By Adena Blickstein
I have been dancing since I was a very young child. However, because I attended a Jewish day school, my dancing was an extracurricular pursuit at first. After graduating, I was accepted into the Joffrey Ballet Summer School. Following that summer, I went to a seminary in Israel. After a day of learning, I would travel to a local dance studio to take classes. However, the seminary told me that I wasn’t allowed to dance because it disrupted the learning routine. This came as a shock for me, leaving me feeling torn between my love for dancing and my love for Judaism. I opted to leave the seminary and transferred to a kibbutz learning program in the north, where the directors were very open to my pursuing my passion for dance. I was able to dance with a performing arts school near the kibbutz while continuing my learning. After that, I went to Stern College for Women and continued to dance throughout my college years.
When I graduated in 2005, I made aliyah and was accepted into two contemporary dance companies in Israel. These companies were not religious; consequently, I had to miss rehearsals on Shabbat. Part of me was thrilled that I was finally dancing professionally, fulfilling a dream of mine. I loved the stage, the lights, the production, and the choreography. However, every time I came to class or rehearsal, I felt that I had to leave something of myself outside. I worried that the director might put me in a piece with a male partner, and I was uncomfortable about what our costumes (or lack thereof) would look like. The outfits weren’t modest, to put it mildly. As the year progressed, the company was invited to go on tour and perform in Europe. How could I, an Orthodox Jew, go along and still keep Shabbat, let alone kashrut, and deal with the mixed sleeping arrangements? I reached the point where I had to choose between my Jewish values and my love for dance.
To my mind, there wasn’t a choice—this was torture. I found myself pleading with God, asking what He wanted from me. I know I am a dancer. God, what are You trying to say—that I shouldn’t dance? Impossible! Dance gives me life, hayim. How could God want to take away my life force? I decided that I would leave the decision up to God. I had planned to rent a studio space for rehearsal; if God granted me this space for a price I could afford, I would leave my company. If not, I would stay.
I got the space.
Around this time, I was inspired by Yocheved Polansky, a dancer who had similar conflicts to my own and who had founded her own studio. She shared with me a letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, which said:
You feel broken; from time to time you fall into a mood of despair; you will find now a place for yourself. ...You must utilize the artistic talent, with which the Almighty has blessed you, to further religious feeling. You cannot delay this task until tomorrow, for tomorrow has its own tasks; today you must do today’s tasks. When you apply yourself to this task, though it might well seem to you that you can only make an inroad as tiny as the point of a needle, the Almighty will respond by granting you success.
Soon afterward, I began hosting open-mic nights once a month at the Pargod Theater in the Nachlaot section of Jerusalem. These shows snowballed into a national competition similar to American Idol, called Rotzah Lehiyiot Kochav (“Wanna Be a Star”) for women only. In 2007, I founded an umbrella organization called Professional Women’s Theater, Inc., as a nonprofit for the promotion of the performing arts for women-only audiences. While pursuing a medical degree, I moved to Haifa and then moved back to the United States in 2012.
In January 2013 I was named a fellow of the Jewish social incubator PresenTense. My goal as a fellow was to found the Jewish Women’s Tanent Agency (JeWTA) as a project of the Professional Women’s Theater. The mission of JeWTA is to empower talented female performance artists through professional development and performance opportunities that are exclusively by women and for women; to promote true artistic expression, free of exploitation and defined by the highest standards of professionalism; and to develop a community of artists who will transform entertainment, inspire audiences, and change the world.
Each year, JeWTA handpicks artists to be part of a performance tour consisting of all-women audiences. Those chosen are invited to go on a national tour. Each JeWTA cohort dedicates its performance tour to a pressing and underreported issue affecting Jewish women and the Jewish community. This year’s theme will be raising awareness of “court abuse,” a form of domestic and child abuse whereby abusive husbands use manipulative means to attain custody of the children during divorce proceedings and use this power as away of victimizing the mother.
This year’s tour will take place from June 15 through June 21 and will include the following performances:
A musical performance by Glaser Drive, a
folk–soul band (see article Meet the Glaser Sisters)
A stand-up comedy performance by Jessica
Schechter, addressing being a single Jewish
A multimedia performance incorporating
dance, acting, and video art by Jessica
Schechter and Reina Potaznik
These performances may feature an “open mic” at the end of the show, allowing audiences to join in and add
their voices. JeWTA interacts with the community by offering a menu of programs designed for different audiences and interests. These include:
- An evening of inspiration (ages 18 and up) to entertain, uplift, and revitalize women through beautiful voices and soul-lifting harmonies.
- JeWTA for Social Justice (ages 15 and up) to bring greater awareness of social justice themes through the medium of performance.
JeWTA Teen Esteem (ages 9–17) to promote healthy self-esteem and interactive discussion while incorporating pop tunes and star artists.
JeWTA Children’s Jam (ages 2–5) to provide an entertaining and fun performance geared to young children and their mothers, through interactive jamming and dancing.
JeWTA is the first talent agency for women only, consistant with the values of the Orthodox community. It is our answer to revitalizing the community. Just as artists are thirsty to give, our community is thirsty to receive. JeWTA’s success depends on the Orthodox community. We invite you to open your doors to our performing artists. It is time for the Orthodox community to engage women performing artists. I encourage you to become part of the JeWTA community, go to our website (www.jewta.com), and become a member, a mentor, or a performer.
Adena Blickstein, M.D., is a maternal–child health advocate and founder of the Jewish Women’s Talent Agency.