Ritual is What You Make of it

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by Rachel Eisen, Director of Development

Who decides what ritual is and ritual means? I’m guessing you won’t be surprised if I told that here at Mayyim Hayyim, we believe the answer to that question is: you.  

At Mayyim Hayyim, we focus on making it possible for you to own the ritual of mikveh immersion for yourself, and experience it in whatever way is most authentic to you. Over the weekend, I saw the Huntington Theater’s new play, We All Fall Down, and I was reminded that this belief holds true far beyond mikveh.

We All Fall Down is, on the surface, about a secular Jewish family hosting a Passover seder for the first time ever after the father abruptly retires. There are various family dramas and heartbreaks, and the seder, it seems at first, is just a vehicle for the human stories.

But if you look closer, the play is really about how ritual is what you make of it. Ritual offers comfort in times of mourning; ritual grounds you in times of chaos; ritual plays on memories; ritual provides catharsis in moments of deep frustration.

The play is also about how no one person gets to decide what ritual means for someone else. Throughout the play, various characters offer musings on what Passover is “about.” Each character is, in their own way, both right and wrong. It means different things to different people.

Of course, ritual is performative — and that’s a good thing. Characters throughout the show question why the family, who has never hosted a seder, much less celebrated any Jewish holidays before, is doing so now. But the performance is the point: it helps us work through our emotions and, maybe, begin to understand what it all means. As a viral tweet recently reminded us, “performative” does not mean “fake.” 

We All Fall Down gives us bold, complex characters, not the least of which is the ritual itself. In my opinion, it was the real star of the show.

Rachel Eisen is Mayyim Hayyim’s Director of Development. She loves finding connections to Mayyim Hayyim’s work in all kinds of art and culture.

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