Every year, the girls of the Upper School of the Atlanta Jewish Academy create a Chagiga, a production that is completely “by women, for women.” The girls write, direct, produce, and act in this full-scale show, or work behind the scenes.
The newest play, “Raizel’s Riddle,” will be presented Jan. 27-28 at the AJA theater. Summer Pitocchelli wrote and directed it, and it was produced by Sela Ratner and Maayan Starr.
Women and girls throughout the Atlanta Jewish community come to see the production, now in its 30th year.
Pitocchelli gave us the lowdown on what the play is about and the motivation behind its local performance.
“Raizel’s Riddle” was inspired by a children’s book by Erica Silverman, Pitocchelli said.
“It takes place in 1870s Russia, where one girl, Raizel, shows a small village the importance of educating Jewish girls about their heritage. While her Jewish connection and the Torah education that her grandfather gave her is demonstrated to be an unpopular position in her new town, she is determined to come home and find the place where she truly belongs,” the young writer-director explained.
“The general theme of the play is the importance of female Jewish education, especially set in a time period where the norm was not in favor of educating girls. It is also about the importance of the Jewish community and how that transforms Judaism from a belief system into a lifestyle.”
The theme has personal meaning for Pitocchelli, she said.
“Jewish education has always been very important to me. I recognize it as a privilege to be able to receive such an education, and I’ve always been very thankful to the teachers and classmates who have put up with my endless questions and theories about the Torah texts.
“That said, the importance of women in Judaism has also been an idea that interested me, seeing as a majority of the popular characters in Tanach study are male. I thought it was important, especially to the young women in our community, to show just how present and influential women have been in the history of our people. For example, it is no accident that one of the main characters in this year’s play is named Raizel, after (according to some of the historical documents) Sarah Schenirer’s mother.”
Schenirer started Bais Yaakov, the girls’ education movement that swept across Europe in the early 20th century, Pitocchelli said.
She said the AJA students started writing the play in April and ended in September with final edits and historical checks.
“Due to the fact that this is an all-female production, many of the girls in the crew are also actors. With a 17-person cast and approximately 45 girls in various committees, we are also joined by numerous parents and community members to make our production possible. Chagiga is a community-wide effort, and for a play about the Jewish community, this is fitting!”
Chagiga is an annual tradition of the AJA Upper School, “continued from the days of Yeshiva Atlanta,” she said.
Her own path to director was several years in the making. “For me, ever since I saw my first Chagiga in eighth grade and discovered it was written and directed by a student a couple of years older than me, I knew I wanted to direct it one day. Entering high school, I participated as an actress for three years, culminating in becoming the playwright and director as a senior. It was and still is my dream, and it has been a dream to work with my incredible cast, my extraordinary producers, and my amazing community to make this a reality.”
“Raizel’s Riddle” will be presented at 6 p.m. Jan. 27 and 7 p.m. Jan. 28 at the AJA theater, 5200 Northland Drive, Atlanta, 30342. Tickets are $18 for women ($20 at the door), $15 for girls ($28 at the door), and $12 for AJA girls, and are available here. Hors d’oeuvres will be served before each show.