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Daniel Thau-Eleff

Jane Enkin Interviews playwright, Daniel Thau-Eleff, about WJT's Narrow Bridge -from March 11-19

by Jane Enkin, February 14, 2023

Narrow Bridge

Winnipeg Jewish Theatre March 11-19, 2023  preview March 9

Interview with the playwright, Daniel Thau-Eleff, by Jane Enkin


Daniel Thau-Eleff is delighted that the WJT is presenting his play, Narrow Bridge, originally slated to premiere in March 2020. Audiences may remember seeing a lovely one-act version of the play workshopped by WJT in 2018, but the current two-act script has deepened and grown.

The team working on this production brings a great deal of care and sensitivity to a story concerning gender and Jewish experience.


Narrow Bridge is about a person who is beginning a gender transition and, at the same time, discovering Orthodox Judaism. The idea came out of conversations with Thau-Eleff’s friend Ben Baader, a trans man who took on Orthodox practice. About ten years ago, Baader was connecting with Eshel, an organization for LGBT Orthodox Jews.Thau-Eleff was intrigued by Baader’s fascination with and admiration for people living an apparent contradiction, living as trans and Orthodox. “That’s the interest of the play, a seeming impossibility.”


While the story of the play is very different from Baader’s, his experience inspired the play and Thau-Eleff continued to consult with him. “It was wonderful to have him beside me through the whole journey,” said Thau-Eleff. “Ben helped me to stay rooted in the questions and curiosities that inspired the play in the first place.”


Questions are central to the script, including questions about the Jewish law which calls for a separation of men and women during worship, as well as other laws that differentiate between male and female roles. While other Jewish denominations have shifted their attitudes toward laws shaped by gender, Modern Orthodoxy continues to adhere to them. The mechitzah, the partition that separates the women’s and men’s sections of an Orthodox place of prayer, takes on a symbolic role in the play. “Theatre represents a unique opportunity to raise questions and explore struggles. It can bring the audience into those struggles.”


In the script, the woman Sam (Samantha) becomes the man Sholem. His transition affects the people around him. “The play is very much about family. Every character changes during the course of the play.”


Thau-Eleff himself was affected by his work on the play. He interviewed Baader, other trans people, some Jewish and some not, and other Jewish people, some trans and some not. He read widely in books and articles by and about trans people and Jewish topics. And he attended Queer Talmud Camp with Baader, and became much more familiar with Talmud. Talmud became a major component of the script, as Sholem connects with Orthodox Judaism through study.


Orthodoxy, Thau-Eleff said, is the most diverse, the least centralized of all the Jewish denominations. All Orthodox communities share a commitment to halacha, the laws of Judaism. But halacha, he clarified, does not exist separately from interpretation. Taking the laws seriously involves applying them to real-life situations. An increasing number of Modern Orthodox rabbis recognize that there are trans people in their communities, and “if you find yourself with a trans congregant, and if you have the courage, you have to find a way to make this work.”


The questions, for Sholem, his family, and his mentor, Mendel, are not easy to negotiate. As the program note for the play mentions, Rebbe Nachman said, “All the world is a very narrow bridge.”


After all his research and thought, Thau-Eleff is thrilled that audiences will soon have the opportunity to experience Narrow Bridge. Over the years, the script has improved, he feels, with a few increasingly small but significant changes.


What’s next for Thau-Eleff? “I am currently a Master's student in Peace and Conflict Studies, with a focus on theatre and peacebuilding. I am also working on a short video with Manitoba Harm Reduction Network called "Peer Voices." We're going to release it on social media, as well as on the Moving Target website (”


Meanwhile, come enjoy the fascinating journey offered by Narrow Bridge.


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