PANGS of Re-birth and New Birth: New Dialogues

from Stephen Stern, our panel planner (and so much more)

Ari has reported on the first week of the return of PANGS OF THE MESSIAH and Wednesday night we embarked on a new series of post-show audience talk-backs with guests on our stage. And it’s been the audience, along with the PANGS Israeli and American artistic team, and informed and caring guests who’ve brought scintillating dialogue to the first run of PANGS.

(And speaking of dialogue, I am wearing a new hat for the Washington DCJCC – in addition to my Theater Council Vice-Chair and Program kippah – as Director of Dialogues and Public Affairs – but I’ll end this blog with a brief mention of that new chapeau – back to my passion for PANGS).

Wednesday night, veteran guest (he’s achieved permanent guest host status!) Paul Scham of the Middle East Institute will join Rabbi Barry Freundel of Georgetown’s Kesher Israel Congregation on stage for the post-show talk back — a continued interplay between the “policy community” reflecting on the play and engagement of the Orthodox Jewish community here.

Thursday, September 6 after the show, David Makovsky, eminent scholar and policy analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (who davens I believe at Kemp Mill synagogue) embodies at least a bit both of those worlds will join me for a talk back with the audience after the show, which will include a contingent from Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School Israel Contemporary Issues classes.

On Monday, the 10th, Rafi Dajani, Executive Director of the American Task Force on Palestine (a group who from a strong Palestinian national and human rights perspective is reaching out to explore the realities of a two-state solution) will join me.

Sunday the 16th after the 3pm show, the American Univesity Center for Israeli Studies Director Russell Stone, and Israeli lawyer, anthropologist, mediator visiting professor, Naomi Gale, will hear our audience and offer their perspectives.

For the final performance, Sunday September 16th at 7:30, I will be joined by our friend and colleauge in conversations (with a small and capital C) Israel, Michael Balf, Israeli schliach (emissary) to our Federation’s Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning. And watch this and other Theater J spaces for word of another possible guest or two.

I hope that many of you have seen the extraordinary range of writings and videos that came from the discussions of the first run of PANGS. They are here on this blog, look at them, respond to them, and perhaps more will come out of this round of performances and responses. We’ve been reminded in these pages (do blogs have pages?) by Avi West that the very name that Jacob took on –Y’Israel — the name that became the people Israel, reflects a wrestling — a struggle at a crossroads.

PANGS Israeli director Sinai Peter, in one of the very first post-show discussions, expressed a passion to know American response to the Israeli vision of this play. For American Jews, for Americans in general, and for all of the communities involved, he asked us to go beyond praise (and I would add beyond reflexive criticism) and engage in a shared responsibility to look at the Israeli dilemma, to look at the Palestinian dilemma– and find a fuller caring involvement with the difficulties of this land and its peoples between the river and the sea. I know that Sinai and Motti, and all of us involved have been gratified by our wrestling, by your responses.

I have been overwhelmed by the care and deep involvement of people who have responded to this play, even the criticism has been sharp, but engaged. There is much in this writing and its depiction that is a very bitter pill for American Jews to swallow. For one very prominent long time mentor and friend, a man whose lifetime has consisted of enormous contributions to this country and the world, it was too much. He’d seen the play, and I tried to entice him to come back and join an on-stage dialogue. But for him, to see the extremism within this Israeli family, was dangerous mischaracterization – a depiction of a fringe element that is far outweighed by Israeli creativity, humanity, and embattled right to survive on some agreed sovereign patch of land within historic Eretz Y’Israel.

I am with him on the creativity, humanity and right to sovereignty – but these nationalist religious settlers are also “flesh of our flesh”, our brothers and sisters. The play is a strong warning against their extremism, but almost unimaginably full and compassionate as they break apart under the pressures of losing their home. We have been reminded by Muslim and Christian onstage guests that they too feel compassion and a warning about their own extremists in watching this masterful play and production. We see deeply into Shmuel and Amalia’s living room and care for all of them, all the while looking out their window and hearing through the glare of their TV of the other Israeli, Arab, American and international lives and communities who are literally shaken by their actions and their plight. Come see it, come respond.

(And come visit me as Washington DCJCC Director of Dialogues and Public Affairs at www.washingtondcjcc.org/dialogues (well not quite yet, I am still not fully trained on website management). There you will see programs on Israeli social action and American politics and leadership, and Embassy visits in October and November. Check it out on Monday, Septebmer 10 or make an email inquiry to dialogues@washingtondcjcc.org.) But first, I’ll see you at the Goldman Theater.