Festival Reading #1 – Reactions to ARGENTINA

from David Cords…

Argentina by Boaz Gaon has many parallels to his work Return to Haifa.

There are instances of time change where the play moves between two
different time periods. Also, both pieces have a focus on children
and their parents. To be honest, I actually enjoyed Argentina more
than Return to Haifa. Don’t get me wrong, I think both plays were
great. However, I am more familiar with the premise of Argentina;
that is to say, I know more about the Dirty War of Argentina more than
the Six Day War. I think my understanding of the background and
history of Argentina during ~1975-1983 helped me appreciate this story
a little more.

I thought the story of Argentina was a lot more “raw” in terms of
darkness, which made the script more appealing to me. As a 21 year
old college student I am probably more inclined to enjoy rated-R
material opposed to rated-PG 13 or rated-G. The story shows a darker
side of a conflict than Return to Haifa. The soldier Julio probably
portrays what an Argentinean soldier was like during the time period.
The scene where Arie goes to the detainment quarters to speak with
Jonathan Kahan and the soldier treats a diplomat of another country
with such disregard is scary to think about. The corruption of the
government and what people will do in a position of power is
mind-boggling. To think a man would go to an Israeli Ambassador and
say, “Repeat after me. Heil Hitler” is chilling. I felt that this
story showed what the effects of a serious conflict can have on people
from various sides and positions.

Like the blog posts about Return to Haifa, I am sure a good portion of
people may question Arie and think “how could he do that?” My first
reaction was along those lines, but as I thought about it,and realized
not everything is “hunky dory” in the world. You can never make
everyone happy. I have never been in a situation quite like Arie
Shalev, but I do believe we all have had or will have extremely
difficult and life changing decisions during our lifetimes. Looking
back, some may have regrets. However, the current times play a major
role in decisions. I found myself not asking “How could he do what he
did?” But more “What pressures was he feeling at the time?” I tried
coming from his perspective and realized if my life was threatened or
I was given orders from powerful governmental leaders of power, I
probably would do what I was told or what appeased my superiors.

Reading the script can get confusing at times with the changing of
time periods while trying to imagine everything in your head. I found
myself re-reading pages but that’s because I wanted to get the story
right. In the end, I enjoyed the story very much. I thought the
relationship between Arie and Avital was somewhat hard to believe once
revealed (but I do understand this is a play) and some of the
transitions did not make sense to me with Avital watching the past as
if she was in the room (like Scrooge with the 3 spirits in A Christmas
Carol) but the content and “meat and potatoes” of Argentina was
extremely gripping and I really enjoyed reading it.

5 thoughts on “Festival Reading #1 – Reactions to ARGENTINA

  1. Argentina has the feel of a political thriller, filled with action and intrigue. It reads almost like a movie, which is different from other plays I have read. While the play deals mainly with the raw anger surrounding Avital and Shalev, it does not control the play, but instead supplements the story to help draw the audience in. The historical grounding of the events lends credence to the story, while allowing for a strong framework in which the characters’ emotions can play out before us.

    I feel sorry for Shalev and the seeming helplessness that he portrays in dealing with the Argentinean junta while trying to protect persecuted Jews, while at the same time his country provides the junta weapons to continue committing such acts of violence. Shalev’s problems are compounded by the interesting definition that the Israel Embassy has given to who their citizens are. To the Embassy, it seems as if Shalev is tasked with protecting all Jews, even if they are not inhabitants of Israel. Shalev even says at one point that the Jews who were subjected to the horrors of the junta were Jewish “by birth. Not by religion or ideology.” In tasking him to protect all Jews, be they citizens or not, the Embassy has put an immense pressure on Shalev, which makes him feel responsible for all those who fell victim to Montez and the entire junta. We can see his remorse throughout the play, as he attempts to explain to Avital why he made the decisions he did.

    The raw emotions of this play, when combined with the intriguing storyline and historical narrative, provide for a terrific glimpse into both the past, as well as the Jewish/Israeli psyche. In coming to grips with past choices, Avital and Shalev are able to reconcile with the past and each other for the actions taken in a strenuous and dangerous time.

  2. Argentina was a new experience for me because it was the first reading I have ever done that consisted entirely of dialogue. There was no scene setting or in depth character descriptions. There was no flowery syntax or diction that at times can distract the reader from the core theme of the story. It was straightforward dialogue that told a compelling historical narrative dealing with a violent era in Argentina, and remains a block spot in the international affairs of both the US and Israel. It took awhile to reading just dialogue. A lot of more responsibility is put on readers because they have to put in more effort picturing what the characters look like and the setting of the scenes. I ended up enjoying that new workload though. There have been times when I feel authors are too wordy in their descriptions, and it distracts from the point of the story. With this piece though, I was able to let my imagination to fill in the gaps. I had a lot more freedom to decide what Avital Kahan looked like and create the setting where Julio was violently interrogating Jonathan Kahan. I appreciated those opportunities to my own characters and scenes and it helped me to concentrate on the theme of the story that much more.

