secret is that I cut school today…and yesterday… and the day before, but no one cared. My name is Michael and my secret is that when I leave the house I take off my kippa. My name is Shira and my secret is that I stole money from my mother’s wallet and went out with friends past curfew. My name is David and my secret is I want to leave Israel.”
What would happen if our children revealed their secrets to us? How would we respond? Anger? Surprise? Fear? Confusion? What can we learn from them and them from us? These are some of the questions which were raised at a unique and thought provoking play by the OU Dor L’Dor theatre troupe, in conjunction with Malach and Kav L’noar, which debuted this past Chanuka.
The play is an outgrowth of years of OU programs concerning the welfare of olim chadashim (new immigrants) in particular, as well as Jews throughout the country. For the past five years the Dor L’Dor theatre troupe, co-sponsored by OU Israel and the Jewish Agency, created and performed educational plays for audiences all over the country. These productions act as a catalyst for greater communication and learning how to deal with the challenges we face.
The brainstorm of Dr. Michael Tobin, the chief Psychologist and Executive Producer of Dor L’Dor, each play is specially designed to address the needs of a specific community and its intended goals. The director of the plays, Toby Klein Greenwald, has made a name for herself in Israel as an accomplished playwright and director of Jewish based drama. Together they make a unique team as co-creators of the Whole Family Center (wholefamily.com), as well as having joined forces at the Dor L’Dor Theater.
Drama Therapy in the North
Over the past five months, as part of our Project Tzafona Northern rehabilitation, the OU Dor L’Dor theatre troupe (in conjunction with United Jewish Communities) has performed in cities throughout the north. Through drama and improvisation they managed to open up the audience and bring out their willingness to express themselves and work through their challenges. In some schools they found kids who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, in other schools, high anxiety and difficulty in coping. Many of the kids (and their parents) were surprisingly willing to talk and join in the discussions after each skit. Coupled with our Crisis Intervention program, these plays have added another vital component to the healing process.
Secrets of a Teen
The debut of the show ‘Secrets’ highlighted the important need for open dialogue between parents and teens, and sometimes the importance of seeking professional advice in dealing with issues that arise. Through the medium of drama, as well as improvisation, the crowd learned about the complexities involved in the family dynamic, especially when a transition takes place which uproots the family from one environment and plants them in Eretz Yisrael.
The night was dedicated to the memory of Joy (Rochwarger) Balsam, a talented educator, who passed away in her early years. Michele Berkowitz, her sister, who created MaLaCH (Madrich Letichnun Chinuchi) to counsel students and their families in Beit Shemesh, came up with the idea to dedicate a play specifically to address the needs of Anglo teens who had made aliyah. She contacted Toby Klein Greenwald and Dr. Michael Tobin, whose OU Israel Dor L’Dor theater had already made a name for itself.
Dr. Ronald Wachtel, the founding Director of Kav L’Noar (an organization which helps our English Speaking families in Israel who are confronting at-risk issues with their adolescent children), also a friend of Joy z”l, solicited funding to produce and stage this evening’s program.
Using the talents of Toby as Director and the experience of Sarah Beth Solomont, an Expressive Arts Therapist, as well the OU Israel Center as the venue for practice, the team put together a production which was stimulating, humorous, and touched the hearts of everyone in attendance.
Scenes of an Anglo Family Struggling to Fit In…
One scene presented a typical Anglo family which had just made aliya with the greatest of Zionist fervor, but lacked proper planning in terms of their children and what they would encounter once they arrived. The parents are split over educational methods of raising their children, and their kids are struggling to fit in, finding the language barrier cumbersome and the cultural barrier even more challenging. The audience watches and inclines towards one of the parents, or finds both perspectives equally destructive.
The father’s personality is an exaggerated free spirit philosophy, while the mother presents the other extreme– overbearing, ultra nervous and unwilling to let go. The brother is a teenager whose main concern is protests, Gush Katif and ‘bringing down the government;’ while the sister is cutting school, hanging out with a bad crowd, smoking, and defying her parents. The scene offers no answers, but certainly presents the audience with the scenario, a variation of which each family might have experienced in their own aliya.
What makes the presentation successful is the integration of interactive audience participation as well as improvisation workshops throughout the production. Sarah Beth Solomont, will utilize the break between scenes and ask the audience with whom they associated more, what advice they would offer the ‘family,’ and how the responses of the different personalities made the audience feel. She would then ask someone from the audience to go on stage and become the parent, or the child, and steer the scene in a different direction.
Voices in Her Head
Another scene offers parents in the audience some insight into what is taking place inside their teenage daughter’s head at a given moment. Called, ‘Voices in her head’, the skit opens up with a teenage girl trying to do her homework, but in the background we see other actors representing different voices going on inside her.
The skit drives home the point that our teenage children are real people with serious pressures socially and academically that we sometimes take for granted. In the scene the voices start out as whispers but quickly increase to thundering chaotic sounds impossible for her to deal with, ultimately forcing her to close her homework book, put on her headphones and escape from the world.
Sarah asks the audience if there are other voices that they or their kids have heard:
“ I feel so stupid, why did you bring me here… I hate school, nobody understands me… did I really want to come here?… if I’m a Jew why don’t I love it here… kids are so mean… what are my parents trying to do, kill me?… I had no choice, ill never fit in anywhere… I’m really a good person why don’t they know that?… Does anybody really care what I want?… Why doesn’t anyone understand me?…”
When the Play is Over, the Work Begins…
The scenes continue with skits on dysfunctional family meetings, improvisations between students and their teachers, other family dynamic issues and the like. Over the course of the hour parents become finely attuned to the issues facing some of our children and the necessity to be more sensitive to their kids’ needs, as well as finding time to communicate with their children in the best way possible. Kids find out something they suspected all along, that their parents don’t always have all the answers and both parties have to work to find some harmony in their family dynamics.
The evening does not conclude with the last skit; after the issues are set out before everyone, the real work begins. The audience then breaks up into three groups: kids, parents, and educators and professionals in the field. Each group goes to a room for an hour long workshop on dealing with the issues brought up in during the production. The staff is there to help implement real change, not only to reveal the problems which exist. In each workshop several actors join to speak about their experience both on and off the set, and to offer guidance from the teen’s perspective towards carving a path to better family health.
OU”s Dor L’Dor theater troupe has certainly provided an important service for the Anglo population in Israel. By presenting the issues in the form of a play which is both meaningful and entertaining, they keep the attention of the audience and encourage them to become active in bridging the gap between the generations, hopefully helping out families who make aliyah, enabling a smoother transition to the Holy Land.
Rabbi Avi Baumol is Director of Communications for OU Israel
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.