The king is leaving the building

Chuck King is bidding Israel farewell with a JEST production of 'The Diary of Anne Frank.'

Chuck King 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Chuck King 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After a 13-year stint as the music director at the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, Chuck King has decided to end his sojourn in Israel. The upcoming production of The Diary of Anne Frank, which he is directing for the Jerusalem English Speaking Theater (JEST) and opens Wednesday, is to be his last creative exploit in Jerusalem - at least for the foreseeable future. King, who used to be a pastor in Oklahoma, had been visiting Jerusalem annually for the ICEJ's Feast of Tabernacles celebration, in which he would volunteer as a keyboard player and singer. After a while, he responded to a "sense of call" and signed on as full-time music director to take over organizing the dynamic worship component of the Succot-based event, among other things. Although the adjustment was made relatively easy due to his clergy visa ("we were very fortunate"), he and his wife found many new challenges in "learning to live as a minority," especially because growing up in the American Midwest, he had not encountered many Jewish families. His evangelical background did, however, teach him to "honor and respect the Jewish people" and see them as "key" to his understanding of the Bible. It was in the seventh grade that he first came across the issue of the Holocaust, when Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, which was required reading, "impacted [him] deeply." The effect was so well-rooted that when JEST recently offered him the opportunity to direct a play of his choosing, he submitted Anne Frank. "They were surprised I chose a drama and not a musical," he said. "I thought Anne Frank was an especially worthwhile project in terms of our common goal of fighting anti-Semitism and providing education on tolerance," adds King, who was a teacher in the US for many years. He describes his artistic temperament as being "very much on the inspirational track - faith is the primary motivation for me. We want to give people hope." In the past, he directed The Covenant, a Bible-centered story about the Land of Israel being the inheritance of the Jewish people. King worked closely with Israel's legendary singer and composer Ehud Manor, who translated The Covenant, as well as Dudu Fisher and other Israeli artists invited to perform at the ICEJ's Succot festivities. He also has been actively involved with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society (which is how he was introduced to JEST in the first place), as well as appearing as Captain Hook in the recent staging of Peter Pan. As a non-Jew directing a play with such strong Jewish themes, King suggests that "maybe my sensitivities as a non-Jew will come across in the way that the play is staged. I've been feeling... issues such as hair-covering - the Franks were secular Jews while several actors are observant. It's been a great experience." He has also drawn on his experiences as the father of a 14-year-old girl ("I'm not only a good director, but I like to think I'm a good father, too") to "pull out the best" from Avigayeel Kollek in her debut performance as Anne Frank. He is full of praise for the granddaughter of legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek as a "very intelligent, observant, astute young girl." AS THIS will be his swan song in terms of artistic contributions to English-speaking culture in Jerusalem, King is reflecting on his time in Jerusalem and his decision to leave, which he describes as "bittersweet and personal." "I began to feel restless, and sensed that I had maximized my potential in Jerusalem. There were also practical things, such as our age and the fact that we are not citizens - pensions and so on. I was also conscious of my responsibility to my mother [in the US], which I view as a biblical one. "Decisions aren't always easy, and while you can never know exactly, I feel a sense of correctness, as if we're headed in the right direction." There are, however, no regrets: "We've had a great run here, and an awesome time. It will always be a part of who we are as a family." He relates how his children celebrate Purim, and how they "light every candle, come Hanukka time." "I think we're in for a reverse culture shock," he smiles, "And although we're not Jews, there are things we absolutely love and -" here he pauses to find the right words - "cling to." He cites Shabbat as an example. "To welcome the Sabbath rest, set aside time: We embraced it as a family of faith." Looking back over his time in Israel, King remarks on how the country has changed since he arrived as an "idealist." "I don't think it's unfair to say that we've seen the Zionist dream really dim; perhaps people are a little more apathetic, which is sad to see." He hopes that for his own part, he has made the contribution that he set out to make. "I really tried to devote time and energy to projects of some eternal value, and to make a difference in the lives of people." He is keen to laud the spirit that fuels organizations such as JEST, which have to overcome a "tremendous challenge. Community theater is so much fun, and they come to it with a little budget, but a big heart. They've carved out their own niche and made a good job of it." Come what may, he is confident that his relationship with Israel will not end with his departure, and he plans to continue to use his music to support the Jewish nation by playing at Israel-supporting events and conferences.