    As Peter mentioned, the story was difficult to read at times due to the transitions in time that the play focused around, and it did remind of a very famous Christmas story that I grew up with. But it’s an interesting story on a period in history that is generally pushed under the rug by the democratic nations who supported the regime that led to the disappearance of thousands. For that reason, it should be read to remember that no government is perfect and to blindly support any regime could be very embarrassing when information leaks out.

  3. I thought that the play Argentina was an interesting and thrilling tale of Jews in Argentina. I found myself feeling for the character of Avital as Shalev told her the story of her father’s murder and her emigration from Argentina to Israel. I found the story exciting and was captivated by the action especially between Jonathan, Avital’s father and Shalev, the ambassador to Egypt from Israel.

    I sometimes was lost in the transitions between the different time periods and were confused with what was actually happening with Jonathan Kahan and his kidnapping and subsequent murder. From what I understand, Kahan’s daughter, Avital, got kidnapped and Kahan went to Shalev’s office to force him to get her back. I then found it a little confusing about what happened to Avital and Jonathan. I think that the details of Avital’s returning to her mother and Jonathan’s kidnapping should have been explained a little bit better.

    I thought that this play showed a lot of heart and the characters were more vulnerable then in any other play that I have read or seen as part of this class before. I thought that the characters seems real and to show real pain, especially at the end when Shalev and Avital are talking about her childhood in Israel. You can feel the pain that Shalev feels as he is telling her the story of her father’s death, and also of her mother’s betrayal. I think was good for Avital to hear of the past and for Shalev to finally let go of all of the remorse that he has been feeling about the end of Kahan’s life.
    I also thought it interesting that all a person had to do to become an Israeli citizen is sign a couple pieces of paper. I wondered throughout the play if this was correct or if it was a story plotline.

  4. “Argentina” is a story of conflict for the Embajador, one between diplomacy and humanity—two things that we wish were synonomous, but are silly to associate. I thoroughly enjoyed this masterful work by Gaon. So much of Jewish history the last 50 years has taken place in the Middle East, but so much has taken place in the backyard of our country, with atrocities occurring every day under our noses.
    I think Mr. Cords recognized one of the most important lines from the reading: the Argentine solider orders the Israeli Embajador, an esteemed diplomat who represents a powerful country, to say “Heil Hitler.” The audacity! Despite the standing of the Embajador, a representative of the Argentine military has not one reservation about disrespecting him—I am sure Gaon meant this to be one of the most important moments in the play.
    I think that Gaon did a fantastic job of observing the Embajador’s attempts to figure out his true purpose. Ambassador’s are typically sent to another country to ensure friendly diplomacy and be a representative of their country—which sells arms to the Argentine army. Shalev, however, must face the persecution of the Jews as well, and must figure out how to protect his people from the military, without straining relations—no wonder he drinks so much whiskey!
    One last brilliant line from Gaon: ‘OK, OK! That’s enough!… I ruined your past, you ruined mine, we are, as the kids say, “even”!’ But if this “evenness” is supposed to be representative of the Israeli government and their protection of the Jewish people, it is probably a false evenness.

  5. The re-occuring theme of parent-child relationship that is both present in Argentina and Return to Haifa by Boaz is a strong symbolism of how our past shapes our future. Both plays also shares this same message about blame and how it is easy for us to make emotional connections to the people that were involved with a particular conflict and to carry that resentment then accusing one another for each others wrong-doings.

    I enjoyed the play Argentina more, because the change of times provided me with better imagery than Return to Haifa. Although, confusing at times, because the changing of scenes was hard to distinguish during certain parts. I found the scene of the photo very powerful as Kahan asked, “If you could just take a look…only children smile that way. Do you know why? Because they still believe that we can protect them”. The story truly sent a message of this idea of protecting not only ourselves but our family members even if we have to take drastic measures to accomplish this. At the same time, in the process of protecting our loved ones, to want to seek justice and equality we may not meet our goals to punish those that are deserving of their sins. It is just another example of our human nature and the way our world functions in an unfair manner. The story is another depiction of a middle-east conflict, that I am still becoming familiar with but the relationship and the mental struggle of each character is something that many can relate with.

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