Sara, the biblical matriarch of the Jews, dies as the New Year is born. This is
the premise behind Theater Company Jerusalem’s (TCJ) play If Not for the Angel.
The multifaceted performance sheds a new light on the well-known biblical story
of the day that Abraham’s wife learns that her son Yitzhak was bound as a
sacrifice on an altar by his father.
Gabriella Lev, artistic director of
TCJ, tells The Jerusalem Post that the impetus for the play came after she heard
a lecture by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg on why Sara’s death follows directly after
the Akedah (the Binding of Isaac). As a contemporary and innovative form of
Midrash, TCJ’s If Not for the Angel offers a glimpse into the dynamic substratum
of the biblical text.
If Not for the Angel is no ordinary performance.
“It’s more of an event,” says Lev. At the start of the play, the audience is led
into a large beautiful hall inside an old Templer building, one that the company
moved into last year. The audience is divided into three or four small groups,
where they learn about the ancient legends and stories for 10 to 12 minutes. On
a large screen, human figures and projections of Aramaic texts
Modern technology mixes with ancient melodies, specially composed
songs and dramatic action to give the visceral effect of the past meeting the
“This usually has quite an effect on the audience,” says
The unique and unorthodox performance style is mirrored in the text
of the play itself. “Three different versions of the story are presented in
their original ancient midrashic language. The central metaphors used are
ritual, death, renewal and transformation of the New Year,” Lev explains. “The
artistic, visual form of this creation, is locked into the sacred meaning and
attempt to redeem a history marked with violence.”
Women’s issues play an
integral role the innovative performance. According to Lev, TCJ’s
interpretation of the famous biblical story sees a woman who refuses to take her
place as the obedient wife to an act of violence.
“We see a woman who
questions God. We see women throughout the centuries until the present who have
to deal with men’s wars and men’s God. The answer in the play is not a militant
stance but a surrender to the mystery,” she says.
Lev believes the play
is relevant to a modern audience. It deals with issues that modern women in
Israel can relate to, such as sending their children to the army and giving them
the responsibility of building the nation, she explains.
subject is serious and intense, Lev adds that there are a number of lighter
moments in the performance.
“The play includes a few funny parts that
deal with the Yiddish mother, and it contains songs in Ladino,” she
Lev is proud of the international recognition the play has
received. Some of the most prestigious accolades include the United
Nations Prize during the International Year of the Woman; the Meir Margalit
Prize for Outstanding Theatrical Achievement; and Edinburgh Theatre Festival
Fringe First. It has been performed around the world at festivals such as the
Jewish Music and Theatre Week in Dresden, Germany, and the International Theatre
Festival in Lublin, Poland.
The play was written by Aliza Elion- Israeli,
with the help of Lev and Ruth Wieder Magan. Lev says there was a long process
involved in creating the piece, such as researching classic Jewish texts and
biblical legends, speaking to experts and attending lectures.
If Not for
the Angel is presented at the Beit Mazia Theater, 18 Mesilat Yesharim,
Jerusalem, on February 18 & 19 at 8:30 p.m. For tickets, call (02)