[note the post-script below to correct misperceptions from those who never attended the event nor read our press release. But first, from J Street…]
“The decision to feature Seven Jewish Children at Theater J should be judged not on the basis of the play’s content but, rather, on its value in sparking a difficult but necessary conversation within our community. To preclude even the possibility of such a discussion does a disservice not only to public discourse, but also to the very values of rigorous intellectual engagement and civil debate on which our community prides itself.
J Street takes no position on the content of Seven Jewish Children – it is, after all, a play, and not policy. We do, however, stand unequivocally behind Theater J in its decision to feature programming that examines different facets of this critical debate over how our community can best support Israel. Such an opportunity for individual and collective reflection is integral in informing our shared interest in bringing true peace and security to Israel.
– Amy Spitalnick
J Street | www.jstreet.org
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Please note for all those continuing to read this important letter from J Street:
Theater J never “produced” nor did we ever “stage” Caryl Churchill’s 10 minute play, SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN (A PLAY FOR GAZA); we held a two-night “critical inquiry” about it, inviting panelists to hear the play and then discuss it; we invited Israeli and American artists to write their own response plays to it. And I (Ari Roth, artistic director of the theater) in a lengthy introduction, explained that the most effective way to both understand and criticize the play would be to hear it as it was intended to be heard; as a piece of theater recited by actors.
Once again, we never “produced” the play; it was read (in both Hebrew and English) as a critical exercise, to better discuss and analyze it. The play lasted 8 minutes. It proved itself to be better than its detractors would have you believe, and we could come to understand what was unfair about it. The act of presenting the piece allowed us to demystify it. The act of being in dialogue with Carly Churchill herself allowed us to see her not as a flaming anti-Semite but as a dramatist who was moved out of twin sympathies and a sense of tragic historical irony that Jews once under siege were now laying siege. That’s the aspect of her play to which most Jews are most angered; it suggests an implicit meaning that Jews who once suffered at the hands of the Nazis are now behaving like Nazis. That’s not what the play says, or shows, but that’s the trope that has inflamed discussion around it. As you know, there are many ways to interpret a line of text. Churchill’s plays–and she’s regarded as one of the finest playwrights in the world–are frequently open-ended and elusive. Her short text, SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN, required an informed Jewish response from a theater that could both grapple with the theatrical challenge in presenting her words artfully, while still providing a Jewish context and frame through which to view her work coolly and rationally.
Our community and critics appreciated the effort to bring light to the subject. You can read the Washington Post’s front page assessment of our handling of the situation here.
‘Seven’ Revels In Not Only Acting, but Interacting
By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 27, 2009