During the murderous Israeli assault on Gaza earlier this year, many progressive and liberal forces in Europe were very active and outspoken in their support for Palestinians and in their denouncement of Israel. These forces included writers, singers and artists of all faiths.
One of those was Caryl Churchill, a renowned British playwright (You can read her NYT profile here), a supporter of Palestinians and an activist with the International Solidarity Movement. She put together a short ‘play’ called "Seven Jewish Children”.
The play stirred a lot of controversy with some Jews and pro-Israel groups calling it anti-Semitic, and even blood libel. Many other Jews (in Israel and elsewhere including the new J Street, political action groups opposing the ardent pro-Israel lobbying political action committee, AIPAC) see the play through very different eyes. (The links at the end of the posting lead to a collection of such articles)
The play is composed of seven short scenes and is usually produced as a 10 minute production. In each scene, two Jewish parents talk about their child; debating and arguing what to tell and what not to tell the child about events around them.
First scene seems to take place about holocaust time, while the seventh scene is about what to tell the Jewish child about the latest assault on Palestinians in Gaza. This is probably the scene that riles opponents of the play as one Jewish parent is speaking like a fanatic anti-Arab Jew in the occupied lands.
The play is open to interpretations, and the two productions I have watched have their own unique feel. You can find them on YouTube here and here (each is made of 2 videos, the link takes you to part one).
The British author dedicated the play to Palestinians, and decided to go the unusual route by offering the play without any royalties or licensing fees to presenter that want to produce it. She had one condition though: the presenters should request audience contributions for the London-based relief organization Medical Aid for Palestinians.
And considering the charges of anti-Semitism hurled already at the author, most of the productions of that play have so far been by big and established groups (like the Royal Court Theater in Britain) or by progressive Jewish groups in Europe, Canada and the United States.
This special play is going to be in St. Louis this Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (April 26, 27 and 29, 2009) at two different locations.
The play is very interesting and, as one critic described it, ‘intently elusive’. It is open to interpretations. In my mind, it also raises issues beyond Jews, Israel and Gaza war. Most parents would see themselves in one scene or the other.
They may even empathize with the Jewish parents at some level, realizing the dilemma parents find themselves in when it is time to tell children about something unpleasant: either being done to them, or being done by the parents' own people unto someone else.
It is worthwhile to read the full text here (it will take 10 minutes of your time), and to watch at least one of the renditions found on YouTube.
But more importantly, I do recommend attending one of the FREE productions on April 26, 27 and 28. The panelists will include 2 Jewish pro-Palestinian activists: Hedi Epstein, and Anna Baltzer.
Hedi is in her eighties and is a holocaust survivor. She is a dedicated pro-Palestinian activist that recently raised fund for 2 ships that challenged the Israeli navy siege of Gaza shores (and, she was on board one of the ships).
Anna runs the most impressive web site Anna in the Middle East. chronicling her experience in Palestine, and has given hundreds of presentations in defense of the Palestinian people. The event on April 26 will also include a very moving presentation by Anna about her latest trips to Palestine.
Both Hedi and Anna are very vocal on the Israeli Palestinian issue, and both have credible first hand knowledge of the occupied land of Palestine, and real life experience that few of us will ever have a chance to experience for themselves.
Their perspective would be authentic and invaluable.
I hope you will have a chance to see that thought provoking play, and listen to those impressive women.
- 'Tell Her the Truth' - Tony Kushner & Alisa Solomon, The Nation
- Readings and Talks for Pro-Gaza Playlet - New York times
- SOME CALL IT 'BEAUTIFUL,' OTHERS 'BLOOD LIBEL' SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN COMES TO CANADA - Globe and Mail (Canada)
- J Street Letter of Support on Discussing 7JC - The Theater J Blog
- Is Caryl Churchill's play Seven Jewish Children antisemitic? - The Guardian, UK
- By seeking to label criticism of Israel in Caryl Churchill's play as 'antisemitic', his critique feeds the very prejudice it decries - Jaqueline Rose, The guardian, UK