Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Click Here to Visit the College Center

BWW Blog: Remember Sandy Koufax - My Career and My Religion

Article Pixel

My Judaism and theatre have always gone hand in hand.

As one of my favorite show tunes says, "You just don't succeed on Broadway If you don't have any Jews!". My Judaism and theatre have always gone hand in hand. I grew up doing theatre through my Jewish school where rehearsals and performances never conflicted with religious observances. I did full musicals in Hebrew at summer camp every year, and later staged them when I worked as the head of drama. Barbra Streisand and Rachel Bloom are two of my biggest role models. I watch Funny Girl and The Nanny on a loop.

The first time I left what many of us call "The Jewish Bubble", an environment in which most people respect, are knowledgeable about, and observe Judaism, I was seventeen and attending the pre-college musical theatre program at Carnegie Mellon. I was ecstatic that I had been accepted; a program at the same college that had produced stars like Megan Hilty and Christian Borle? It was a dream come true. My parents were wary about Jewish life; it was the summer, so the local Hillel wasn't very active. I brought my pocket prayerbook and did a quick solo service when it moved me.

When I got to college, I began making tough choices about how I would live my life for the next four years. Leaving home means observing based on your own beliefs without the influence of your hometown community and family. No longer were rehearsals scheduled around the holidays. In fact, tech week for my freshman review fell the week of Yom Kippur.

Sometimes, you can work around it. This past fall, the first night of Rosh Hashannah fell on the early evening of a 10 to 10 cue-to-cue. A fellow Jewish performer and I got the go-ahead to leave early, right before services started. We ran to the dressing rooms, stripped out of costumes and into our high holiday best, and rushed across the street to Hillel just in time. While my family was disappointed that I couldn't come home for the holiday, I was just thrilled that I could make it all work.

I know that it can be hard on my family, seeing me make all of these choices so different from theirs. My siblings all work for Jewish organizations whose schedules revolve around the calendar of Jewish observances. However, that is not my lot in life. Your calendar not being your own is part of a life in theatre. Committing your life to a production schedule, not your own.

Jewish news outlets love to highlight Broadway stars who grew up within the tribe. There was even a recent article about the number of Broadway stars who went to one particular chain of Jewish summer camps (which also I happened to go to) that I got tagged in on Facebook numerous times. However, few of those profiles highlight the tough religious choices that at some point the performers had to make. I'm sure Ben Platt doesn't walk into an audition room and say "by the way, I can't perform Friday nights, Saturday matinees, Saturday evenings when it's still light out, and on any and all Jewish holidays". He'd get laughed out of the room. And if a big name star would get laughed at, imagine a no-name, recent college grad making all of those same demands.

This is not to say that it's impossible to be religious, observant, and a performer. However, you must be willing to bend, twist, and find creative ways of observing. Keeping a menorah in your dressing room. A quick kiddush before a Friday night curtain. Observing when you can, even after the actual date.

Every time that I have to choose between my Judaism and my performance career, it's a struggle. Neither my Judaism nor my love of theatre are to be taken lightly. They are some of the most important things about me, and that will never change. As Motel says in Fiddler on the Roof, "Times are Changing, Reb Tevye". You can either be flexible and work to adapt traditions to your life or be honestly willing to lose those parts of yourself. It's a difficult decision, but when is anything worth doing in life easy?

Related Articles

From This Author Student Blogger: Emma Rose Dorsch