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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
First of all, go and see this play because it’s good theater and Aya Kaplan has done a great job on it. Second, it impels you to think, because politically-hearted playwright Moti Lerner has written a thoughtful and gripping drama that asks some uncomfortable questions about faith, belief and the question of religion in our lives.
Doing His Will is based on the true story of Esti Weinstein, born into Hassidut Gur, who left the sect for the secular world, wrote a book that opened a window to the Gur world and her experiences, yet later committed suicide, leaving a note that said in part, “time isn’t healing and the pain doesn’t stop.”
The drama moves back and forth in time and space, but essentially we meet Dassi (Osnat Fishman) at her wedding to Yaakov (Yoav Donat). The trouble starts with the wedding night. Though he continually turns to Rabbi Zilber (Igal Sade) for advice and instruction, he cannot perform, and the blame, naturally, is ascribed to Dassi. From there things go from bad to worse.
Try as she will, Dassi cannot accommodate herself to what she perceives as the soul-destroying rules of Gur. She leaves for the secular life with one of her daughters, Gilli (Sivan Mast), divorces Yaakov and pays a dire price. She may not see or communicate with the other six daughters.
All efforts to reverse that rabbinical ruling are in vain. So is life, she decides. It is a week before she is found dead in her car.
The title is deliberately ambiguous. Is it “his” or “His” or both? And which is paramount? Jehudit Aharon’s understated set contributes to the ambiguity. Two tall brick walls bisected by a path are the backdrop. Are they protection or boundary? In the foreground on a platform facing one another are two single beds – and it is no coincidence that they resemble biers. Dori Parnes’ minor themes add poignancy – we could do without the “heavenly choirs” though. Keren Granek’s lighting and Aviah Bash’s costumes meld seamlessly.
The secular Jewish world, whether or not it believes in a Deity, is at a disadvantage vis á vis the religious one, especially that of the ultra-Orthodox whose passion we cannot fathom and whose way of life is often as alien to our understanding as that of a man from Mars. The guiding principle of Gur is sanctity, from which human sexuality ostensibly detracts. Hence the very severe prohibitions regarding marriage and sexuality, save those for biblically enjoined reproduction.
This is the worldview to which Yaakov adheres and which breaks Dassi.
Lerner has not written an anti-religious polemic. Doing His Will is not about faith or belief, but about control. In his absolute obedience, Yaakov becomes a robot. In her questioning the order of things Dassi becomes a rebel and therefore intolerable. Lerner is asking which way do we want and need to go, a question particularly apposite in a society whose government is moving swiftly towards fascism.
The acting is uniformly splendid. Fishson’s Dassi is powerful, passionate and touching. Donat’s Yaakov is not a bad man but one who is irretrievably torn between instinct and obedience. Sade’s omnipotent Zilber is as unyielding as granite but could use some human nuance. The ever excellent Orna Rothberg shines as Ahuva, Dassi’s torn mother, and Moti Gershon is gently tough as Dassi’s brother Haim who has also joined the secular world, become a lawyer and her advocate.
Mast as Gilli must wear her courage visibly and as pregnant Hanni, Dassi’s eldest, Aurelle Maor is as visibly torn. Also, and as definitely, “don’t judge,” says this play.