two women reading on stage
Wendy Colman Levin (left) and Lisa Cirincioine in “Return To India,” from the collection “Exile: Kisses on Both Cheeks” (Courtesy/Jewish Women's Theatre

Stories of exile from Jews of Arab lands on stage in Bay Area

The Jewish Women’s Theatre, an L.A.-based troupe that was founded to give Jewish women spaces to share their stories, is bringing new material to the Bay Area for the fourth year in a row.

The new collection being presented at the Osher Marin JCC and Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto features stories on immigration, social change and the importance of self-care — topics that are particularly resonant in the current political climate. The stories are by men as well as women and include essays, short stories and poems.

“It’s different from other storytelling events — we have professional actors enacting the stories, so they are much more performative and theatrical,” said Ronda Spinak, co-founder and artistic director of JWT.

The stories are collected through an open submission, curated by Spinak, and then performed as a set by professional actors.

The three-show run kicked off in February with “The Matzo Ball Diaries,” which highlighted stories about food: plucking chickens for a sibling’s wedding, the role of cooking in overcoming the death of a mother, anorexia.

On April 2 and 3, “Exile: Kisses on Both Cheeks” will bring Jewish immigrant stories emanating from the Sephardic legacy of expulsion from Spain. The show will include a story by André Aciman, an Egyptian-born writer and literary professor at CUNY, who shares memories of his family’s last seder before anti-Semitism forced them out of Alexandria, Egypt. According to Spinak, the story speaks to the sense of loss that comes with displacement from home and country. Also in the show is a piece by Herbert Hadad based on an op-ed in the New York Times, “Both Jewish and Arabic,” in which he recounts his efforts to keep Arabic heritage alive for his children in a Christian-Jewish household.

The final show on May 22, “More Courage,” will explore brave acts, small and large, that change lives and inspire others. It is produced in collaboration with NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.

“I think in today’s day and age, where there is so much reorientation of truth, [audience members] hear stories that are true, that come from an authentic voice, and it is very compelling,” said Spinak. “And it’s dense: You have these beautiful, emotional pieces smacked up against humorous pieces. It’s really very rich, and it empowers people, because they are hearing truth.”

Jewish Women’s Theatre presents “Exile: Kisses on Both Cheeks” at 5 p.m. April 2 at Osher Marin JCC, 200 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael, $18-25,; and 7:30 p.m. April 3 at Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. $25-$30.

Hannah Rubin

Hannah Rubin is a writer at J. She can be reached at [email protected].