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It’s Perfect to be Imperfect

Adina TalFilmed at Limmud Conference 2015

This talk recounts the story of how I came to found the world-renowned Nalaga'at ('Please Touch') Theater Company after accepting an invitation to teach drama to a group of deaf-blind individuals. It changed not only the course of my life but also the lives of the deaf-blind; and it was a transformative experience for the hundreds of thousands in Israel and abroad who saw their performances. It also recounts the story of slowly understanding that only imperfect people can change the world -understanding that the saying "nobody is perfect" is an important truth as we are all imperfect. My conclusion being: "it's perfect to be imperfect."

Adina Tal was born and raised in Switzerland, and immigrated to Israel at the age of 20. She worked as an actress, playwright and theater director.
She co-founded with Eran Gur the world-renowned Nalaga’at (please touch) Theater Company in 2002 after accepting an invitation to teach drama to a group of deaf-blind individuals, an experience that changed her life, and the lives of hundreds of thousands in Israel and worldwide.
After 15 years of being the Company’s artistic director and President Adina decided to move forward, lectures in Israel and abroad, she develops a new model for a cultural social enterprise.

I have been in theatre all my life and I’ve been directing acting and life was actually very good to me. I had a lovely career and a lovely family and my kids grew up and I said well, “is this what life is all about?” I was really ready to be surprised. I wanted life to surprise me and then someone asked me, “would you like to give a drama group workshop for deaf blind people?” Would he have asked me five years ago, I would have said, “no! that does not interest me” but at this time, I said, “yes”. And he said to me this is going to take two months, only two months and I said, “when would you like to start?” and he said to me, “after the holidays”, and I said, “great.” In Israel “after the holidays” is something that never comes and if you don’t want to do something you say, “I’ll do it after the holidays”. So this was good for me but after the holy days came and I found myself driving from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, hoping that there would be some kind of storm so that I could go home, but nothing happened and I came there and I started to work with deaf blind people, what did I know about deaf blind people? Nothing, really nothing. I know a little bit about theatre, theatre is the art of communication between the actors and between the actors and the audience and deaf blind people, their biggest problem is communication so go and do theatre with people that their biggest problem is communication. I loved it. I mean I had no idea how you have to do this but we did a show, the first show, “Light is Heard in Zig Zag” and I asked them about their dreams and what would you like to do and one of them said to me, “I would love to drive a car deaf blind” and so I said, “no problem, you’ll do it on stage and you won’t drive a car, you’ll drive a bus” and this was the closing scene of our first show and then I said to all the other actors, “go on stage the way you would love to go on stage, so one goes on pregnant, one goes listening to music, one goes in reading the newspaper and one goes in limping. And I asked him, “could you please tell me why you are limping?” And he said, “what do you mean? I want a reduction”. And I said, “oh” – “A reduction in the bus!” “Yeah, I don’t want to pay full price”, and I thought you know, if he thinks that you need to limp, that being deaf and blind and non-verbal is not enough, we are on the right way. And I loved my job, I really loved it and I just want to tell you that those two months are 16 years ago and a lot of people would come up to me and say, “Oh, you are doing holy work”, “you are doing gods work”, “it’s incredible what you do” and I felt it was a big compliment, “Oh! If I am doing gods work it means that he is my boss, it’s a nice boss”, even my mother was pleased, she always hoped that I would work for a doctor, not be a doctor, work for a doctor, so having god as my boss was certainly second best.

And then we worked and we said we want to build a centre and we needed money and even god did not take care of our money and I started to fundraise, I had no idea how to fundraise. It’s asking people for money and you can’t always say it, you’re looking for a partner, but even if you’re looking for a partner what you want is money. I did not like this so much but we were organising a big fundraising event and one said to me, “you know I’ll give you money but you have to promise me that I don’t have to come and see the show, I have my own problems, this is too hard for me”, and I said, “OK”, and another one bought ten tickets for the fundraising event but he said he gave them to his co-workers. He said, “I bought the tickets I did the good deed now someone else is going to suffer” and it was OK. But it was a glorious night, it was a great night it was really something special and we were very proud and very happy and I said I want to send everyone, the big donors a lovely present, a picture of our new show “Not by Bread Alone”, a picture, I wrote something on it and I framed it and I sent it out. I was really happy and then I thought OK, nobody called me to say thank you, nobody said anything and then after about two weeks by coincidence I met one of our big donors and she had a big bandage on her hand and I asked her, “how did this happen to you?”

