A New Response Play to 7JC – By Israel Horovitz: WHAT GOOD FENCES MAKE

from Israel Horovitz
(and check out this related piece in The Jerusalem Post)

A few months ago, when British dramatist Caryl Churchill’s controversial Seven Jewish Children was first offered to theatres, world-wide, via the internet, I was contacted by Ari Roth, Artistic Director of Theater J in Washington, DC. Mr. Roth was about to produce Seven Jewish Children, and asked me to read the Churchill play and write what he called “a response piece”. On reading Ms. Churchill’s play, which I found to be offensive — distorted and manipulative — my initial reaction was to not respond … certainly not to create a “competing” play to be shown in the same evening as the Churchill play… And so I stayed silent.

But, on reflection, a few weeks after Churchill’s play had come and gone from Theater J, I felt another voice needed to be heard. Over the past three weeks, I have written (and re-written) a new short play entitled What Strong Fences Make.

My play is, I think, simple and clear, and certainly needs no explanation from its author. But, I hasten to add that it’s a simple and clear stage-play that attempts to make a statement about a real-life situation that is anything but simple and clear. But, What Strong Fences Make is, most definitely, a different point of view from Caryl Churchill’s point of view, and certainly no less valid.

Theater J has agreed to make my play available to theatres, worldwide, via its website (go to http://www.theaterj.org, then click on “Middle East Festival”) and here on its blog (keep reading). Any theatre wishing to translate and produce this play may do so, royalty free. But, I ask that a collection be taken among audience members and a donation be made to One Family Fund (www.onefamilyfund.org), a charity offering aid to children wounded in attacks on Israel. (One Family Fund aids Israeli-Jews, Israeli-Arabs, Israeli-Druze, Israeli-Bedouins, and children of diplomats living in Israel.)

I am well aware that I am an American, living thousands of miles away from the profound moral dilemma that Israelis must face each and every day of their lives. But, I am very much a Jew, and, as a writer who spends nearly as much time in Paris and London, as I do in NYC, I am angered by the rise in anti-Semitism. It is possible to criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic, as it is possible to criticize Palestine without being anti-Arab. Those who criticize Jews in the name of criticizing Israel, as Ms. Churchill seems to have done in her play, step over an unacceptable boundary and must be taken to task.

What Strong Fences Make
A short play by Israel Horovitz

 

© Israel Horovitz 2009

 

Represented in the USA by Bruce Miller, Washington Square Arts and Film (Management).
Represented in France and Italy by Marie-Cècile Renauld, MCR-Agence Littéraire, Paris.
Represented in Germany by Bettina Migge, Gallansis, Berlin.

Boston Theatre Marathon Draft – Revised April, 2009.

THE PEOPLE OF THE PLAY.

Uri Abromovitch, Israeli, late 20s, large, strong, handsome, scruffy beard.
Itzhak Shiffman, Israeli, late 20s, small, skinny, sweet-faced, thick beard.

THE TIME OF THE PLAY.

Dawn, the present.

THE PLACE OF THE PLAY.

Military checkpoint, just outside entrance to Ramallah, West Bank, dawn.

In darkness, WE HEAR – A single violin, haunting. And then…

 

URI
Hold it! Stop! Don’t come any closer!

LIGHTS FADE UP on URI, Israeli “milu’imnik” (military reservist). HE is nervous, frightened, holds M-16 trained on something in shadows.

URI
Come forward, slowly… Let me see your hands… Slowly!

ITZHAK walks out of the shadows, his hands semi-raised, palms forward, as if to show URI he isn’t armed. HE has Arab home-boy look, wears jeans, baggy t-shirt, loose fitting jacket, “kafeyah” (red and white checked scarf).

ITZHAK
This okay? …

URI
Fine. Stop there, please.

ITZHAK
What’s the problem?

URI
Entrance is closed til 6am. It’s not 6, yet.

ITZHAK
(Looks at watch.)
It’s 5:52.

URI
This gate’s frozen. Nobody crosses til 6.

ITZHAK
Really?

URI
Really. 6.

ITZHAK
You’re precise.

URI
It’s my job. I’m obliged. Papers?

ITZHAK hands ID to URI.

ITZHAK
Okay?

URI
Why are you going in there?

ITZHAK
It’s my job. I’m obliged.

URI
(Studying Itzhak’s ID.)
Shiffman? Itzhak?

ITZHAK
Yuh.

URI
I thought you were… Are you related to…?

ITZHAK
Yuh. I am. That’s me.

URI
Wow! I didn’t recognize you! You look different. The beard. You got skinny.
(Pause. And then…)
I know what happened. I… I’m really sorry.
(No reply.)
Must have been so tough.

ITZHAK
It was what it was.

URI
I know your cousin Tali. Short, pretty-faced, crazy smart?

ITZHAK
How do you know Tali?

