from Staging Dialogue at Theater J: Negotiating Israeli Politics in Jewish Communal Encounters by Elliot Leffler, University of Minnesota
In this investigation, I have tried to highlight not only the texts of Theater J’s productions, but also the metatexts and relational aesthetics of these events, revealing no polemic agenda to either “denigrate [or] undermine Israel’s legitimacy.” Rather, the metatext that gets generated orally (in post-show discussions) and electronically (on the blog) largely reveals a frank conversation, inspired by the emotional “claim” of the characters on stage, through which audiences express productive dissent as they wrestle with particularist and universal approaches to Israeli policy in a face-to-face encounter.
The expanding representation of Israel in the Jewish-American theatre over the past three decades suggests that there is an increasing desire for such a dialogue. However, the existing structures for communal dialogue seem unable to channel it effectively: our major national institutions generally adopt dogmatic positions, synagogues and other ritual spaces largely evade such controversy to preserve a sense of “communitas,” and online spaces, which fail to nurture the ethical relationships of face-to-face encounters, erupt in angry, overstated, rhetoric. Theater J is attempting something quite radical… they are using theatre to promote face-to-face, multivocal community dialogue in which American Jews can continually reassess how to negotiate their particularist identification with the State of Israel vis-à-vis their American, universalist concerns for human rights, national rights, and the fundamental equality of all people.
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