“Sacred Resistance,” the new one-woman show at the The Braid performance space at the Jewish Women’s Theatre, opens with storyteller-actor Vicki Juditz listing her outings for the week. On her docket is a series of protests, sit-ins and political action meetings about very serious problems, but her delivery — deadpan, earnest, slightly wry — makes this litany of “do-gooding” funny.
At one of these events, she could be arrested. But she’s single and her daughter has gone off to college. “You know, for years, I just didn’t have the time to be incarcerated,” she says, poking gentle fun at her almost obsessive drive to do good.
The play then backtracks to trace the evolution of her highly active social conscience, and her conversion to Judaism.
Juditz was raised Lutheran by German-American parents (though, as she learns, her last name suggests a Jewish heritage). While in her 20s in New York, her main goal was to land a man. She decided to convert to Judaism as a way to lure her noncommittal Jewish beau down the aisle.
She meets with a stern and gloomy rabbi who tells her that, as a Jew, she will never again celebrate Christmas or Easter. She starts crying. “How could I tell him how much I loved Santa? And the Easter Bunny?”
Juditz presents herself in these early years as flighty, marriage-obsessed and a little shallow. She spends a lot of time describing clothing. It becomes apparent that this focus on clothing is a metaphor for her early years of “trying on” identities — literally stepping into each outfit. She buys a “sexy girlfriend” sundress, then, after meeting the rabbi and visiting Williamsburg, N.Y., she buys a Chasidic-style sweater and “Marlo Thomas wig.” Later, she buys a “respectable German lady” skirt and silk blouse.
The relationship with the equivocal boyfriend ends, as does her conversion. But when she stumbles upon a sukkah at New York University, she sits down with the rabbi inside it and finds herself inexplicably moved.
Later, after moving to Los Angeles, she helps an elderly woman onto a bus. The woman, a Polish immigrant, tells her about a charismatic rabbi offering conversion classes. Juditz attends and begins the conversion process again. The value of the religion grows the more time she spends with it.
Christianity is based on belief, this new rabbi tells her, whereas Judaism is about responsibility. The notion of Judaism as a call toward responsibility forms a core theme of the play. When Juditz invites herself to her octogenarian friend’s home for Shabbat, she learns the old woman lost almost every member of her family in the Holocaust.
Juditz then watches Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 documentary “Shoah,” and visits her (non-Jewish) aunt and uncle in Germany. She hears about their struggles during and after World War II, and empathizes. Yet, she asks herself, does the acceptance of evil and participation in it come from lacking that core sense of responsibility? Without a reminder of your obligation to others, is it too easy for ordinary people to be swayed? After her visit to Germany, she commits to Judaism with new fervor.
Juditz’s story is a complex one, albeit presented in a light, humorous way. It touches people in very different ways. I was moved by the part about her life as a late 20-something — the open, free-flowing quest for meaning and identity that often characterizes that age. For others in the audience, it was more of a Holocaust play. One woman was in tears on opening night. “I lost a lot of family in the Holocaust,” she said.
After the show, Juditz told the Journal, “We’re all human, but the only way we can survive horrible times, like now, is if we look inside to our sense of responsibility. We all have the capability to take responsibility for what’s right. I found it in Judaism, but you can find it elsewhere, too.”
“Sacred Resistance” is at The Braid, 2912 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica. Tickets, $30-$35. jewishwomenstheatre.org.
Wendy Paris is a writer living in Los Angeles.