The absurdly short visit to Israel comes to a close with me behind on transcribing the experience of this whirlwind, so you’ll forgive me for out-of-sequence chronicling and leading with the last experience first, right? I’m preparing to leave for Ben Gurion Airport after a very rich Tuesday and Wednesday in Tel Aviv, Haifa and BeerSheva. I’ll start with Beersheva, down south, where we just came back from seeing a rock solid production of Motti Lerner’s PANGS OF THE MESSIAH at the Beersheva Theatre Company.
It’s the first time the play’s been done in Israel since Motti’s major rewrite for our 2007 production which re-set the play 5 years into the future instead of where it used to be when it first premiered, set and first produced in 1987. The play at Theater J was set in 2012 (funny to think of how back in 07, 2012 seemed so far ahead in time!), and now the play is still set in the near future, on the brink of a major peace agreement between the Israelis, Palestinian Authority and the Americans, and that means very bad news for the family of religious/nationalist settlers in the West Bank who will be forced to relocate in the territorial compromise. The Berger family (renamed here the more Sephardic Basso to suit the Yeminite actor playing the lead Rabbi) aims to oppose any resettlement plan. Division within the family as to how to fight the government ensues. Havoc is wrought as the Rabbi is forced to reckon with the seeds of violence that have been sown into his movement–and indeed his family, The play is just as devastating, frightening, and bracingly argued as ever. This great Israeli version stacks up so well alongside ours which involved great Israeli artists and a great American cast. Do check out the video – and compare it to scenes from our TJ production.
The evening trip south follows a day time trip north to Haifa to interview the extraordinary musical talent, Habib Shehadeh, the composer behind the films The Band’s Visit and Lemon Tree (for which he received Israel’s equivalent of The Academy Award). Habib will compose the music for Sinai Peter’s production of Motti Lerner’s The Admission, joining wonderful set and costume designer Frida Shocham, who met with Motti and me today as well. There were meetings with friends and former interns/apprentices, all providing a wonderfully vivid window on life in Israel in these nervous days of Syrian calamities and fears of a chemical attack in retaliation for whatever the United States might choose to do in the wake of the Syrian chemical weapons attack of its own defenseless population last week. The Israeli public is told to stay calm as people bring their gas masks out of storage, remaining calm, planning for both the worst, and for nothing at all out of the ordinary. Welcome to cognitive dissonance and thinking double — of the worst and most normal of times at once.
And the peace negotiations are halted a day earlier — now old news — because of the death of 3 Palestinians and the injuries to 16 more suffered in the refugee camp of Shouafat inside the Qalandiya checkpoint after Israeli plain-clothed officers came to arrest an alleged terrorist and were surrounded by 1500 Palestinians who refused to let them leave…
Motti is non-plussed by the news. “We live in a dangerous part of the world. It’s not such a nice place. We are dealing with some very not nice actors.” He has resigned himself, still believing in the need for peace; but how to view the breakdown of order in Syria and Egypt and the threats that Civil War might bring?
Tuesday is light years away from where I am now. Cast members from Woody Sez performed an open air hootenanny outside the Tent City Encampment started by the Social Justice Protest Movement over a year ago. They were brought there by the organizers of Rabbis for Human Rights. The video from that hootenanny is forthcoming, the files too big and unwieldly to transfer on the go. And it’s a shame to have to wait because the video is worth several thousand words, and we hear not only the great songs, but some great reflections from David Lutken (our Woody) and RHR head Rabbi Arik Ascherman.
I’ll close with the moving statement authored by Woody Sez cast member, Andy Teirsten, issued after another moving event with Rabbis For Human Rights in the Negev on Sunday night.
We are American cast members of “Woody Sez” and we join Rabbis for Human Rights in condemning the demolition of Al Arakib. Just yesterday evening, we sang in solidarity at their weekly vigil, dined with Sheik Sayach in his tent and listened to his eloquent stories and his plea for peace, understanding and for the recognition of the rights of property and human dignity of his family and his people.
Woody Guthrie spent his life writing and singing songs about the common people. His purpose was to protect and to restore human rights and freedoms and dignity. We stand with the Bedouin people of Al Arakib and their right to live on land they have been farming for thousands of years. In the words of his most famous song, “This Land Is Your Land,” Woody said: “Nobody living can ever stop me as I go walking my freedom highway. Nobody living can make me turn back, this land was made for you and me.”