Aliyah Stories: The show goes on

A second-generation American-Israeli finds her niche by combining her passions for education and theater.

Meirav Zur (photo credit: HERSCHEL GUTMAN)
Meirav Zur
(photo credit: HERSCHEL GUTMAN)
Meirav Zur grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, speaking Hebrew with her Israeli parents and English with her brother. The siblings attended public school and had limited exposure to a Jewish environment apart from their summer trips to Israel to visit relatives.
“My summers in Israel were always the highlight of my year, especially as a teenager,” Zur says. “I always felt more connected to myself and to other people when I was in Israel. Even though my English is stronger than my Hebrew, I never felt connected there and all my really good American friends were second-generation ‘internationals’ like me.”
In high school, she started attending meetings of Tzofim (Israeli Scouts). “That made it very clear to me that I wanted to end up in Israel. I kept nagging my parents about moving back, but they didn’t see it happening so soon and they encouraged me to finish school in America before I moved.”
So Zur enrolled at Georgia State University and double-majored in education and theater, but she ended up moving to Israel before completing her degree.
A good friend from Tzofim invited her to join him in New Jersey for a meeting of Garin Tzabar, a Tzofim program for young Jews wishing to enter the IDF as lone soldiers. Participants prepare and travel as a group and receive room and board at kibbutzim.
“I went with him and that was it,” Zur recalls. “Everyone there was just like me, wanting to be in Israel. With Garin I knew I would have a family structure on kibbutz. I wasn’t sure I’d make it in the army, but I did, and that was the best thing because it’s the quickest way to get acclimated.”
She recalls with a laugh that in boot camp she acted like “a typical obedient American student” and was therefore assigned a leadership role. One time she answered a superior officer in English, forgetting her Hebrew under the stress of her responsibilities.
But she got through and served as a secretary to a base commander in the Air Force. “It was a good crash course in written Hebrew, but I had great people helping me,” she says. And her base in the North afforded her many opportunities to visit her grandmother in Haifa on the weekends.
When her army service ended, Zur went on to finish her degree at Beit Berl College in Kfar Saba. “I was planning to be an English teacher because I didn’t think my theater background was practical, especially because I didn’t feel my Hebrew was strong enough,” she says.
However, she quickly discovered that she did not enjoy disciplining a classroom full of Israeli kids. “So I thought I may as well look into acting. I took courses in Hebrew and found it was possible. I got an agent and I started getting all these English gigs, to my surprise.”
English on Stage
It wasn’t long before Zur hit on the idea of combining her passions for theater, education and creativity in a venture she titled English on Stage.
“I saw that there was nothing theatrical for kids in English, and they’re learning it in elementary school. So I thought of creating a play combining all I knew in education and theater, called The Cuckoo Clock, which is still running. That was in 2005.”
Zur recruited a handful of other English-speaking actors to perform pilots in a few schools to see how the program would be received and what ages enjoyed it most. “The kids loved it – even those who didn’t understand everything.”
In addition to writing The Cuckoo Clock, Zur compiled the enrichment materials, designed and produced the initial set, props and costumes, scheduled the performances, and acted in the play, which she continues to do to this day.
Eventually, English on Stage developed plays, courses and workshops for a range of English levels and ages, as well as an enrichment curriculum for teachers to use.
“We perform in schools and do public performances for kids and adults all over Israel. We go to places I never thought I’d be in, and that’s a lot of fun,” says Zur.
“For adults we sometimes perform for private events, and not only for English speakers. There are quite a few English productions in Israel today, but I work hard at maintaining English on Stage as the only one that combines the aspects of being a professional theater, creating original productions geared toward its audiences, and providing enrichment for schools all for the purpose of providing an accessible English-language experience.”
The troupe has also regularly been performing Little Black Dress at Habima Theater in Tel Aviv for about two years. The play combines renditions of hit songs by well-known divas interspersed with comedic interludes about womanhood. Each performer starts out wearing a little black dress that suits her individual style and is continuously restyled throughout the performance to produce a runway of changing looks.
“That show was created as a one-time event, but it went so well that it kept running,” she says.
Though English on Stage is Zur’s fulltime occupation, in the past few years she added a side gig: helping Israeli actors and business people improve their English accent. She admits to having famous clients but declines to name-drop, in the interest of protecting their privacy.
Off-stage, she describes herself as an introvert. She lives in Hod Hasharon with her husband, their daughter and two dogs. “I love family time and just hanging out. I love watching movies, especially comedies, and I like drawing.”
Zur says she likes the blunt straightforwardness of Israelis, and admits to harboring a few American cultural habits “such as standing in line when there is no line.”
If she could offer advice to someone like herself as a teen, she would say this: “If you want to come, check your reasoning and don’t do it alone. A lot of people come by themselves and end up leaving because it’s hard to create a core on your own. But if you know what you’re coming for, it’s much easier. In my case, it was a feeling building inside me for years.”