Chaya Lester 370.
(photo credit: Courtesy Chaya Lester)
Cary Kaplan was just your normal, secular Jew growing up in Memphis, Tennessee.
“If you know how to speak in proper southern,” she says and begins to elongate
her vowels, “biiible sounds like baaabel.”
Speaking from the Jerusalem
Shalev Center in the heart of Nachlaot, Kaplan is Chaya Lester, the writer,
producer and star of Babel’s Daughter, her one woman show of the journey from
“the bible belt to the holy land,” exploring identity, culture, language and
finding her deepest roots in Judaism.
Babel’s Daughter will be presented
at the Hechal Shlomo Jewish Heritage Center in Jerusalem as part of the closing
events of the capital’s Biennale Arts Festival on October 31. The Festival,
which ran through the month of October, celebrated Jewish art in a range of
disciplines and in varying neighborhoods all over Jerusalem.
is not the first thing you think about when you think about Judaism,” Lester
says. “I think the synthesis between the festival and the show is quite a
Lester has been performing the show for about
three years both in Israel and abroad, but it will be the first time she’ll be
teaming up with the city and giving her show an expanded audience. She describes
her show as “putting the ‘fun’ back in ‘profundity’” for its ability to remain
light hearted when exploring very deep emotions.
“To be a part of this
endeavor is really thrilling for me particularly because I feel I’m in this
Anglo bubble where I don’t have the arm breadth to reach out to Jerusalem,” she
Lester established the Shalev Center with her husband Hillel, as a
tool in pioneering Jewish spiritual growth. The four-floor building, located in
a quiet alley through a stone arch, gives off an aura of peace in
Lester says that she wanted to start a place where one can engage
in the practical aspects of Judaism, “to meld psychology and Torah” to create
Jewish based tools for transformation. Lester holds a BA in Religious and Jewish
studies and an MA in clinical psychology. Her husband, in addition to being a
rabbi, is also a therapist and Jewish educator. The Shalev center provides
couples counseling, meditation, yoga practice, workshops and
The ground floor is usually Lester’s stage, she has two
bookshelves that swing out to create a set and the audience sits in front of her
or observes on the balcony.
Moving her show to the Hechal Shlomo gives an
added depth, as she says the venue “harkens back to eastern Europe,” with
intense visual arts and great acoustics.
Lester designed the show with
the idea of making it portable. “I love the malleability of it, I just need a
computer with the images and the music,” she says. “All the products are
contained in a bag.”
Lester combines spoken word, poetry, character
impersonations, music and audience participation.
She calls her
performance, “process theater” and takes breaks during the show for audience
members to write down and reflect their own feelings.
“My story is the
excuse, or the springboard to opening that doorway for people to engage with
themselves and their own spiritual journey,” she says. “It’s this really fun and
exciting vehicle for doing the work I care most about and using Jewish wisdom as
a tool for transformation.”
The show has been well received both in
Israel and abroad, with many reviews praising Lester’s stage presence and her
ability to engage the audience in a wide range of emotions.
very intense and profound tear-jerking pieces to the show,” she says. “And yet
it’s in a container… that is really accessible and engaging and inviting for
people to enter with me.”
The journey is really one of finding my deepest
roots and for me that is a journey of coming to Israel,” she says.
ticket to the show is also entrance to the Wolfson Museum of Jewish Art, within
Hechal Shlomo, and will feature exhibits associated with the festival curated by
Nurit Sirkis Bank.
For more info and tickets visit jerusalembiennale.org