Who said that the aiyah experience can’t be fun?
A group of mostly American women decided to show what life in Israel is like for new immigrants. They are doing it in a very exciting way and greatly enjoying themselves in the process. The Drama Mamas theater group was formed four years ago and has presented shows in Modiin and Hashmonaim and will be performing this year in Jerusalem. Elisheva Liberman of Hashmonaim wrote an original play called “Aliyah, the Musical,” which depicts the everyday life experiences faced by new immigrants. It was performed in the cty of Modiin and it was a smash hit. On March 30 an updated version will be performed in Jerusalem at the Gerard Behar Center.
The women who auditioned for the show represent the wonderful variety of olim to Israel. There are women in their thirties and women in their seventies. New olim, who barely speak Hebrew, perform with veteran Sabras, born and raised in Israel. Not-yet-religious women act alongside dati le’umi and haredi women. Ashkenazi and Sephardi women, all with one purpose in mind, come together to produce an exciting show. The show is not just delightful but it also reveals that variety and achdut (unity) are possible and pleasurable.
The Drama Mamas are not an ordinary theater troupe. “When we audition actresses,” says Elisheva, who also serves as the show’s director, “we like to explain to them that the main qualification is that you can honestly say, I have never been on a stage before, but I have always wanted to be an actress!”
The show’s music is a mix of Broadway musical favorites, rock, hip hop, and TV theme songs, all with new lyrics and new choreography. The show depicts some of the crazy cultural differences between olim and other residents of their new country. It tells the story of two friends who arrive in Israel, a little wet behind the ears, and have to deal with the day-to-day challenges. It finds the humor in the everyday life experiences faced by every new immigrant.
“It is life in Israel, set to music,” says Elisheva. “We decided that a trip to the Absorption Ministry Office or standing in line at the supermarket would be much more fun to portray Broadway style, set to music, with lots of dancing.”
Chaya Berkowitz, the assistant director, says, “We love to have a good time, laugh at ourselves, and have a creative outlet. We have fun on the stage, and that makes our audience have a blast, too!”
The audiences must be having a great time, because the troupe consistently performs to sold-out crowds, and their new show “Aliyah, the Musical” has become the talk of Israel’s Anglo community.
Chaya explained that “When we saw the reaction of the audience in Modiin, we knew it was time to take our show to Jerusalem. The audience really gets into the shows – we have a lot of singing and audience participation – it’s a great time.”
All of the show’s participants have had aliyah “experiences.” Pam Moritz can today laugh about the incident she experienced during her first year in Israel, but at the time she was very distraught.
“My daughter was five years old,” she recalls, “and was in a full leg cast. To get her out of my car I had to open the back door which faced the oncoming traffic, because it was hard for her to turn in the other direction. All of a sudden a car stopped alongside of me, and the driver rolled down his window and started yelling at me that it is too dangerous to take a child out on that side.”
Pam, one of the main characters in the show, smiled as she continued. “I didn’t realize that in Israeli culture a complete stranger would stop in middle of traffic to tell me how to live my life. I remember that the cars behind him started beeping, but he continued to rant, waving his hands all around, and then he just drove away. I was so shocked, I brought my daughter over to the sidewalk, leaned on the car and cried for a couple of minutes.”
Chaya Berkowitz relates that “shortly after arriving in Israel, I discovered I was expecting our first native Israeli baby. My other children had been born in the U.S. and I had no idea how hospitals in Israel worked. I began stopping random pregnant women on the street and saying, ‘Excuse me, I can see that you’re pregnant; may I ask you a question.’ They usually eyed me suspiciously, but answered my intrusive, personal questions anyway. Hey, this is Israel, we are all family!
“In the hospital, after having given birth, the nurse called me over the loudspeaker, informing me that it was time to feed the baby. I propped myself up in my hospital bed and awaited the arrival of my newborn. Several minutes later I heard my name called again over the loudspeaker, and I replied, ‘Yes, I’m ready.’ Several more minutes passed and the nurse called me again over the loudspeaker asking where I was. I replied ‘I’m waiting for you!.’ ‘No,’ she said, ‘We are waiting for you! This is not America, honey. Here you must come and get your baby yourself!’ ”
Elisheva also recalls that her first landlord demanded 12 signed blank checks “for security“ before her family could move in to their first apartment. She smiles as she adds “He could have filled in any amount to whomever he wanted, but the crazy part is that we did it – because we wanted the apartment and we did not know any better.”
Many in the audience will be able to relate to the chaos and comedy of the scenes. The show depicts: “Looking for an apartment,” “ Waiting in line at the Ministry of Absorption,” “Shopping at an Israeli supermarket,” and many other scenes. The narrator, Faigy Kirschenbaum, is played by Audrey Zemel. Faigy is right out of a bad hair day somewhere on Long Island, now working for “Neshamas, Inc.,” an organization that seems suspiciously similar to the Nefesh b’Nefesh organization.
Everyone, from the actresses on the stage to the producer and crew to the stylists doing hair and makeup, donates her time, and everyone tries to keep the costs low so that more money can be given to charity. 100 percent of proceeds from the play will go to a food and clothing gemach fund. They anticipate a sellout crowd in Jerusalem as they had in Modiin.
Who will most enjoy “Aliyah, the Musical”? “Everyone,” says Elisheva. “All of us in Israel can relate to the craziness of being a foreigner in a strange place. Our audiences consist of large groups of women who come together for a ladies’ night out, and of mothers and daughters, who look forward to coming to our shows every year for a special treat. We have haredi women, secular women, Israelis, Americans, and everyone in between. We know that once they come to one of our musicals, they’ll be back for more!”
“Aliyah, the Musical” will be performed on Sunday, March 30 at 8:00 p.m. in Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem. For more information go to www.drama-mamas.com.