The Jew in the Ashram is a poignant, funny, and lightly interactive solo show about cultural exchange, spiritual healing and identity. As a young woman, Amanda Miller travels from New York City to an ashram in India to overcome her struggles with mental health. Under the guidance of Purnima, an exuberant Indian guru, Amanda is immersed in traditional yoga practices that provoke reflections on prayer, Jewish summer camp, and the role of Judaism in the lives of her late father, David, and his biological mother, Esther, a Holocaust survivor he never met. At select moments, the audience is invited to move, chant, and reflect on their own spiritual journeys and identities—the ones we inherit and the ones we make for ourselves.
RUNNING TIME: Approximately 60 minutes.
TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS: A hook up to a PA System is needed to play sound cues off a Macbook laptop computer. The show can be done with or without projections.
ORIGINS: In 2013, Amanda Miller published the memoir One Breath, Then Another about her quest to avoid her father David’s self-destructive path. Amanda struggled with similar mental health issues and in the years after David’s death found her way to the healing arts, first through massage therapy and then yoga. Inspired by the profound benefits of yoga practice on her mind, body and spirit, Amanda felt pulled to travel to India to study it further. After some light research, she found herself on an Indian ashram participating in an international English-speaking yoga teacher training. There, she reflected on mortality and the workings of her mind, learning to let go and surrender to the present moment.
Soon after the memoir’s publication Amanda decided to turn the book into a one-woman show and One Breath, Then Another: An Interactive Yoga Show was born. The yoga teacher training became the show’s dominant arc and Amanda made it interactive by inviting the audience to practice chanting, breath work, simple movements and meditation to simulate experiences from the ashram. Details of Amanda’s past were revealed through memories triggered by experiences on the ashram, offering audience members the opportunity to reflect on their own journeys.
While the topic of Jewish identity was present in both the memoir and the show, it was not the main focus. When Amanda started working as a guest artist/educator at a Jewish middle school, she considered the importance of performances geared toward Jewish teens and young adults. Since her story addressed common issues that teens and young adults faced (eating disorders, depression, strained relationships with parents), Amanda was moved to revise the show for this intended age group. She also decided to highlight her reflections on Jewish identity, emphasizing the ways in which her Jewish community and practices had provided healing and support in her life since she was young. The tools she had gained from yoga practice enhanced her relationship to Judaism and she believed there was a way to combine the two while honoring the origins of both.
Then, Amanda’s family decided to research her father’s birth mother through his adoption agency. In doing so, they uncovered case notes about his birth mother’s life and the circumstances under which she gave up her baby. She was a Polish Holocaust survivor who moved from Europe to a maternity residence in New York until she gave birth, after which David was adopted by a Long Island rabbi. Fascinated by the role that ancestry and legacy plays in our sense of identity, Amanda decided to make her biological grandmother a character in the show, exploring the ways her life experience may have impacted Amanda’s father and Amanda herself. As the case notes did not provide a name for her grandmother, Amanda called her Esther.
Since Amanda has been performing The Jew in the Ashram in varied spaces for varied audiences since October 2018, she has found that it can speak to people of all ages from teen to senior, Jew or non Jew—all who are searching for ways to live a meaningful life.