|Photo by Jody Christopherson|
I didn’t want to wake up devastated a year ago today.
Not that I am unique in that respect.
Regardless of how many Americans felt about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, the election in 2017 represented an entry into a strange and uncertain timeline very few could have anticipated.
But for me, November 9, 2016 was supposed to be a personal as well as a political victory. I was set to debut my very first solo show, The Worst Zionist in The Room, in the Lounge Series at New York’s Dixon Place. Solo performing was something I had been steadily pursuing at open-mic shows for a couple of years, and it was thrilling to rediscover myself as a performer for the first time since college. This particular show was the culmination of an angst-ridden journey through my relationship to Judaism and Israel over a decade. I had struggled a bit to find my balance professionally after returning from Israel in May 2015, and completing this show represented a victory in my desire to become a person who makes things happen for myself as opposed to waiting for permission or approval for my creative vision. Like anything worth having in life, the journey was hard-fought, but no doubt such struggle had fortified me and given me a deeper appreciation for all I would achieve.
I hadn’t really thought much when Dixon Place gave me the date of November 9 for my show months earlier. But as the date approached, adolescent terrors of not being cool enough for people to hang out with me during what would likely be post-election euphoria started to creep in. “There’s a bar there!” I wrote desperately on the Facebook event. “If we’re happy, we’ll need to drink to celebrate getting through this crazy election and primary season. If we’re sad, we’ll drink too!” That last part was meant to be a joke, of course.
And then the results came in.
“I’m sorry I can’t make it tonight,” people started messaging me on Facebook. “I can’t leave my apartment. I just need to hug babies and play with puppies.”
I was devastated, but envious I couldn’t join them. There was nothing more I wanted than to stay in bed and listen to “It’s Quiet Uptown” on repeat. But I still had a show to do, regardless if anyone showed up. At least this wouldn’t be my first experience: a year earlier a festival show of mine about BDSM had a show scheduled on Father’s Day, and not one person came. But in that case it was a cast of incredibly gracious actors doing my work to an empty house, and here it would just be me.
Still, somehow I managed to survive that experience, and I would no doubt survive this one. And if nothing else, I would have my awesome director Christine and photographer Jody there that night, who were all fabulous, supportive, kickass ladies.
But to my surprise, people actually did come, many of whom I never would have expected. This gave me the confidence I needed to take a deep breath and feel at ease—at least if the nation was about to fall apart, my own popularity would be in tact.
Performing that night was a cathartic, almost out of body experience. I was reminded of September 11 2001, when I got to put aside the terror attacks for two hours during tech week for Little Shop of Horrors at the Youngstown Playhouse. There is something really powerful about theatre in giving us a way to be physically present with other people and channel our feelings into some sort of productive action. When the world feels like it is collapsing, it is heartening to feel like it is possible to create something.
What’s weird is that dealing with Israel that night felt like almost a sense of relief in comparison to the uncertainty that was gripping the U.S. While I was there in 2015 I had witnessed the disappointment among liberals over their most recent election, when the left-wing government miserably failed to mount a challenge to Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. The heaviness in the air that hung over Tel Aviv the day after that election felt very similar to what many of us were feeling here. It was almost comforting to feel like I had experienced a sort of trial run for our current moment.
What inspired me being in Israel were the activists and educators I met. But despite the constant disappointment over any sort of major developments in the status quo, I had met scores of Jewish and Palestinian leaders that were working tirelessly to fight for their own pockets of justice and equity in the face of despair. Their counterfactual belief that the world they saw was worth fighting for gave me hope.
And seeing the sheer diversity of people who showed up to my show that night gave me a glimpse of the kind of community I want my work to create. So often liberals have our angsty conversations about Israel in an echo chamber, and I was heartened to see Jewish people from many different backgrounds and denominations, including both Conservative and Orthodox rabbinical students, people who are deeply secular, as well as Jews of color. There were non-Jews there as well of various ethnicities and religious affiliations, including my hijab-wearing videographer Ramah. If this comes across as bragging, I apologize. The point is that this audience represented everything Donald Trump campaigned against, and this is the world I wanted to fight for. I was moved by the awareness that typically these groups would not be in the same room together to take in politically charged information about Israel if they didn’t know me, and that I could be a person who served as a connector during a time of divisiveness.
There is more I can say, and more I surely will. Like many others, I am aware there is more I should do. I have made some calls to legislators, but not nearly enough. I have given money, but not nearly enough. I know it may be incredibly privileged that only now I am beginning to feel exhausted by the myriad obstacles facing justice in this country. It’s exhausting to ponder how much work has been left undone and how much there is to do. But what gives me strength is my community, and over the past year I have been seeking experiences that fortify that foundation, whether that is creating storytelling dinner parties, studying ancient Jewish texts in groups, or baking cookies on Sunday mornings for my coworkers at Trader Joe’s.
I love you all.