A place of purity and power

Hadar Galron’s play ‘Mikveh’ has been performed around the world. Now it is being presented here for the first time in English by the Tel Aviv Community Theater.

Mikve 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mikve 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The mikve, or ritual bath, is a special place with a spiritual context, but it is also a place that is secretive. It is not spoken about openly, often not even between husband and wife, or with other women.
The mikve is about water, which sustains and purifies all creation. It is a place designed to bring about cleanliness in the sense of spiritual purity.
Mikve is powerful. The word itself evokes strong emotion – as does the play of that name, being presented in Israel for the first time in English by the Tel Aviv Community Theater (TACT) from October 12-19 at Tel Aviv’s Yad Labanim.
Premiering at Beit Lessin’s annual festival of New Israeli Drama, Mikveh garnered six nominations and won the prize for Best Production of 2004 at the Israeli Theater Academy Awards.
In an Israeli city, eight very different women come together within the confines of their local mikve.
Suddenly, in this small place, a Pandora’s box opens, exposing the hidden conflicts and evolving awareness of the women who come to the ritual bath in complete privacy to immerse and purify themselves once a month.
It is here that what “has always been” clashes with what “should be.” The seemingly peaceful surface starts to crack as raw and naked secrets emerge. The catalyst is the arrival of a new mikve attendant hired to replace the previous attendant, who died mysteriously.
Shira (Haddass Bitton) is not only new to the job, but new to the community. Shira is different. She is more modern, and willing to risk speaking out when the emperor is not wearing any clothes.
The other, veteran, mikve attendant, Shoshana (Dawn Nadel), stands by strict halachic tradition, but closes her eyes to much. Shira clashes with Shoshana in reaching out to Hedva (Frances Thaler), who proclaims that she is clumsy in order to to explain away her many bruises rather than admit that her husband, the most prominent and politically active rabbi in the community, uses her as a punching bag.
Shira also befriends Hedva’s electively mute daughter, Elisheva (Shoshi Har Kohav); a new bride, Tehila (Tamar Gutman), who is terrified of her wedding night; and a totally secular singer, Miki (Lisa Law), whose husband has become religious and insists that she go to the mikve.
On Shoshana’s side is the wealthy, elegant Belgian snob, Hindi-Rochel (Sue Field), who insists that Shira is not “one of us.”
There is also the poor, hard-working Esti (Glenda Feldberg), who is already the mother of a myriad children but knows her husband eagerly awaits her on mikve night. She is genuinely happy, but tactless, gullible and very funny.
At first Shoshana, who is hiding a secret of her own, rejects Shira’s emerging feminist conscience; but in the end, the eight women come to understand that they must join forces to stand up for each other against the oppression of the all-male “modesty patrol” that is determined to prevent the women from speaking out.
Although most of the actresses in this play do not come from the religious world and were not so familiar with the traditional rituals, they have come to understand much about the world they are portraying, and about sisterhood.
ACCORDING TO TACT veteran Glenda Feldberg (Esti), “It has been an amazing experience to be part of an allfemale production.”
To some, Mikveh may be a morality play. However, as its author Hadar Galron says, “This is a play that gives voice to women who struggle with their own moral truths and are often forced to make difficult choices in both the religious and secular worlds.”
“I really like my character,” notes Bitton. “Shira is brash, and willing to risk everything to do what is right.
I guess in some ways that is me.”
Nadel says of the veteran mikve attendant: “This role is not really who I am, but I understand my character and know that she must walk a difficult path. She tries to keep her community together because when the secrets come out, it is the women who lose.”
“This play is more about the women than it is about the religion,” Galron says. “I interviewed many women and listened to their very real stories. It is from these stories that I was able to weave a plot that is full of intrigue, laughter and music – yet in the end is challenging, leaving the audience to ponder about the ever-evolving position of women in Israeli society.”
Galron herself does not fit the conventional image of a religiously observant woman. Born into an Orthodox London Jewish family in 1970, she made aliya with her family at the age of 13. After finishing her degree in theater at Tel Aviv University, she began writing and performing professionally even though it was highly unusual for a religious woman to appear on secular stages.
Mikveh is her first full-length drama, and although it has been performed around the world in many different languages, she feels that it is closing the circle to bring it to English-speaking audiences in Israel.
There have been more than 500 performances of Mikveh in Israel alone, and the play has traveled the globe, receiving rave reviews in cities including Washington, DC, and Budapest.
Tickets can be purchased through the Yad Labanim box office, open Sunday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p..m. tel: (03) 604-1707 or (03) 5467404.