When Krieger Schechter Day School needed someone with the skillset to direct their eighth-grade, Hebrew-language production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” they found their answer in Ofir Ben-Ari.
Ben-Ari, 27, normally lives in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya with her wife, Noa. But while directing the student play, she stayed in Pikesville. She holds a degree from Haifa University in political science and the history of the Jewish people, and she studied musical theater and dancing at the Tarbut School in Israel. Over the past 10 years, she has directed performances all over the Jewish state.
Krieger Schechter’s eighth graders performed the Hebrew-language version of “Fiddler on the Roof” on March 14 and 15.
How did you originally get involved in the world of theater?
I was born to a secular family in Tel Aviv, and my mother was a dancer in Batsheva Company. … I learned in a great high school for art in Tel Aviv, and I learned theater there and musicals, and I loved it. And my biggest dream was to move to New York or Berlin and be an artist there.
How would you describe “Fiddler on the Roof” and its importance?
“Fiddler on the Roof” is a classic play, and it’s part of the DNA of being Jewish. It’s a play that talks about all the dilemmas that were relevant 100 years ago and also now. And it’s so amazing, because it’s talking about being Jewish in a place [where] you are the minority.
How fluent were your students in Hebrew, and did staging the play in Hebrew prove to be an extra challenge?
There is a different level between them, like some of them arrived to Krieger Schechter when they were fifth grade or sixth grade. So you can see the differences. But in general, they learn Hebrew but they cannot speak it fluently, they cannot understand it fluently, so that was a big challenge for them. But they did it. They worked hard. They tried to understand every word that they said. So I think now they know so much Hebrew, and they love Hebrew. They feel connected to this language, and I think it’s a great bridge to feel connected to Judaism and to Israel as well.
What did you most enjoy about working with Krieger Schechter students?
They are very creative and they are smart. And they love the fact that they’re Jewish, and they see Judaism as a joyful thing. And they taught me to look at myself as Jewish, as something like this. They gave me a lot of inspiration.
Now that the play is over, what are your plans for the future?
I think that I just feel that this experience opened my mind to learn more about the American Jewish people and the beautiful Judaism that you created here. And I think I want to go to a special M.A. [program], that I will learn [more about] this history. And maybe I will continue in this direction to create bridges between the Jewish [people] in Israel and … here.