For Orthodox singles, life can be an uphill climb. Not only do they deal with the challenges of finding a partner in a world where getting and staying married has become increasingly complex, but they also have to face the hardships specific to being religious and unmarried. Jewish practice is based around the family unit, so those who lack that kind of home life can find themselves out of synch with their community. The taboo against remaining unmarried also means that talking honestly about the single experience - the good, the bad and the ugly - isn't always encouraged. But Orthodox singles are now finding their voices. Through theater and comedy, many talented singles are bringing the subject to light. A recent Hol Hamoed Succot performance of the cabaret Miracles and Marriage by the Amuka theater company at Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem drew hundreds, curious to see what three Orthodox men in their 30s - with firsthand experience being single - would have to say about the lifestyle. The show, conceived by Ido Levinger, who studied acting with religious actor Shuli Rand, consists of separate scenes, each dealing with an aspect of the topic. Music and movement figure heavily in the production, as does clever wordplay and even juggling. Internal monologues made audible - which allow the audience to peek into the mind of the religious single man - are a favorite technique of the actors. In one vignette, a well-meaning Jewish mother, played hilariously by bearded Yonatan Bilet, tries to send her single son to a religious psychologist. Her loving but nervous attempt to help represents the general bewilderment of the older generation at the growing numbers of singles. Yet her son's experience with therapy, which is also lampooned in the sketch, shows that discovery of the self is also an aspect of single life. Another similar scene features an expert on religious singles who arrives to treat the audience to a lecture on the subject. Referring frequently to "the problem," as if it were an unspeakable disease, he diagnoses an unmarried volunteer and recommends a complex and incoherent method of treatment. The expert's purported confidence in solving "the problem" becomes a source of audience laughter as it becomes clear that the volunteer has recently become engaged and has solved the problem on his own. "In a way, there is a kind of critical stance in the depiction of some of the characters. But our goal is not to be critical but to use humor to show the pain and difficulty of the whole situation," says Levinger. He acknowledges that the fact that many young people are finding it hard to find spouses is indeed a challenge for the community. But, he emphasizes, it's not "like a math problem that has a simple solution." "It can be therapeutic to laugh about things, to expose and free the feeling," he explains. David Kilimnick, a 29-year-old American immigrant comedian, definitely agrees. His one-man comedy show, Find Me a Wife, based in Jerusalem, takes a comic look at his own existential loneliness and search for a partner. The show, he says, was an obvious outgrowth of his own life, dating and dealing with single living. He decided to share his struggles with the audience, bringing some comedy to a sometimes bleak situation. "When you are single and religious, your life can be a walking depression, or you can enjoy the process of searching, of meeting people and learning about yourself," he says. Kilimnick's jokes deal with the sometimes forgotten aspects of single life: dealing with the check at a restaurant at the end of a date, walking home from shul solo when everyone else seems to be with their families and the intricacies of Internet dating. For the comedian, who also shares his struggles with aliya in another one-man show, The Aliyah Monologues, a big part of the healing is acknowledging truths. "In the religious community, everyone looks at me with rahmanut [pity], because a big part of religious life is getting married and having kids. So, when I say 'I need a wife,' I'm kind of rejecting the idea of being desperate. By joking about it, I'm saying that I'm not desperate, that I'm doing things in my own time," he says. The Keheref Ayin theater company, a religious group of three men and five women, also aims to remove the stigma against talking about being religious and single. Their play in sketches, The Unity of the Name, which they performed recently at the Acre Festival of Alternative Israeli Theater, takes a serious look at single life, dealing with such previously taboo subjects as intimacy before marriage and the loneliness of observing Jewish traditions while living alone. The play, which according to director Bosmat Hazan represents the first time observant men and women have performed together on stage in this kind of forum, attempts to address the issue from a spiritual angle, often using Jewish sources, such as stories from the Talmud. In deference to tradition, men and women do not touch on stage, but the women in the play have chosen to sing and dance in front of a mixed audience, a choice that is somewhat controversial, even in the modern Orthodox world from which many of the actors come. The goal of the actors, who also worked together to write many of the scenes, is to show that the loneliness of single life is related to the general loneliness of all people, and that all relationships have their parallel in the connection one has with God. While engaged in that attempt, they often deconstruct the familiar images of single life to expose the raw inner core. In a sketch on Internet dating - a theme common to many religious performers dealing with this subject - the profiles of single people that appear on Web sites are allowed to speak openly, and they each confirm their own points of loneliness. In another scene, a religious woman takes special care to set her Shabbat table for one, only to take it apart, unable to enjoy the ceremony alone. Older religious audiences, often less familiar with the experiences depicted on stage, have nonetheless found the play "stirring and emotional," according to Hazan. Many have expressed admiration at the actors' willingness to delve into the issue and "not to pretend everything is good and beautiful." Secular audiences have likewise enjoyed it and have found it "opens a window" into a world they do not know, she adds. But, she emphasizes, the performance does not aim to educate or to critique but simply to express a concept echoed by many religious artists dealing with the topic. "There is no one-dimensional solution to the issue. There is only the belief that through faith and tradition, we will be able to deal with it," she says. To contact the Amuka theater company for upcoming performances, 054-453-2583 or Ido613@gmail.com. To contact David Kilimnick, call 050-875-5688.

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