seven jewish children play 248.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The comparison of the Holocaust to the Gaza conflict in the ten-minute drama Seven Jewish Children is not coincidental. British playwright Caryl Churchill's controversial play opened last month at London's Royal Court Theater just after its staging of The Stone, which deals with a German family living in a formerly Jewish house and in which "very difficult questions about the refusal of some modern Germans to accept their ancestors' complicity in Nazi atrocities" are asked (according to its official description).
In Churchill's play Jewish parents discuss what to tell their children about their history in a series of monologues that begin with "tell her..."
The first two characters discuss what to tell their daughter about the Holocaust, while the other five characters deal with immigrating to Israel, Palestinians, war, the security fence and the Gaza war.
The parallel to Jews accused of living on Palestinian land is made clear in the third of the series: "Don't tell her he [the Palestinian] was driven out... don't tell her she doesn't belong here" and the fourth monologue declares; "Tell her this wasn't their [Arab] home."
Many have deemed the play anti-Semitic and in bad taste, including The Atlantic Monthly's Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote: "The mainstreaming of the worst anti-Jewish stereotypes - for instance, that Jews glory in the shedding of non-Jewish blood - is upon us."
In its defense the Royal Court noted that "some concerns have been raised that the Royal Court's production of Seven Jewish Children, by Caryl Churchill, is anti-Semitic... [while it] is undoubtedly critical of the policies of the State of Israel, there is no suggestion that this should be read as a criticism of Jewish people... In keeping with its philosophy, the Royal Court Theater presents a multiplicity of viewpoints."
But one viewpoint not presented in a play that claims to present a history of Israel in 10 minutes and seven perspectives is that of the Ethiopians, Russians, Sephardim and other diverse peoples.
CHURCHILL WANTS TO present the narrative, first popularized by historian Arnold Toynbee, of Holocaust survivors becoming holocaust committers. It seems that Churchill cannot bear the idea of including a Jewish voice that does not fit her carefully crafted history of Israel. There is no voice from the Old Yishuv of the hassidim. There is no voice from the 19th-century Zionist settlers.
There is no voice from the Yemenite Jews who came on Operation Magic Carpet. And there is no room for an Ethiopian who came on Operation Moses.
"Don't tell her Arabs used to sleep in her bedroom." A bedroom in Kiryat Gat or Mevaseret Zion? Those aren't Arab houses there. "Tell her we've got new lands [after 1967]." Jewish Ethiopians weren't in Israel in 1967. "Don't tell her the trouble about the swimming pool... tell her it's our water, we have the right." What swimming pools? Perhaps of wealthy Arabs in Ramallah or Arkadi Gaydamak's house in Caesarea Bet but certainly not in Ramle and Lod. The Caryl Churchills of the world have an Israel in mind that is a dark fantasy.
It is the Israel they need to exist in order to hate it and imagine the worst about it. They need Avigdor Lieberman or Meir Kahane at their worst and most extreme. They need all of Jewish Israel to be Caesarea Bet and all of the Palestinians to be the poorest, most wretched family living in metal shacks next to concrete slabs. They need each Palestinian man with a keffiyeh and every woman with a long black hijab. They need every Jew to look like a European and be in a uniform.
At a recent showing of the play at the Lewisham town hall in Catford in the UK three of actresses were blonde. Can anyone imagine Roots, the famous drama about an African slave family's journey to freedom in the antebellum South, with white actors playing Africans?
Seven Jewish Children in Catford Part 1
Seven Jewish Children in Catford Part 2
The next time Caryl Churchill's play opens it would be a shock if the actual, diverse Israel was portrayed. An elderly Moroccan man, a middle-aged Russian woman, a French Jewish immigrant, a haredi man in his 20s, an Ethiopian woman, a hi-tech worker and a settler from Tekoa.
Seven blonde Europeans may want to act out the history of Israel and imagine themselves in the shoes of the Jewish people telling their children "tell her they're animals... tell her I wouldn't care if we wiped them out," but that's an imaginary history created in the minds of people who need Israel to be something it is not.
The play will be staged next week at New York's Brecht forum. Theater J in Washington's Jewish community center is also considering staging it as part of its "Voices from a Changing Middle East" festival. If voices are wanted, let them be the real voices of Israel.
The writer is a PhD student in geography at the Hebrew University and runs the Terra Incognita blog. email@example.com
Note: The full text of the script is at www.royalcourt-theatre.com/files/downloads/SevenJewishChildren.pdf