Theater: Survivor story

Yiddishpiel stages a drama that examines attitudes in the early years of the state.

treistman 88 (photo credit: )
treistman 88
(photo credit: )
Yiddishpiel founder and director Shmuel Atzmon, a Holocaust survivor, has chosen Ben Zion Tomer's Children of the Shadows to be Yiddishpiel's major production for Israel's 60th anniversary. There is a certain irony in the fact that the play (which deals both directly and indirectly with Holocaust survivors) is being performed at a time when such survivors are still being mistreated in Israel. And it isn't only the government that failed to give them their due. Many people born here were impatient with those who came from "over there" and didn't want to know about what they endured or about the families they lost. All this comes across in Tomer's sensitive play. Two of the main characters, convincingly portrayed by Israel Treistman and Uri Kowalski, are as different as chalk and cheese. Treistman's character is a highly educated intellectual, a graduate of the University of Heidelberg, who as a result of his wartime experiences is mentally unhinged. Kowalski's character is a balloon vendor, a stereotype of the shtetl Jew, with minimal education and a heart of gold, who keeps asking questions, but when he receives an answer invariably says, "I don't understand." What he does understand is the terrible loneliness and the nightmares that his fellow survivor is experiencing. The character played by Treistman is homeless, sleeps on a park bench, is forever scribbling in a notebook and refuses to divulge his identity. The balloon vendor offers him rent-free accommodation in his hut. Trestman's character refuses, saying that he screams in his sleep. To which the balloon vendor replies: "You too? I also scream in my sleep. It's terrible to wake up from a nightmare and not have anyone to grab hold of. My little boy used to crawl into my bed when he had a nightmare…" Neither his little boy nor his older children nor his wife survived. Although Treistman and Kowalski are clearly the stars of the production, the plot is actually woven around Yoram, who escaped from Europe via a child transport when his name was still Yossele, and Nurit, the girl he romanced on a kibbutz, dumped for two years, and later married. Nurit is a sabra, but a gentle soul who can empathize with the pain of others and is sympathetic to Holocaust survivors. Yoram and Nurit, played by Dori Engel and Elian Deval, each at different times want to buy the balloon vendor's whole stack of balloons. But he refuses to sell, explaining that the balloons pave the way for him to approach people and talk to them; if he sold all the balloons, he'd have no one to talk to. Yoram's parents, brother and sister-in-law survive the war and come to Israel, only to end up in the horrendous conditions of a transit camp in Haifa. Having worked so hard at being a sabra that hardly anyone knows he isn't, Yoram's meeting with his family is traumatic and fills him with a sense of guilt. Many first-time patrons of Yiddish theater expect to see some kind of Yiddish vaudeville. Sometimes that's what they get, because that too is a legitimate part of Yiddish theater, and certainly of the Yiddishpiel repertoire. That's what the friend I took with me expected, and she was surprised to be served with drama. A child survivor who spent the war years in France, she quickly became absorbed in the play, and was amazed at the amount of Yiddish she remembered. For those whose Yiddish is less fluent, Hebrew and Russian surtitles are projected over the stage. Saturday at 8 p.m. at ZOA House, Tel Aviv, (03) 525-4660; Sunday at 8 p.m., Heichal Hatarbut, Petah Tikva, (03) 930-1195; Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Bat-Yam's Heichal Hatarbut, (03) 508-0031.