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Uptown Playwright's 'Birthright' Takes Aim At Millennial Jewish Experience

By Sonja Sharp | May 30, 2013 10:04am
  Love it or hate it, for Jewish American millennials,   Birthright   is the new bar mitzvah.
Uptown Playwright's 'Birthright' Takes Aim At Millennial Jewish Experience
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CROWN HEIGHTS — Love it or hate it, for Jewish American millennials, Birthright is the new bar mitzvah.

"It’s a very millennial thing right now, this experience that [we're] really having for the first time," said playwright David Lawson, 27, whose one man show 'Birthright' will debut at Franklin Avenue's LaunchPad in Crown Heights this weekend.

"If you were born after 1980, it’s becoming a thing in Jewish-American life, even if you never went to synagogue."

The all-expense paid 'heritage tour' of Israel has whisked nearly 300,000 Jewish young adults on 10-day excursions through the New Jersey-sized nation since 1999. For many otherwise secular participants, it is the seminal 'Jewish' experience of their lives.

"I have a friend who wasn’t bar mitzvah, who was literally reading the first posthumous Christopher Hitchens book on his plane ride to Birthright," Lawson said. "It’s a vacation powered by political influence."

Yet, despite volumes of praise and criticism for the program from academics and op-eds, few artists have explored the subject, Lawson said, noting Sarah Glidden's graphic novel "How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less" as an otherwise lonely example.

"I‘d always wanted to do something about a contemporary Jewish-American issue, and we are in the first generation of people who have done this," the Washington Heights resident explained. "I am kind of contributing to a conversation that doesn’t seem to be as white-hot as other issues around current Jewish American life."

Still, art about Israel is never without land mines, particularly if like Lawson, you're attempting to present something objective.  

"I would love to roll up and do this show at the Center for Jewish History on the Lower East Side or the Tenement Museum, any of these organizations, and have a captive audience for the show that is already interested," Lawson said. "There’s pockets of that community your’re not going to win over no matter what you say." 

Instead, the show will debut on Friday night near the heart of one of Brooklyn's largest Orthodox communities. 

"I felt sometimes if I’m going to get on stage and say this, I have to lean hard one way or the other, and right now I realize it’s so much murkier than that," Lawson said. "I guess I feel somewhere in between."