My childhood friends and I had a tradition of always attending the national memorial services at our old elementary school. For Holocaust Memorial Day, the services were always the same: a poem written by a child in the ghetto, a short extract from Joshua Sobol's play Ghetto (or something similar), two Yehuda Poliker songs and the lighting of six candles.
Once, the school principal lit a seventh candle to raise attention for the other genocides world wide - past and present. The parents' discontent regarding this act was vocal, quick and fierce. From then on, the number of candles held steady at six.
"This belief of never again only applying to Jewish people has got to stop," says Akiva Daube, director of the two plays to be performed at Jerusalem's Merkaz Hamagshimim on Holocaust Memorial Day. "Yom Hashoah cannot be just a museum, it has to be universal. The next Holocaust is not going to be Jewish," Daube says, using the Hebrew name for the day.
Daube, who lives and works as a director in New York, says that, "There, you can see many plays about the Holocaust when business is weak. It's cynical exploitation, as if the theater owners say, 'if we put on a Holocaust play, an audience will come for sure.' Most of those plays deal with the camps. Very few, if any, deal with the reality that took place in America and/or the army at the time. I wish to show those aspects, to present the Holocaust through the periphery of the world."
AS SUCH, the two plays he's directing here challenge accepted comfort levels about Jewish activity and involvement during WWII, specifically on the part of American Jewry. The Accomplices, written by New York Times reporter Bernard Weinraub, is a docudrama exposing the extent to which the US government and Jewish community failed to intervene in the Holocaust.
It tells the story of Hillel Kook, who was also known as Peter Bergson, a revisionist Zionist (and nephew of Rabbi Kook) determined to change the course of history by fighting a lonely campaign against President Roosevelt's closed-door policies. Over the course of the play, Bergson and his allies go head-to-head with Rabbi Stephen Wise, America's most powerful Jewish leader, and wrestle with active efforts within the State Department to prevent immigration.
"As time passes, it becomes harder and harder to relate to the terrible events that took place in the camps, and it is easier to relate to the events in America," Daube says, explaining why he chose this specific play. "My purpose is not to ask how we remember, but how do we proceed. At the end of the play, Peter Bergson talks of Darfur. He says that the world's belated reaction to the Holocaust allows for such horrifying acts to happen again. This speech is derived from words that the Holocaust is not a Jewish problem, but a human problem."
The second play is Incident Upon The Gothic Line, written by Jerusalemite Ronnie Sivan and based upon a pivotal moment in the playwright's life. While fighting Nazi forces in Italy, battle-weary British soldiers are confronted by the genteel anti-Semitism of a new junior officer. Faced with the prospect of leading a near-suicidal mission, the officer attempts to racially blackmail his way out of responsibility, nearly destroying the unit's cohesiveness in a matter of hours.
"This play deals with two aspects," says Daube. "First, it asks what is your responsibility at any given moment, how far will you go when the orders seem stupid but the cause is just. Second is the question of dealing with racism inside an organization."
Daube believes that Jews and non-Jews alike leave these plays with the same questions. "I think everyone wonders how they would react when they themselves are not threatened. That is the lesson that needs to be learned."
Both plays are performed at Merkaz Hamagshimim - 7a Dor Dor VeDorshav St., Jerusalem; (02) 561-9165 - on April 20 at 8 p.m., following a memorial service to begin at 7 p.m. After the performances, Dr. Becky Kook, BGU professor and daughter of Hillel Kook, will speak about her father's experiences. Four additional performances are scheduled for April 21-23 and 26, also at 8 pm. Tickets cost NIS 60.