As the co-founder of 24/6: A Jewish Theater Company, Yoni Oppenheim has been adapting classical theater to address issues unique to the Jewish community since 2010.
“While in school for a master’s degree in Ibsen Studies, it struck me that the issues that Henrik Ibsen, a founder of modern theater, wrote about over a century ago remain pressing concerns for our community today,” Oppenheim said. “The misuse of power and communal funds, the role of women and the tensions when modernity and tradition collide, are all relevant to the modern Jewish community.”
The company re-imagines classical plays within the context of Jewish life. In one such production, Ibsen’s “Doll House,” the characters corresponded to those in Megillat Esther; the theme was feminism as it relates to Jewish life today.
Oppenheim and 24/6 co-founder Avi Soroka first met at Yeshiva University High School, where they directed and performed in its first musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Oppenheim went on to study at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where he was the only shomer Shabbat, kipa-wearing student among over 1,000 undergraduates.
In a world filled with Jewish doctors, lawyers, and accountants, Oppenheim’s professional pursuits are unique. Though he faced discouragement from others in his community, he is grateful it never came from those most important to him. “I was raised with a deep appreciation for the value of culture and the arts in nourishing a spiritual life,” he said, “and my family and close friends have always been supportive of my theatrical pursuits.”
But Oppenheim, who lives in Washington Heights with his wife, Rivka, and daughter, Hadar, is cognizant of the fact that other artistically inclined Jews haven’t been so lucky.
“Theater helps people be more empathetic, and we believe our community needs more empathy to grapple with many of its challenges,” he said. “Our company allows the increasing number of Shabbat-observant theater artists in our community to have a voice in the conversation.”
Royal debut: Yoni once did Hebrew voiceover dubbing for an episode of the TV show “Royal Pains” for a scene involving Israeli security guards.