Recently a group from Temple Israel ventured out to the Bluebarn Theatre to see BAD JEWS. First of all if you have never been to the Bluebarn off of 11th Street in the Old Market, you really should, it is a real gem and I’m sure their new facility is going to be even better. Now I am no theatre maven, I leave that to my son, Avi. Truth is I know very little about what makes good or bad theatre. So with that said, as a middle age Jewish male, I found Bad Jews, to be a very complex and a thought provoking play. Please allow me to explain.
The play is now a couple of years old and was written by Joshua Harmon. The ideas for a production here in Omaha came from Susan Clement-Toberer, Artistic Director at the Bluebarn, reading the script in a trade magazine. The premise of the play surrounds four young adults, two brothers, a first cousin and the girlfriend of one of the brothers. All except the girlfriend are Jewish. They have all gathered in New York City after the death of their beloved grandfather.
At first you think that each character is simple and not very focused but as the play progresses and even later when the play is over and you are trying to make sense of what you have just experienced, you see that they are really much more. Jonah, the brother of Liam and first cousin of Dafnah appears unattached and kind of “parve,” not wanting to rock the boat. Liam is complex and self-centered who has rejected formal Judaism but in truth has much more of a Jewish soul than he wants to believe. He has a dislike for his cousin and the feelings are mutual. Dafnah thinks that she has found herself Jewishly having returned a year ago probably from a Birthright Trip to Israel where she has fallen for one of the soldiers attached to her unit. In truth she is very naïve, mispronouncing Hebrew and the name of her “boyfriend.” She wants what she wants and has like compassion or understanding of her cousins and Liam’s non-Jewish girlfriend, Melody. Melody is a stereotype of what we as Jews may think of as the anti-Jew. The girl that we want to date or marry because you do not want to marry a Jewish girl.
Bad Jews, could also be titled Today’s Jews. Bad Jews maybe the way Jews of the past view Jews of today. In reality Jews have always adjusted to the culture and society that they are living in. Today we have gotten what we wanted in America. We are Jewish Americans and American Jews. We have assimilated into American culture to the point of putting mayo on our corn beef sandwich on white bread.
The problems revealed in the play are real and true in many Jewish families. We should not be afraid of our new reality but should embarrass it and grow from it. In the play Dafnah states that if we keep living as we are today, there will be no Jews in the future. Truth is in every generation this has been the worry. I want to believe that this is not true and that as long as we continue to realize that Judaism does not exist in a vacuum and that we recognize the always changing face of Judaism we will be fine. Bad Jews was well worth seeing and I truly love that I cannot stop thinking about it.