Bēma was delighted at the response to the reading of the play, The Gates are Closing at Congregation Emanu-El on Saturday, September 21. The reading was followed by Havdalah, and Sliḥot services. The audience of approximately fifty included members of the congregation familiar with Yom Kippur services and others who were intrigued by the subject.
The Gates are Closing was discovered by Bēma team member Annie Weeks, who was so taken by the poem “Home” in the new Lev Shalem Siddur (page 181) that she contacted Merle Feld, the author, to happily find out that as well as being a poet, Merle was also a playwright. Gates is a play that was written specifically to be read by members of a synagogue congregation prior to the High Holy Days. It has been performed since its 1986 première in New York in hundreds of congregations world-wide.
The Gates are Closing takes place during the evening of Yom Kippur, the morning, and the late afternoon of the next day. Through its ten characters, the piece speaks thoughtfully and eloquently to the various struggles that each one of us brings to the forefront of our minds on these days of awe. The voices of the characters are interspersed with highlights of the Yom Kippur service, including the sounding of a shofar at its end.
Members of the Jewish community who presented the reading were: Katya Delancey, Rick Kool, Rabbi Harry Brechner, Howard Herzog, Benjy de la Vega, Eva Stanger-Ross, Danielle Weisz, Barbara Pelman, Miriam Waldman and Aaron Severs. Each reader was outstanding. Direction was provided by Zelda Dean and stage management by Susan Holtz.
As well as the audience taking away insights from the experience, each reader did the same.
“A fine reading of a play that touches on so many human life experiences. The readers were very talented and their stories came alive with each one, humbling me to the scale of our vulnerabilities and struggles. No sugar coating, just real life at the gate.” —Nancy Issenman, audience member.
“This was my first time acting as a character, not writing about one. But I could feel Joan’s pain as my own, and all the others as well. Each story blended into the other. The monologues were powerful, and the voices together felt like a whole community searching for forgiveness, for wholeness.” —Barbara Pelman, reader.
“It was a privilege to be given this opportunity. The play challenged me to do my “heshbon nefesh” (internal soul accounting) in preparation for the Days of Awe. It also reminded me that we come together as a community of imperfect beings, each with our individual and collective issues. Somehow, during this High Holiday period, we manage to find some transformation and answers.” —Aaron Severs, reader.