“You really don’t know? You sent out the picture with glass by post and it came and I opened the parcel put in my hand, lots of glass and I was cut all over my hand.” Oh my god. Who is the idiot? Who’s idea was it? I wanted to blame god, he was my boss but I still felt a little bit strange, I should not do this. She said, “you know, I met your big donors two days ago it was very easy to recognise them all they all had bandages or a band aid on their arms”. I called everyone, I said excuse me, I made a new version, a new inscription and I was very happy that they didn’t cancel their checks. I didn’t understand what the broken glass was trying to tell me and then I forgot about it. I usually don’t believe in coincidences but I somehow forgot about it, I was very busy with opening the centre and when we opened the centre it was like a big big success. Three shows a week, great reviews like the “deaf, blind and brilliant”, it was just great and for the actors also and the people would come into the theatre and they would say, “Uch, have you seen these actors, deaf and blind? It is so sad, so sad.” “And did you see this young and beautiful actress and she is deaf blind and she can’t even see herself in the mirror. It is so sad. We have to be so grateful for everything we have, that we can see, that we can hear” and I kept hearing this over and over and over again. And when they opened the centre I felt that it was perfect but then I started to feel that it might be too perfect. It might allow people just to come in, having the barrier between the actors and themselves and saying well they’re deaf blind, we are so lucky not to be deaf blind and it was then that I was remembering the tiny little pieces of glass that would not allow this barrier because the thing is if you come in and say, “thank god I’m not deaf, thank god I’m not blind”, you don’t ask yourself what are you then? And what can you learn from being in the theatre and seeing deaf blind people, what can you understand? It’s so much more. And I felt no, it’s not good to be perfect, its bad to be perfect and when started this journey and we continued it and the people really felt, and I really hope they did, this is not about deafness, this is not about blindness anymore, this is about us being imperfect. About us allowing ourselves to connect to the imperfectness that exists in us and by connecting to our own imperfectness, to embrace the imperfectness in other people, I think this is the first step to change the reality that we live in. Living in Israel is something that you always feel that you touch a wall and you want to go through it and you want to change reality, and yes, it is possible. And to see those deaf blind people on stage, having the courage to live life they knew, not a good life maybe but still it’s like old shoes, they’re comfortable. To go, to break through silence and through darkness and having the courage to demand for themselves the most basic of human rights, to take upon themselves, to have the duty to give to society, because only by giving to society you will be part of society. And I do believe, I decided that I don’t want god as my boss anymore. I said to him, “I’m leaving, I quit, it’s not you it’s me.” To be Jewish is to be imperfect; maybe it’s OK for you to be perfect it’s not ok for me to be perfect.  I want this imperfectness, I needed this broken glass and I want it to be part of my journey. And yes, NaLagaat became a very special experience, thousands and seven hundred thousand people have seen NaLagaat in Israel and all over the world. Our actors became snobs, I mean I told them about three years ago, “we’re going to perform in New York” and they said to me, “New York again?” I said, “are you kidding me? Seeing and hearing actors would kill to perform in New York, in Manhattan”. And they say, “yes, but why in winter?” They complain about the money, they say it’s not good money, they love to shop, they buy the whole world when being outside and I think yes, we did it, they did it. A lot of people came to see the show. A lot of people asking, embarking on this journey of looking inside and finding perfectness existing inside us and I took the most difficult decision of my life a year ago and decided to leave NaLagaat, the project of my life and I felt that I had to go on and I wanted to open this platform, this meeting point for other people in society and I knew that I had to leave before moving on and I said that I’m leaving, after many sleepless nights, moments of big happiness, big fears, many tears and it was like I stopped and I had no chance to stop gradually, I went from very fast to zero. My heart and my soul and my body were shocked. And I started to teach and I loved it and also in the college and lectures in Israel and abroad and still something was missing I felt. And then it was one of my students who came up to me and wanted to talk to me about her work she did with ex-prisoners, and I thought well this is interesting. A week later a friend of mine from Switzerland came to see me and said, “Adina do you remember when we were young, we started to work in a prison and then you decided to move to Israel and we left it.” No I don’t remember, I don’t remember but I said I don’t believe in coincidences. Two people talk to me about prisons and I felt yes, this is what I want to do. I want to open and give this new platform for women, ex-prisoners, for women that come out of prison and are looking and trying to make a new life. And people said to me, and I can even hear you from here, “how dare you compare deaf blind people with ex-prisoner. The deaf and blind are unfortunate, they’re not responsible for being deaf and blind! But ex-prisoners? They had a choice.” Are you sure? Are you sure they had a choice? I think a lot of them don’t have a choice, it’s a path, it’s paved and even if they had a choice, don’t you think they deserve a new chance? Don’t they deserve to go on a new journey? And yes I think they do and yes I think they will because I really do think it’s perfect to be imperfect.

Thank you

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