Melanie Zoey Weinstein with fellow Sex and the Holy Land cast member Gabriel Sloyer
Photos by Joshua Z. Weinstein
If you go
What: Sex and the Holy Land (Happy Belly Productions), part of the 13th annual New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC)
When: Saturday, Aug. 15, 8:15 p.m.; Monday, Aug. 17, 8:45 p.m.; Thursday, Aug. 20, 10:30 p.m.; Monday, Aug. 24, 5:15 p.m.; Friday, Aug. 28, 2 p.m.
Where: The Players Theatre (FringeNYC Venue #8), 115 MacDougal St., New York City
Tickets: $15; for more information, visit www.sexandtheholyland.com
Below, Weinstein, center, with cast members Sarah-Doe Osborne, left, and Ruby Joy, explores a different side of Israel in Sex and the Holy Land.
August 13, 2009
A senior thesis and public reading presented at the University of Miami about a student’s Israel experiences has been crafted by a young New Jerseyan into an Off-Broadway production.
Sex and the Holy Land, a play written and produced by Melanie Zoey Weinstein, 23, who grew up in Mendham and graduated from Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in West Orange, is loosely based on her own experiences as an American student in Israel. Not only has it made it off-campus, but the 12-actor play has been accepted into the New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC).
“I went in very much seeking answers,” said Weinstein, who spent a semester studying at Tel Aviv University in 2007, “and I very much wanted to see for myself what the reality was.
“I did all the typical Israel trip things,” such as hiking in the desert, praying at the Kotel, and spending time in a Bedouin tent, “and I really wanted to capture that,” she said. On her previous trip, as a Schechter high school student on the school’s Neshama program, she spent time in Gadna, a one-week army training course; that trip definitely “influenced the play a lot.”
At the same time, Weinstein said, she did not want to create another farce in the realm of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Adam Sandler’s comedy about an Israeli special agent turned New York City hairdresser, which plays off a wide range of stereotypes.
“This is my exploration of me making peace with my Jewish identity” — as well as with her womanhood. “It’s not Sex and the City in Israel,” Weinstein said, but the play, portraying three close friends going on Israeli adventures together, retains some of that TV show’s elements. It has this “girls just want to have fun, sex in the Holy Land vibe, but it’s about so much more.”
‘OK to be yourself’
In Israel Weinstein found that she was treated like a “naive, uneducated American girl,” and, at the same time, found herself spending time under a “big Jewish umbrella” and with “so many different types of Jews.”
The play opens with the main character, Lili, 21, at the Kotel, feeling overwhelmed and out of place — “fueled by her perception that the weight of the Jewish people is on her shoulders,” Weinstein said. “She connects it to her sexuality and her personal freedom.” Accompanying her on her journey are three Jewish mothers, a Greek chorus, in effect, who “interrupt Lili when she’s trying to grow or learn or hook up with a guy,” she said. “They show up; they nudge her.”
“It’s those negative voices that allow her to grow and realize they are all in her mind,” Weinstein said. Lili goes through many men and experiences just to be able to say, “It’s OK to be yourself,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein makes one thing clear. “Lili is not me,” she said; the character, rather, includes elements of herself. “I wouldn’t say half the things she says. Her naivete in many ways is inspired by my perceptions, pre-college.”
“This is also a celebration to me of my culture, my family, and my community,” said Weinstein, whose family belongs to Mount Freedom Jewish Center and Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael.
While she considers herself more of a cultural Jew than an observant one, Weinstein said it is in her “blueprint” to express herself in Jewish ways. “I love Shabbos dinner, I love lighting the Shabbos candles.”
“I do this play with so much pride and gratitude for the gift of my Jewish identity as well.”