Miriam LEAH Droz, 35
Twitter: @drozmr, @artsandtorah
Miriam Droz, who grew up in a secular Jewish home, always wanted to be on stage. She’d been involved in theater, singing and dance all her life, but when she started to become more religious in college, at Barnard, those artistic hopes were put on hold.
“I was definitely made aware that women singing was not endorsed” in the right-wing religious community, said Droz, citing the time she spent at an Orthodox yeshiva in Israel after college. But she believes there are many Orthodox women who want to embrace the performing arts, so long as they align with religious law.
To that end, five years ago, she founded ATARA: The Association for Torah & Arts, which helps Orthodox women partake in the arts. The organization’s main event is an annual three-day conference where Orthodox women perform music, theater, dance and poetry all for themselves — with no men. It started with just 20 women, but now attracts about 80 women, and continues to grow. “The artists are more and more grateful,” Droz said, “but in the community around us, I’m still finding resistance.”
While Droz said she still gets derisive looks from some in her community, she’s encouraged by the comments of many Orthodox women themselves. Her group publishes a monthly newsletter that helps women nationwide find other budding artists to perform and rehearse with. And this year, she helped produce a series of Jewish-themed performances that focus on holidays like Tisha b’Av and Sukkot. Droz is committed to continuing ATARA’s work, though she is also working towards her Ph.D. from the Yeshiva University’s Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration. She’d like to use her skills to create a serious curriculum for the arts in women’s yeshivas, or perhaps even open a high school for the arts for religious Jews. “There’s fundamentally no contradiction between Torah and the arts,” she said. “The arts will beautify any religious message. But it’s really discouraging, I have to admit,” Droz said, referring to still nagging criticism. “But I believe in it.”
Favorite N.Y. performances: Any dance company performing works by Merce Cunningham; anything by New York City Ballet.