(photo credit: Nathan Grundland)
In Exodus 3:8, Israel is described as “a land flowing with milk and honey.” In
Or Katan, the newest play joining the lineup of Nephesh Theater, Israel is more
like a land of Kassams and air-raid sirens.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and
the members of Nephesh’s latest production are gathered at the company’s offices
in Tel Aviv. They’re holding their first read-through of the play – a romantic
comedy by Aviv Luz – and pondering the very real question of what it is that
makes people – Israeli and Diaspora Jews alike – decide to call Israel
Danny Isserles, a member of the 2008 class of the Nissan Nativ
Acting Studio, plays the lead role of Erez.
A typical Sabra newly
released from the army, Erez dreams of America.
“I’ve had a lot of
encounters with Zionistic Americans and Canadians,” Isserles says, “a lot of
discussions about living in Israel or just coming for a trip.”
seen is that as much as people tell them what life is like here, they still
never get a sense of what living in Israel really is. They hear about bombs and
it sounds horrible – I’d imagine it like Iraq – but my concern would be that
when they come to Israel, they’d find it boring because we’re not actually
Zionists day and night.”
Enter Jenny, Erez’s counterpart. Played by
Na’ama Amit, a Nissan Nativ classmate of Isserles, Jenny is a young Brooklynite
and a Diaspora Jew who has come to Israel on the Oranim program to volunteer in
a hospital. The question of whether she is also a true Zionist or whether she
runs back home when the reality of life in Israel rears its head is the issue
she grapples with as the play develops.
“When Jenny hears the air-raid
siren the first time, she’s in shock for a half hour afterwards,” Amit
“It’s the real moment when the penny drops and she realizes that
everything is not all gold and pioneer stories the way she had imagined – and
this is the first time Jenny experiences it.”
THE THEME of integration
into Israeli society may be one that Nephesh Theatre followers know, but in its
more than 30 years of existence, this is the first time the theater company has
examined the issue of the American Jew in Israel. Interesting, or ironic
(depending on one’s world view), is the contrast made to the Sabra, who views
America as a land of opportunity, where the streets are paved with personal
fulfillment. Erez dreams of his trip to New York, where he intends to work with
his former roommate, Stas, and spend time in a studio recording music.
plan to work in Brooklyn and record a disc of my songs, and I’m getting ready to
perform concerts there,” Erez imagines telling his parents. In another scene, he
strums out lines for a song he’s penning as Jenny watches. It’s a cute scene,
and the song’s lyrics are trivial enough for the audience to realize that Erez’s
dream of being a singer is just a phase.
“It’s not that Erez will
eventually become a famous singer,” says Isserles. “It’s that he just got out of
the army and he wants to feel free to be a dreamer, a singer – it’s a fantasy,
it’s not a real profession.”
Real or not, Erez’s dream of being a singer
and Jenny’s perception of Israel undergo changes as the Kassams come crashing
down. It’s the juxtaposition of land-of-the-bible reality versus 21st-century
existence that makes the play an accurate reflection of the dilemma of life in
Israel or, as Nephesh Theater founder and play director Howard Rypp puts it,
“Judaism inside the framework of being Jewish and Israeli.”
And even as
the American Jew and the Israeli Sabra , Rypp reminds Isserles and Amit that Or
Katan is also the story of two characters’ personal journeys.
to ask yourselves ‘Where did the change occur? Where did it make each of them
become a person who is more complete?’ We need to think about what each one gave
to the other to make this change happen.”
When it comes to life in
Israel, there is, Luz explains, “both a vulgarity and a softness.” The journeys
of Erez and Jenny are about learning to accept them both.
“I want the
audience to see the beautiful things here in Israel,” says Luz. “Yes, Israel is
a country that’s very hard to live in. You have to be involved all the time –
you can’t just sit and do nothing because we’re small, so everything is very
intense. But even so, Israel is a country that people live in
Or Katan will be performed on July 4 in Kiryat Motzkin; on
July 13 at Tzavta in Tel Aviv; and on additional dates throughout the country.
The dialogue is in Hebrew with some English. For additional information about
show dates and locations, call (03) 522-1101 or e-mail email@example.com.