URI
From New York.

ITZHAK
I was going to say.

URI
I lived in New York, when I was little. Tali and I were in school together, 2nd and 3rd grades, PS41 in Greenwich Village. She was, like, super-smart, even back then.

ITZHAK
She’s back living there.

URI
She moved back?

ITZHAK
Last month. After the funeral.

URI
Understandable. (Beat.) I’m really sorry.(Beat.) There’s nothing anybody can say, is there?

ITZHAK
Not a lot. Unless you have the balls to say “I’m glad it was you, not me.”

URI
I… (Beat. And then…) I’m not glad it was you. I am glad it wasn’t me. I wish it was nobody.

ITZHAK
That’s soft.

URI
Yuh, well … Yuh. (And then…) It’s amazing I didn’t recognize you. You really look different.

ITZHAK
I lost quite a bit of weight.

URI
Really different. (and then…) Did you go to Geulim School?

ITZHAK
I did… til 5th grade.

URI
Were you in Aliza’s homeroom, 4th grade?

ITZHAK
I sat three seats behind you.

URI
Holy shit! That’s hilarious! I never put that together. Itzhak Shiffman. Little Itzi, right?

ITZHAK
(Smiles.)
I haven’t been Little Itzi for a while.

URI
You lived in Talpiyot, right?

ITZHAK
Til 5th grade. Then, we moved to Ramot.

URI
I remember that. That’s amazing! Itzi. I lived upstairs over Ziggy Levin. I’m Uri Abromavitch.

ITZHAK
I know who you are.

URI
You and Ziggy were, like, a really serious couple in high school, right? You and Ziggy used to…
(Doesn’t finish thought. And then…)
I have a friend who was one of the first ones to the bus. I…
(Doesn’t finish thought.)
There was nothing anybody…
(Doesn’t finish thought.)
I don’t know what the fuck to say, man. Itzi, I … I’m sorry. I can’t fuckin’ imagine… (Beat.) I don’t think I knew your wife.

ITZHAK
She was nice.

URI
I knew it was you when the kids were born. I mean, it was on TV and all. Ziggy reminded me who you were. (Beat.) I guess you kept up with her.

ITZHAK
I do.

URI
I saw their picture, maybe 6 months ago, on their birthday, just before… Were they identical?

ITZHAK
The boys were. The girl was…

URI
Right. Of course. There was a girl. I’m still single, so… (Beat.) Jesus, I can’t imagine…

ITZHAK
Neither can I.

URI
I thought you were working at the university.

ITZHAK
I am. I teach.

URI
Oh, I thought… Right. I read that. What do you teach?

ITZHAK
Poetry.

URI
Right. I read that, too. Or maybe Ziggy told me. You’ve gotta’ be one of the youngest professors.
ITZHAK
I am. The youngest.

URI
I think I knew that. I’m teaching. High school French. (And then…) Why are you trying to go in there, Itzhak? It’s crazy fuckin dangerous in there. You’re not allowed. You know this. (No reply.) Answer me. I’m serious. Why are you going in, Itzi? Especially, just here. I’m, like, watching my back, bigtime. It’s the worst it’s been since the intifada started. Two Reservists –- ordinary “milu’imnikim” like me — got shot at this check-point in the last four weeks. Did you know Tomer Ronen?

ITZHAK
It must be 6.

URI
What? … 6 what?

ITZHAK
6 o’clock. It must be 6 o’clock by now.

URI
You’re not answering me. I need an answer, Itzhak. Why are you looking to go in there?

ITZHAK
I’ve got a job to do. I’m obliged.

URI
I’ve got to search you.

ITZHAK
No need. It’s exactly what you think it is.

URI
Are you shitting me?

ITZHAK
Tell me what you would do?

URI
I… Are you wired?
(No reply.)
Jesus, Itzhak. Not that. Nobody’s ever done that.

ITZHAK
It was their first day of kindergarten. I teach an early graduate-level class on Tuesdays and it was my first class, so I couldn’t miss it. My mother slept over, so she could help my wife. I felt vaguely annoyed by the commotion in the house. All the attention was on the children. I was up late writing my first lecture – on Wordsworth. Innocence and Experience. I tried to talk to my wife and my mother about my lecture, but, you know, they weren’t interested. Dressing and feeding three kids is a project and a half, so, I… (Beat.) I felt vaguely annoyed. (Beat.) Actually, I felt totally fucking trapped. (Beat.) Who the hell ever expected to be 28 years old with three kids, pulling at me, day and night? I mean, I still have friends who are on their own, single, like you — dating, shit like that, and, here I am, 28, three kids. (Beat.) I put them on the bus and I kiss them, one at a time. But, not really, you know, meaning it. Then, I take my bus to the university. I feel relieved walking away from them, like I’m, I dunno, younger. (Beat.) On the bus, I’m chatting up this grad student. She is, like, really hot – thick glasses, but a body to die for. I tell her who I am and she goes “Wow! You’re famous!”, and I’m thinking “Okay. This is good! … and she goes “You’ve got the triplets! There was a picture of you and them in Yediot. That must be amazing, triplets!” And, right then, right that same instant, we all start hearing the alarm and the sirens, and she says, in this whisper, “Something bad’s happening.” (Beat.) I recognize you, Uri. You’ve still got the same face, it’s just, like, pumped up with air, but it’s definitely you. I knew Ziggy was going out with you, once in a while. (Beat.) She was still going out with me once in a while, too, Uri. You must’ve known that, huh?

