A musical about baking bread

A reflection on Israel’s blind and deaf theatre troupe
Sourdough is the original bread our ancestors made thousands of years ago. Photo by Shutterstock

Two years ago, sitting in a packed theatre in Tel Aviv on my senior year Israel trip, I turned to Ariana Handelman — my friend and classmate of nine years — unable to name the clean, slightly sweet aroma filling the room.

“Do you smell that?”

“They’re baking bread,” she said. “Look.”

Sure enough, at the far corner of the stage, I watched as members of the Nalagaat ensemble carefully placed trays of freshly kneaded dough into an oven.

The Nalagaat Center at the Old Jaffa Port

The only theatre troupe of blind-deaf members in the world, Nalagaat makes you believe that anything is possible. Only in Israel can you find deaf actors delivering eloquent monologues, blind actors moving across the stage with apparent ease, and everyone — together — baking bread.

“It was inspiring to see how people played off of the strengths of others and used it to combat their challenges,” said Handelman when I asked, weeks later, how the show impacted her.

For me, the show debunked what I’d learned through years of musical theatre experience: you don’t need perfect harmonies or blocking to produce a moving performance. You just need Israel’s secret recipe — empathy, creativity, collaboration and homemade dough.

Nalagaat’s show, “Not By Bread Alone” bears a type of beauty you can’t name, one you can only feel. And that’s precisely the point: “Nalagaat” literally translates in Hebrew to “please do touch.” Unity, demonstrates the Nalagaat cast, is tangible. More than heard, seen or spoken, the community Nalagaat creates can be intimately felt.

Instead of clapping, the audience at the Nalaga’at Center wave hands back and forth so that the actors can see and receive their praise. Photo by Benny Doutsh

After the performance, my entire senior class flooded the stage to congratulate the performers. I will never forget the firm handshakes, the gracious smiles or the extra bread the Nalagaat members tried to sneak us from the wings. For the actors, it was routine; for us, it was unforgettable.

We finally filed out of the theatre. Making our way back to the youth hostel, we stopped at a port to just sit, think and reflect. Some of my classmates sat on rocks overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, while others walked along the water’s edge. Some of us were talking; some were silent. Everyone felt connected.

When I return to Israel this summer, I will definitely make an effort to see Nalagaat again. Since the COVID-19 pandemic arose, connections with family and friends have felt even more necessary. The urgency felt with strengthening those relationships was also felt at Nalagaat; the organization puts on shows and has a restaurant with blind and deaf servers, too. Nalagaat is a unique opportunity, one which I cannot encourage you to experience more. Learn more about Nalagaat here or watch a short video to see what Nalagaat has to offer!

Groundbreaking Israel content is developed by ISRAEL21c’s Digital Ambassadors.

My name is Dina Barrish, and I’m a sophomore journalism major at the University of Texas at Austin. I’m so excited to collaborate with such an enthusiastic group of college students to research and report on arts and culture in Israel. My love for Israel stems from my family and years of Jewish education, and I look forward to furthering my knowledge of both Israel and journalism through ISRAEL21c!

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