It’s hard to leave a conference early. I’ve left full day and a half before the end and, in this case, because of the rush of events and last-minute involvements on a playwrights panel, running a lunch-time producers forum, and getting enlisted to act in two scenes for an evening showcase, I’ve left without saying enough goodbyes; without finishing important discussions, surprised by this very feeling of regret. I leave my hotel at 5 AM because big events this weekend in Washington call – including the song cycle SOUTH SIDE STORIES at 6th and I on Sunday, and a reading of its companion project, THE SOUTH SIDE: RACIAL TRANSFORMATION OF AN AMERICAN NEIGHBORHOOD in our space on Monday — so leaving early was always part of the plan. But I wasn’t expecting regret – the mark of a good conference, I surmise. This inspiring collection of international artists and scholars (including professors Shimon Levy, Robert Sloot, Ellen Schiff and Michael Posnick) and some dear old friends (and now some new ones) has made me rue the missing of Friday’s morning plenary, the annual business meeting (they had asked me to consider becoming president of the Association; I immediately said no, I didn’t think I could; didn’t think I should; didn’t want to, but now, the tinge, again, of regret, and the reality of an inconclusive end to the issue). I rue the missing of a performance piece at the Australian Embassy of an Australian feminist Jewish modernized KING LEAR (feeling increasingly close to Australia these days, what with the imminent arrival of Thomas Keneally for EITHER OR rehearsals in April); and missing the farewell dinner and other wrap-up panels and performances.
It was wonderful re-uniting with Motti Lerner. This Israeli playwright may be the closest thing I have to an older brother and I do love him and, on this trip, grew to admire his talent and vision all the more. First, his rewrite of PANGS OF THE MESSIAH is another great leap forward on the project. So there’s that to celebrate with him when he finally arrives. On Thursday morning, in another one of our grand settings – this one the Vienna Theatre Museum where Beethoven spent a lot of time “hanging out” – Motti delivers a knock-out speech on the imperatives of Jewish political theater and makes the case, better than anyone I’ve ever heard or read, for why Jews should choose to affirm their Jewish identity – for Motti his Jewish-ness, like his Israeli-ness, is a choice that must be investigated, questioned and ratified everyday; there’s no taking for granted staying Jewish or staying Israeli; not when there’s so much pain involved; there should be a benefit — and the benefit he points to are Jewish contributions to culture and social justice. To be Jewish is to engage in a twin commitment to Tikkun Olam and self-reflection – an intertwined internal/external engagement with the world and the evolving self. Jews historically have been agents for social change and reform and creativity and that contribution must be honored, owned and added to. Motti outlines ten charges for a committed Jewish theater – charges to re-examine on stage critical aspects of our times and our lives. The list comprises the biggest issues at stake in our lives as Jews (and I’ll post a copy of the entire speech as soon as I get an electronic copy of it). But the ideas are so strong that I’ll recap them here.
Motti Lerner asks us that the Jewish theater…
1) Re-examine the foundations of Jewish religion and Jewish law as they apply to the ever-changing modern world
2) Re-examine the place of Jewish law within Israeli society (and question the separations between church and state)
3) Examine anew the Arab-Israeli conflict
4) Examine anew the relationship between Judaism and other religions and wither the newest alliance between the Christian Right and modern Zionism
5) Examine anew the relationship between the Diaspora and Israel (is Israel still “the insurance policy of the Jewish People” or has it become, with new threats from its neighbors, “the most dangerous place on earth for Jews?)
6) Re-examine the viability of pluralism within Israel and in the Diaspora, both religiously and ethnically, as new issues racial difference, sexual preference, non-traditional families and intermarriage threaten the sense of Klal Yisrael more than ever before
7) Examine the relationship between Jewish communities of plenty and Jewish communities in distress, both in history (see American Jewry’s response to the Holocaust) and more contemporary interventions—or abstentions from intervention
8] Re-examine Jewish ethics and behavior in business
9) Re-examine new and old models of anti-Semitism all over the world trying to decipher the fraudulent textual sources for anti-Semitism (examining the origins of The Protocols of the Elders of Zionism) and better understand what the Koran and Islam teach as we come to reckon with modern Islamic Fundamentalism, while also addressing Holocaust denial and the threat of terrorism
10) Re-examine the state of Jewish memory and address what’s been lost, preserving language and literature (including Yiddish and Ladino) while examining how memory is being used politically.
At dinner, Motti shows me the brilliant set design for PANGS OF THE MESSIAH created by the Israeli designer Kinereth Kish who will be one of three Israeli designers working with us, together with Israeli director Sinai Peter, on the June English language premiere of Motti’s new updated play. I know now that the production will be fantastic. If I can, we’ll post a photograph of set model here as well. Why? Because it’ll really make you feel like you’re both inside a beautifully detailed West Bank settlement but at the same time, you’ll feel outside of it as well, as the red roof dwelling is set against a photographic recreation of an entire settlement town surrounded by craggy hillside, brush and boulders, and, of course, several Palestinian villages.
PANGS OF THE MESSIAH will pack a punch and illuminate the tensions within an extended family of religious settlers. In fact, it may be one of the more explosive plays we’ve ever produced. My time with Motti is much too short and I shudder to think about what I’m soon to agree to do – which is fly to Israel for a production meeting with the composer, set and costume designer, and director as well. Everyone there wants me to come over and confer and it’s the right thing to do… But am I really going in the middle of Passover for the weekend? Oy. The head hurts contemplating.
Well, the next connection is boarding. I’m in London now heading home to DC. The feelings of rue now replaced by excitement as I can’t wait to see my family again – I’ve bought them gifts. We’ve missed each other tons.
And the same goes for the theater. It’ll be wonderful to be back. And then other people will get to blog on here. Like Sherry Glaser. And hopefully Thomas Keneally too. And I’ll be back as a blogger too. Every day? Me thinks not. But you never know…
See you on the other side of the pond.