At the end of August, I attended the first ever showing of “Mikva the Musical: Music and Monologues from the Deep,” in the heart of Katamon, Jerusalem. The many women in attendance were ready to be inspired, and to hear individual experiences they had never heard before.
The mikvah ritual, shared by married women from across the cultural and religious spectrum, together with the mitzvot of taking challah and lighting the Shabbat candles, are the three mitzvot specific to women.
For some women, the time spent doing preparation, followed by immersion, helps to make a smooth transition from the hectic mother to the beautiful wife. For others, it is refreshing and symbolizes the potential of bringing new life into the world. Yet for another group, it can be the unfortunate reminder of the disappointment of infertility. These experiences are two sides of the same coin.
“Mikva the Musical, Music & Monologues from the Deep” has taken on the telling of personal experiences, both thought-provoking and funny, in the form of individual monologues performed by five actresses. Each actress brought us to both laughter and tears, as they shared monologues, dialogues, and songs that depict women from all walks of life experiencing mikva in their own unique way.
12 years ago, Myra Gutterman started to collect these stories and asked her long time friend Toby Klein Greenwald to join her on the journey. “The Mikva Monologues,” they called it, until they had to put the project on hold to tend to the health of loved ones. Recently they decided to revisit the project.
Gutterman holds a B.A. in Theatre Arts and Dramatic Literature. She has been involved in improvisational theatre, stand-up comedy, and stage management for many years and lives in Jerusalem.
Greenwald, from Efrat, is the artistic director and one of the playwrights of Raise Your Spirits Theatre, as well as being the creator of the Na’na Playback Dance Theater.
Together, they decided to give life to these mikva stories of women all over the world. “Myra recorded and transcribed stories by mikva attendants and women who use the mikva, and together we they collected more stories and wrote parodies on relevant themes,” Greenwald explained.
“Then we had to figure out what was missing, and who would play the parts,” said Myrna.
In the playbill, Greenwald and Gutterman wrote, We intentionally chose a cast and crew who, in addition to being excellent at what they do, are religiously an geographically eclectic. We perform this as an open-book salon theater, a unique performance concept.
As Myra enthusiastically exclaims: “These are true stories by real women, and they are incredible.”
Almost every woman who goes to the mikva has a story to tell. Many of them are memorable in a positive and funny way. The Chair Lift monologue had us roaring; it’s Michele Thaler’s own stories of her mikva experience as a woman in a wheelchair.
Other mikva stories were told through the eyes of a new mother, a convert, and women who have experienced different challenges in their lives, such as pregnancy loss, infertility, and hydrophobia. They all made a profound impression.
Yael Valier, an actress and director from Gush Etzion, reads the anonymous story of a woman who immerses a few times on the same night because she wasn’t sure she got it right the first time.
Each and every story gives the audience a glimpse into the myriad of life’s challenges and to the beauty of mikva.
The monologue The Lump in the Lake, portrayed by actress Malka Abrahams, is about Shani Taragin finding a lump in her breast one mikva night and catching her breast cancer at an early stage. This monologue touched me personally since my mothers breast cancer was discovered too late. This beautiful mitzvah not only helps marriages stay alive, but also saves lives!
The Battered Wife monologue brought us to tears as the mikva attendant, played by Sarah Landman, tends to a victim of domestic abuse. The mikva attendant and the audience grapples with how to help the woman in distress.
Landman, a real-life mikva attendant for over eleven years, currently works with the Eden Center to train balaniot (mikvah attendants) all over Israel in crisis intervention and in being super sensitive to women’s issues. She is also a certified yoetzet halacha, halachic advisor, fielding questions in Jewish family purity law from women all over the world.
In between the light and the heavy monologues are the parodies written by Greenwald and Gutterman and played by wonderful pianist Riva Schertzman. Nothing, sung by Adina Feldman and written by Gutterman, was a sweet testimony to how personal the mikva experience is for every woman, and is a valid way of either connecting, or in this case, not connecting to the mitzvah, but doing it anyway.
Feldman, a singer, songwriter, choreographer, director and teacher with a successful career as a performer, joined the team of actresses not knowing what to expect and was pleasantly surprised and proud to take part in the endeavor.
On the opening night, and following every performance, the producers and the actors welcome feedback with an open discussion after the show. Myra reflects, “I personally am humbled and honored by the feedback, and most everything was well received.”
Naomi Klass Mauer, Publisher of The Jewish Press, shared “I found Mikva the Musical delightful. I loved the singing and found every lady’s position to be very respectful of mikvah observance. The overall feeling was spiritual, albeit very funny in some cases, and definitely noteworthy regarding the lack of accessibility for handicapped women.”
Rivkah Lambert Adler, writer and editor of Ten From The Nations: Torah Awakening Among Non-Jews, wrote: “It was incredibly refreshing to see a Jewish performance that focused on the spiritual lives of Jewish women. That’s a rare and precious thing.”
Of the patrons supporting the show, Henya Storch of Storch Agency International, also contributed to the show itself, in a story both humorous and serious about dunking in Aruba.
Now, the show has taken on a life of its own, and has started to grow roots. Greenwald, on a recent visit to New York, gave a seminar to women studying to be yoatzot halacha, on issues of niddah and mikva. She shared these stories in order to help women understand how to be more sensitive to issues affecting women.
Greenwald and Gutterman are now seeking to facilitate requests to bring the show overseas.
“…I descend each step of the mikva, feeling the water touch my feet and begin to envelope me… and I feel the warmth and comfort of this moment surround me” – From the monologue Giyoret