Abraham's Daughters, written by Masa Israel Journey alum, Elissa Lerner, is a new play featured at this summer's New York Fringe International Festival. The play tells the story of the intersection between college and religion in a way that many of us can relate to.
The plot begins on the first day of freshman year with Sarah waiting for her roommate to arrive. All she knows is that her name is Ranya and that she might be from the Midwest, which leaves Sarah and her friend Will from Jewish summer camp somewhat mystified. But when Ranya shows up wearing a headscarf, it's clear that she's actually from a well-known Muslim neighborhood in Michigan. Both Ranya and Sarah become friends with Kate, a Methodist girl from South Carolina and go on to experience all the firsts of freshman year – frat parties, hook ups and fights.
"What’s interesting in a straightforward domestic plotline is how these characters bring their own religious traditions to otherwise familiar situations," says Elissa.
Having grown up in a Conservative Jewish household in Queens, studied religion at Duke, and Arabic at Qatar University followed by Middle Eastern Studies at Ben Gurion University
, Elissa certainly has experience living in diverse religious settings.
"With a strong formal Jewish education, I went on to study Christianity and Islam during and after college," says Elissa. "I'm interested in how these different backgrounds perceive each other and how people incorporate their religious views into their lives."
While living in Doha, Qatar, Elissa experienced the difficulty of being a Westerner living in the Gulf. "While I loved learning Arabic and still keep in touch with many of the girls from the program, I'm used to different kinds of freedoms and it was tough to accept travel restrictions and a 10 PM curfew in an all-women dorm."
At Masa Israel's Overseas Student Program at Ben Gurion University, she was able to continue studying Arabic both in class and outside of class by swapping language lessons with her Arab peers. She also traveled around Israel, visiting old friends and new, and meeting other students who were equally as passionate about Middle Eastern issues. "It was a great opportunity," says Elissa. "Only from living in the country can you get a real understanding of it."
Now pursuing a dual masters in religion and journalism at NYU, Elissa is writing her thesis on an idea she formulated in a masters class on regional geopolitics at Ben Gurion University. The week after she learned her play was accepted into the Fringe Festival, she set out on a month-long research trip to Israel.
"I think it’s fascinating how religion affects every other aspect of our lives, especially at the local level," says Elissa. “The characters and their experiences in Abraham's Daughters really come into play at American colleges. As they say, write what you know. So I did."