In the small Kansas town where I grew up, almost everyone who attended church went to a Christian or Catholic church. There certainly weren’t any Jewish temples or synagogues in town. The nearest was 60 miles away in Missouri. In fact, I knew of only two families of Jewish descent–the Lelands and the Bowmans. And I didn’t know either of those two families until I entered junior high school where I met the sons, who were my age, from these families .
To many of us, being Jewish meant something that all those people in the Old Testament of the Bible were before Jesus came along and convinced everyone to leave behind those practices and start a new religion based on his teachings. I’d heard of Passover (a pretty bloody event if you asked me), but who the heck knew what a Seder was? And Bar Mitzvah? Was that the name of some new tavern on the edge of town?
Once in a while the boys from these two families would be noticeably absent from class. Sometimes to celebrate a holiday that none of the rest of us had ever heard about; or to attend lessons at the distant synagogue in order to learn a foreign language known as Hebrew. “The Diary of Anne Frank” was probably our greatest source of information about Jewish traditions and life, but we didn’t even read that until eighth grade I think.
Frankly, most of us knew little of the Jewish religion. It wasn’t that we were necessarily prejudicial, although I’m sure there were those in town who were, it was just that there was no one else like them to expose us to the culture and traditions. That all changed later for me, of course, once I went to college and moved to larger places. And it has changed in the town itself which now has a greater diversity of residents but still no temple or synagogue.
When my friend, Marla Bronstein, told me she had been asked to direct the play ‘The Legacy” at the Claire vg Thomas Theatre in the nearby community of Lynden, I knew I’d have to see it. I find it interesting, yet commendable, that the theatre of this largely Dutch-Reformed Church conservative community decided to stage this play. The play, by Mark Harelik, is set in a small Texas town where only one family of Jewish descent live. When their only child, a son, reaches the age for Bar Mitzvah, they must figure out how exactly to do it. They struggle with spiritual questions and theological arguments. Their story, apparently, is not unlike Harelik’s own, who grew up in Texas.
Marla often directs in our local theatres. This is a play that she has wanted to direct here since first seeing it in 1996 in Seattle. I suspect it will have much to say about the kind of small town where I grew up and provide a look back at what it might have been like for those two lone Jewish families.
I have yet to see the play, so I can’t give any insight as to the production itself. Local reviewer, Christopher Key has written: “…this is not a ‘Jewish’ show. Nor is it a ‘Christian’ show. It’s an American show in the same way that Our Town is. It helps us understand who we are by taking a close look at who we were. Or at least who we thought we were.”
The play opens Feb 28 and runs through March 17.