URI
I guess I did, yuh. Ziggy let that slip.

ITZHAK
I’ve got a job to do in there, Uri. I chose this gate, ‘cause I knew you’d be here. It’s after 6. I’m going in. Just let it happen.

URI
I can’t do that, Itzhak! You can’t do that! No one’s ever done that, man.

ITZHAK
“No one’s ever done that”?! Are you blind or crazy?

URI
Them, not us. None of us has ever done that.

ITZHAK
Let the games begin. I’m going in, Uri. Just let it happen. No one’s going to blame you. No one’s ever going to know. Just let it happen.

URI
I can’t. You’ve gotta’ get help, Itzhak. There are support groups… You can’t do that!

ITZHAK
There’s a bus terminal, three blocks inside. The 1st bus leaves the terminal at 6:15. It’s going to be filled with their filthy little animals. I’m going to stop their filthy little animals from growing into what they grow into. I’m going to do that, Uri. I’m going to send them a message they never fucking dreamed they were gonna get. Me. I’m going to do that. So, either let me go in, or step the fuck out of my way.

URI
I can’t let you, Itzhak. I can’t.

Without warning, ITZHAK punches URI, violently. URI reels backwards. ITZHAK punches him again. URI drops to ground, his gun falls from his hands. ITZHAK kicks gun aside.

ITZHAK
I’m sorry, Uri. I’m sorry.

ITZHAK walks past URI, exits.
URI crawls to his gun, stands, quickly, calls out to ITZHAK.

URI
ITZHAK! STOP! ITZHAK! ITZI! STOP! PLEASE STOP!

URI takes aim, shoots offstage, killing Itzhak. Instantly, a flash of light and sound of Itzhak’s body bomb exploding. URI, blown backwards, falls. Beat. HE rises to his knees, looks off, sobs. MUSIC: reprise of opening violin solo. And then…

THE LIGHTS FADE TO BLACK.

THE PLAY IS OVER.

 

I.H.

N.Y.C.

March-April, 2009.

4 thoughts on “A New Response Play to 7JC – By Israel Horovitz: WHAT GOOD FENCES MAKE

  1. In your introduction, it took you five paragraphs to mention “antisemitism.”

    You really must work on that.

  2. This is from Harry’s Place:

    “An Israeli parent responds to “Seven Jewish Children””

    “What really annoys me about the Caryl Churchill play is this.

    I’m an Israeli parent -which is who, in fact, the play is criticising. I have raised 5 children in Israel, which is no easy task, over and above the normal difficulties of parenting. Like the majority of Israeli parents I have wrestled with the dilemma of how to raise happy, balanced children in an environment with so many instances of violence and fear.

    One has to cope with the fears of a child whose father and/or brother has gone to war. One has to cope with the anxieties of children forced to wear a gas mask for hours at a time for weeks on end and forbidden to leave the house. One has to cope with the nightmares resulting from seemingly unending terror attacks. One has to decide on a balance between the freedoms a teenager demands and the obvious dangers. One has to comfort teenagers who have buried friends.

    But all the while, from their infancy one tries not to opt for the easiest route. So one buys children’s books promoting Arab-Israeli co-existance. One takes them to play with the children of Arab friends. One encourages them to study hard in Arabic lessons in school. One discusses current affairs and politics taking care to present the other point of view. When they go to the army one makes sure that they discuss their difficulties and moral dilemmas over a shabbat meal.

    And then along comes Caryl Churchill and makes a complete stereotypical lie out of all those years of parenting and all those sleepless nights of dilemma. ”

    Read the other responses here:

    http://www.hurryupharry.org/2009/04/28/an-israeli-parent-responds-to-seven-jewish-children/

  3. For those who liked the original Churchill v7 Jewish children play will also love a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm which also views Jews as child killers:

    If you can read German try this:

    Das von den Juden getötete Mägdlein, Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsche Sagen,

    http://www.zeno.org/Literatur/M/Grimm,+Jacob+und+Wilhelm/Sagen/Deutsche+Sagen/Erster+Band/354.+Das+von+den+Juden+get%C3%B6tete+M%C3%A4gdlein

    looks like Chruchill did also some historical research on this theme.

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