The Rich Place We’re In… (Middle East Festival Overlaps with THE CHOSEN)

We ended last night’s rich and moving presentation of WRESTLING JERUSALEM by noting the obvious; that author/performer Aaron Davidman and director Aaron Posner were going to be returning to rehearsals in the morning on THE CHOSEN, and that to have these artists–like our theater–firmly planted in both theatrical worlds on the same day, and in this same month, was something eloquent and moving. Especially as the work we’ve been presenting has been both confrontational and cathartic, thought provoking and experientially unifying… The tears and strains within our Jewish community as he chart a course through the thicket of tensions based on political differences turn out to be something that’s addressed in so many of the plays we’ve been presented in our VOICES festival and, of course, are the dramatic bedrock of the great coming-of-age novel, THE CHOSEN.

Chaim Potok’s encyclopedic work about the mid-20th Century Jewish experience in the world as lived through two families in a religious neighborhood in Brooklyn is a story, fundamentally, about how ideological and behavioral differences divide kindred spirits, and kindred families. And it all comes to a climatic head when the subject of Israel arises.

Here’s an excerpt from Act II of Aaron Posner’s wonderful adaptation:

OLDER REUVEN: The Hasidim had always got along with the other Jews at Hirsch pretty well, but now a major rift was beginning over one overpowering issue: Zionism. It wasn’t just our fathers who were at odds. The split divided both students and faculty, and feelings ran deep on both sides. The Hasidim saw Zionism as a socialist, secularist, sacrilegious movement. The idea of a Jewish state established by non-religious Jews was unimaginable to them. Whereas passionate Zionists, like my father, saw a Jewish homeland in Palestine as the only hope for a devastated and embattled people.

As we move to Madison Square Garden, and Reuven’s father giving a speech…

DAVID MALTER: All of us stood as onlookers to that burning. We might absolve ourselves of our guilt as bystanders by saying no one could have anticipated such an evil. But we will never be able to rid ourselves of future guilt if we stand by and do nothing while our brothers and sisters in Palestine fight to establish a Jewish state!
We must say to ourselves: Never again will Jews be bystanders to evil. Never again will Jews be bystanders to such a destruction. Never again will Jews be bystanders while other Jews struggle against oppression. Never again! Never again!! Never again!!! Never again!!!!

SCENE 12 • THE SPLIT

REUVEN: The speech was an enormous success! The Garden had been filled, with more than 2000 people outside in the snow listening to the speech over loudspeakers! It was broadcast nationally, reprinted in it’s entirely in the Yiddish press and even the New York Times reprinted lengthy sections. And the next day at Hirsch I was something of a celebrity.

(Reuven at school. Danny appears, grabs Reuven, and takes him aside, somewhere. When they are alone…)

DANIEL You are excommunicated from my family. My father heard your father’s speech. I am not to see you, talk to you, be within four feet of you ever again. If I don’t obey he will remove me from Hirsch and send me away for my rabbinical ordination, no college education, no psychology, no nothing.

REU That’s crazy. That’s totally insane.

DAN It’s done. There is nothing I can do. I’m sorry, Reuven, I’m very sorry.

REU That’s it? That’s all?

DAN I won’t disobey my father. I can’t.

REU Fine. Fine. Good-bye.

DAN Good-bye.

(Danny leaves. The scene shifts instantly to Malter’s and Reb Saunders’ studies. Both boys angrily confront their fathers, each in their own way…)