‘Forgiveness’ raises curtain on days of Selichot

Arva Rose and Kate Zentall perform in a Jewish Women’s Theatre production of “In Fine Print” by Bara Swain. The JWT will perform ‘The Art of Forgiveness’ at Shaare Emeth on Sept. 24. 


Just in time for Selichot, when communal prayers for forgiveness are offered in preparation for the High Holidays, Congregation Shaare Emeth will present “The Art of Forgiveness,” a performance by the Jewish Women’s Theatre (JWT). 

“We are really excited to bring a live production here with a topic that is exactly what this period is all about,” said Debbie Bram, director of Jewish life and learning at Shaare Emeth. “We’ve had movies, local speakers and touchy-feely events, and it’s time to try something really different.” 

The 65-minute performance will be presented on Saturday, Sept. 24 (see infobox for full details). The event is part of the Deutsch Scholar-in-Residence adult educational program, inaugurated in 1984 by the late Fred and Elsie Deutsch. 

Founded in 2007, the southern California-based JWT collects stories from Jewish women, transforms them into a theatrical style and produces them in intimate settings. JWT has created 30 original shows, commissioned more than 50 additional works, adapted numerous pieces by well-known writers and produced six short films. A year ago, the company produced “Not That Jewish,” which will open Oct. 23 at New World Stages, an off-Broadway house in New York City. 

Ronda Spinak is a founder and artistic director of JWT, which consists of five women and one man, all veteran actors who range in age from early 30s to late 70s. Spinak describes the show as “a compilation of true stories that explore various aspects of forgiveness.”


“We asked people to explore pivotal moments where they could not forgive or they yearned to forgive or they did forgive,” Spinak said last week. “The show is jam-packed with humor and tears.” 

The stories, plays, poems and performance art that make up “The Art of Forgiveness” cover a range of topics. 

“One story is about sibling rivalry and how it puts a pall over the relationship between a brother and sister throughout their whole lives,” Spinak said. “Another is about a father who abandons his family and runs off with a barmaid. How do you get over that— or do you?”

One piece in the show was adapted from Elizabeth Kopelman Borgwardt’s journal, written while she was on a fellowship in Heidelberg, Germany. Borgwardt teaches history and law at Washington University. 

Another story is about a woman who for 40 years was unable to forgive her husband for divorcing her. 

“The woman talks to her rabbi, who tells her if she can take just a little responsibility for the divorce, she can ask her husband to forgive her, and then she can release her anger,” Spinak said. 

One piece in the show is about a woman who drops her phone on the floor of her car while she is driving, and when she reaches for it, she hits a man in a crosswalk. 

“He dies,” Spinak said. “How do you get forgiveness from yourself? The audience goes on this journey with the woman and learns how Judaism comforts us and offers us a way to forgive ourselves.” 

“The Art of Forgiveness” also includes a funny Jewish haiku and a piece written by a rabbi’s wife about learning to love her mother unconditionally.

To make the performance even more meaningful, Spinak and Bram have collaborated on a project to engage audience members. 

“We will ask them to write down apologies they wish they had gotten or given, and then turn in the anonymous memories,” Spinak said. The written memories will be displayed at Shaare Emeth through Yom Kippur. 

A reception is scheduled after the performance. At 10 p.m., the Selichot service begins. 

“This is such a meaningful way for the Jewish community to mark Leil Selichot, which literally means ‘forgiveness,’ ” Bram said.

To submit a story to JWT for consideration, visit http://bit.ly/JWT-themes.