One woman, with a lot to say

The closing event of the Jerusalem Biennale Arts festival will feature Chaya Lester’s one woman show ‘Babel’s Daughter.’

Chaya Lester 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Chaya Lester)
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.
“Jewish arts 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 spectacular combination.”
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 says.
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 itself.
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 retreats.
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.
“There are 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.
A 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