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Shards of love.

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It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow! Typically, Valentine’s Day is a holiday that celebrates romantic love. Thanks to Hallmark and the commercialization of the day, we associate Valentine’s Day with a perfect picture of hearts, flowers, and chocolate. But I choose to celebrate the day as one that embraces love in all its forms – with all of the people in our lives, not just significant others.

Love is not always easy. Anyone who tells you that their relationship or friendship is perfect is lying. Relationships of any kind – whether with your loved ones, friends, family, and even country – are nuanced and take a great deal of work. To me, it is this effort and emotional investment that deserves celebrating!

If we’re talking about a relationship with one’s country, my love story with Israel has always been complicated. My first time visiting the country was for my Bar Mitzvah trip, just five years after the Six Day War. At that time, Bar Mitzvah trips here were rare, and I am not sure what made my parents bring me here to celebrate. But this experience opened my eyes up to what Israel could be. Particularly mind-blowing, at age 13, was to be able to walk into a restaurant and order a meal using the same Modern Hebrew that I was taught growing up in Hebrew school in Long Island.

The second time I visited Israel was in my twenties when I was in cantorial school and came here as part of a delegation. The experience really cemented in my mind the notion that Israel could be my potential home. When Don and I met and married, we both shared a love of Israel and would visit at every opportunity. We eventually made Aliyah in 2013 from Los Angeles and settled in Jerusalem.

There’s always the romantic vision of how you want things to be – and then there is the reality. The vision was that after a year of living in Israel I should be speaking Hebrew proficiently and should be able to navigate life in Israel without any problem. The reality couldn’t have been more different. I struggled to progress in Ulpan and every trip to the bank or post office was anxiety-inducing. To not be able to read your bills when you are in your 50s and 60s is beyond frustrating. On another level, it was also somewhat of a lonely experience being a liberal Zionist in Israel where there are not that many who share your views and ideology. Beyond that, not being fluent in Hebrew also limited my ability to get involved in politics and effect change. How could I possibly be valuable in any meeting if I wasn’t able to communicate?

It was out of this frustration and angst that I was inspired and driven, as an immigrant in Israel, to take a journey of self-discovery into my family’s past – to connect to my roots and ancestors.

In a quest to find myself, I turned to my parents and asked them questions about their parents’ lives – in Eastern Europe and also in the US as immigrants – since I did not have much of a relationship with my great-grandparents or grandparents growing up. My father was estranged from his father, and I only met my paternal grandfather when I was 25 years old, and he died four years later. In this process of self-exploration, I realized how much I identified with my grandmother who continued to speak only Russian and Yiddish in the US and read Yiddish newspapers only. I knew and know that feeling and yearning all too well.

This journey of self-discovery culminated in the creation of my one-man show, “Shards: Putting the Pieces Together”, which is essentially the story of my Aliyah intertwined with my grandparents’ immigration from Eastern Europe to the US at the turn of the 20th century.  I worked with a director and a writing coach to create the show which is 1.5 hours long, has 21 characters, spans four generations, has nine songs (four of them written by me), features two puppets, one of them a mini-me. I regularly perform Shards in Israel and throughout the US.

All of the characters are family members that I have resurrected. Even though the show is heavily scripted, every time I perform, I recreate relationships with my grandparents that I never had, and there are tears of sadness and happiness from the audience. Why? We’re all immigrants in one way or another – and that feeling is universal and timeless. Theater, when done properly, should be a transformative experience and no one should leave the same as they came in. Shards is an invitation to anyone who watches it to find themselves in the story.

What has Shards done for me personally? The great epiphany for me was that we were a family of true immigrants – from generation to generation. Shards has helped me to connect with my roots and understand my ancestors better while realizing that I shared many of the same feelings as they did as immigrants. When I perform, I feel as if my ancestors are here with me in Israel, metaphorically and spiritually, and I no longer feel so alone. Wishing you a happy  Valentine’s Day with all the loved ones in your life!

Evan and his husband Rabbi Don Goor will be leading the trip, “Our Home, Our Hearts” this October 20-30, 2020, where they will be showing you what life is like in THEIR Israel. Added bonus – Evan will be performing Shards during the trip! Check out the trailer: evankent.com

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