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Birthright alums answer the tough question ‘what was it like?’ through spoken word and hip-hop 


I think we all have moments when excitement hits us so hard that we’re rendered speechless, and we can’t synthesize any of the thoughts and feelings running through our heads into coherent responses.

For me, Birthright Israel was precisely one of those experiences. I got home from my 10 days in Israel on Christmas 2007, and was immediately peppered over and over again with the same question: “what was it like?”

I had no answer. I could talk about how pretty Israel is, or show people pictures I took high atop Masada or watching a sunset in Tzfat, but I couldn’t explain what those experiences meant to me. The trip triggered too many new thoughts for me about what it means to be Jewish today and how I fit or don’t fit into a Jewish community.

I still get asked now and again what I thought of my trip, or how it made me feel, and I still cringe at the request. But thankfully, someone else – or 16 someone elses – have answered the question for me. I’m talking about the cast of Birthright Israel NEXT’s  Monologues .


Written by Birthright alumni living in New York and directed by HBO’s Def Poetry Jam alumna Vanessa Hidary (The Hebrew Mamita), Monologues is an evening of solo performances of monologues, spoken word and hip-hop exploring Jewish identity – all inspired by cast members’ Birthright experiences.

During a series of group writing workshops and one-on-one rehearsals with director Vanessa Hidary, the cast wrote their own scripts, and over time the project evolved from a simple expression of what the Birthright experience meant to them, to how that experience has shaped their Jewish identity from that point forward.

The diverse cast closely mirrors the diverse participants of Birthright Israel trips: just under half of the cast members come from interfaith families. Some had very little religious connection to Israel before the trip and are now becoming more observant. One second, Valerie can be performing her piece and struggling to understand why a woman would choose to live a religious lifestyle; and the next, Alison is explaining why she decided to become frum after her Birthright experience. Seth admits he feels more comfortable with the phrase “Google that shit” than the  V’ahavta , and Lindsay opens up about a previous suicide attempt and how her first trip to the Western Wall and hearing from a Holocaust survivor affected her.


Though it is called Monologues, the name does not do the show justice; rather than being an individual expression of thoughts and feelings, the show tries to initiate dialogue and discussion amongst cast members and the wider community. At turns funny and bittersweet, there is no question that each piece is immensely personal and at the same time highly relatable. The cast discusses issues of identity that are not unique to young Jewish adults, but that resonate with any young person struggling to find their place both in the world they were born into and the world they see evolving around them.

Monologues premiered in New York City in November 2007, and after performances in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Sarasota, is coming to Chicago this Thursday, May 7, 2009 for a show at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts (followed by an after party with the cast and crew at Citizen).

Monologues will run one night only in Chicago on Thursday, May 7, 2009, at the Cabaret Theater at The Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, 777 North Green Street. Doors open at 7pm, and the show starts at 7:30pm. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $10  here , or are available at the door for $15. For more information email  chicago@birthrightisrael.com . Previews of Monologues performances can be found on the  Birthright Israel NEXT Web site .

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