Warren Hoffman is a playwright and the Associate Director for the Center of Jewish Life and Learning at Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
When I got an email from ROIer David Chapman at the end of 2013 asking if I wanted to write a short play in response to the Pew Study as part of an evening short plays, I was totally psyched and flattered. I had never received a commission before! More than that, as a Jewish professional myself (perhaps the only one in the collective of playwrights who would contribute plays to what would become Pew-ish) I had a lot of thoughts about the Pew Study. I work as a grantmaker for Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the implications of the Pew Study inform my work on a daily basis. What should we fund? What will the future of Judaism look like? Does the Pew Study even matter?
The idea for what I wanted to write came to me pretty quickly. My contribution to the discussion was a play called “Miami, 1991.” Set in the present in a retirement community in Boca Raton, Florida, the play features a group of old Jews who are trying to come up with strategies in response to the Pew Study that will save the next generation of American Jews. (“Teach them Yiddish!” “Show them Fiddler!” they shout.) Their ideas though are horribly old-fashioned, and they don’t fare any better when they bring in a PR man whose strategy is that what the next generation needs is a “Judaism that isn’t Jewish.” He proposes a new program called “Beachright” that will pay for a full week of fun in the sun in Fort Lauderdale for young Jews, minus anything that’s at all “Jewishy Jewish.” (A wacky idea to be sure, but you’d be surprised at what I’ve heard some actual Jewish organizations proposing!) The play then cuts to an interracial gay couple in which the non-Jewish partner wants to convert to Judaism even though the Jewish partner isn’t very Jewish. Serving as the true face of the complexity of what it means to be Jewish today, the gay couple shows just how out of touch the rest of the Jewish community is with the current generation.
While I’m proud of my contribution to the evening, there were numerous plays that provided unique viewpoints on the discussion. One of my favorites was “The Covenant” by Ken Weitzman which featured an interfaith straight couple who was about to have their son circumcised and were arguing about whether or not to go forward with the ritual. Both hilarious and insightful, Weitzman’s play really spoke to the conflicting feelings that many American Jews have today about tradition.
Where Pew-ish goes from here is anyone’s guess, but I’m thrilled that ROI helped to support this exciting project.