When Esther Sara Zyskind and Aviva Rand (Director and Producer of Unlimited The Musical) hired a non-Jewish choreographer named Andrea to work with the performers in their production, they did not anticipate that they would radically reshape her perception of Orthodox Jews. But that is precisely what happened.
Andrea came to work with a preexisting jaundiced view of the Orthodox community. She had been sure that she understood the religious community, which she saw as deeply flawed, based largely on misinformation provided courtesy of the secular media.
After working with this group of 16 women and girls for weeks, her perceptions were altered entirely. She learned a tremendous amount about the lifestyle of religious Jews, she marveled at the outstanding middos of the people she met, and she even sampled some traditional Jewish foods.
The experience left a powerful impression on her, to the point that she began working on a documentary of her own about Orthodox Jews, with the goal of sharing her awakening with the rest of the world.
Below is a letter written recently by Andrea to the cast and crew of “Unlimited,” in which she shares her heartfelt feelings of appreciation—and reveals that they had starring roles in a remarkable kiddush Hashem.
“DEAR CAST CREW AND ALL INVOLVED WITH UNLIMITED,
I WANT TO EXPRESS MY DEEPEST AFFECTION, APPRECIATION, AND ADMIRATION.
THIS HAS BEEN A VERY SPECIAL EXPERIENCE FOR ME. AS I’VE TOLD SOME OF YOU, BEING A NATIVE NEW YORKER, I’VE BEEN SURROUNDED BY JEWISH CULTURE FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE. (I’M EVEN AFFILIATED WITH THE JEWISH WOMEN’S THEATRE “THE BRAID – ASK ME IF YOU’D LIKE TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THAT).
UNFORTUNATELY, MY KNOWLEDGE OF THE ORTHODOX COMMUNITY HAS BEEN LIMITED BY THE FILMS AND DOCUMENTARIES, WHICH ARE PREVALENT ON NETFLIX. MOST, IF NOT ALL OF WHICH PORTRAY DISTURBING STORIES.
I NOW SEE THE BEAUTIFUL IDEAS BEHIND YOUR PRACTICES AND HAVE LEARNED THAT MANY OF THE COMMON BELIEFS ARE UNTRUE OR MERELY A TINY FRACTION OF THE TRUTH. THERE ARE SUCH POSITIVE ASPECTS TO HAVING THE SHARED VALUES, BELIEFS AND MUTUAL SUPPORT THAT YOU DO.
ANYONE WITH AN OPEN MIND WILL KNOW THAT THERE ARE ALWAYS TWO SIDES TO ANY STORY, AND I WOULD LOVE TO HELP YOU TELL THE OTHER SIDE.
SUCH AS: ORTHODOX JEWISH WOMEN ARE SUPERHEROES! CAPABLE OF UNLIMITED MULTITASKING: RAISING LARGE FAMILIES, ACQUIRING MULTIPLE DEGREES, HOLDING DOWN CHALLENGING JOBS (FROM TEACHING TO SOCIAL WORK, TO DENTISTRY TO ICE SKATING INSTRUCTOR) AND ALL THIS WHILE BAKING 12 LOAVES OF CHALLAH!
TEENS (ALTHOUGH A BIT CHATTY 😊) ARE UNUSUALLY WARM, POLITE AND THOUGHTFUL. I’VE WORKED WITH MANY TEEN-AGERS AND HAVE RARELY EXPERIENCED AN ENVIRONMENT FREE OF CLIQUISHNESS, COMPETITION AND EVEN BULLYING. GOOD FOR YOU!
CHILDREN, YOU WARM MY HEART WITH YOUR OPEN FACES, IMAGINATIONS AND TALENT. YOU ARE TRUE LIGHT AND DELIGHT! OVERALL, THERE’S A UNIVERSAL GOODNESS THAT PREVAILS. THANK YOU FOR BEING SO WELCOMING,
TEACHING ME ABOUT YOUR COMMUNITY AND HOME COOKED MEALS.
AND THANK YOU FOR YOUR DEDICATION AND HARD WORK OVER THE PAST MONTHS. I KNOW THAT MANY SACRIFICES (SUCH AS SLEEP) HAVE BEEN MADE. WHEN I LOOK AT THE VIDEOS FROM EARLY REHEARSALS, I’M ASTOUNDED BY YOUR PROGRESS. SOME OF YOU HAVEN’T HAD ANY FORMAL DANCE TRAINING, YET YOU’VE MASTERED SOME COMPLICATED CHOREOGRAPHY. ON TOP OF THAT YOU’RE STRONG SINGERS AND ACTORS AS WELL! BRAVO!
I KNOW THAT AUDIENCES WHO COME TO SEE YOU ARE GOING TO BE OVERWHELMED BY THE TALENT AND SKILL ON STAGE. IT’S A BEAUTIFUL AND MOVING SHOW AND YOU SHOULD BE VERY PROUD (AS IAM).
SHALOM AND BREAK A LEG!
PLEASE STAY IN TOUCH, AND LET ME KNOW IF YOU’D LIKE TO PARTICIPATE IN MY LITTLE DOCUMENTARY (WHICH I’D LOVE TO SUBMIT TO FILM FESTIVALS)
About The Author
Rabbi Shraga Freedman is the author of Sefer Mekadshei Shemecha, Living Kiddush Hashem, and A Life Worth Living. Email [email protected] for a free sefer. Visit LivingKiddushHashem.org for more resources