Arrivals: Johanna Roggan and Ari Miller: From Berlin and Pennsylvania to Tel Aviv
"I don't expect this country to exist for another full decade," says Miller.
By KEN MCBRIDEFAMILY HISTORIES
Johanna Roggan was born in Dresden, East Germany, in 1984. Her mother, a landscape architect, proved to be the guiding light in her life, creating an environment in which Johanna was surrounded with much love. While she did not know her biological father, she enjoyed the good wisdom and care of other significant male role models. Her sister, 11 years older, is a professional photographer who lives in Leipzig and just made Roggan an aunt for the second time.
None of these people are Jews, but they're all right. Due to her nation's sordid history, Roggan developed into a pragmatic proponent of peace with an artist's soul. As such, she explored various forms of expression - sculpting, fashion, photography and multiple musical instruments, before settling in her current profession as a contemporary dancer.
Ari Miller was born in 1976 in Philadelphia. A year later his parents moved, with him, to the suburbs of Bucks County. While there, his parents produced two more children: a girl and a boy. The latter, seven years younger than our principal subject, was born at home, for all to see. Miller recalls the moment as "a disturbing distraction from the television program I was watching at the time."
When the whole "family" thing didn't work out, the Millers disbanded. Miller's mother and father still live separately in the Philadelphia suburbs. His siblings both took up residence in Austin, Texas. They're all Jews, but they're all right - except for Miller's father, who voted for W - get this - twice.
Roggan has one memory of life with the Berlin Wall when her mother traveled to West Germany. She and her sister had to remain behind to ensure her return. (On a happy note, she did, and the Wall later fell.)
Miller received a religious-Zionist education at Abrams Hebrew Academy, a private elementary school. "Though," he says, "calling what they do there 'education' is iffy at best." After making the switch to a public high school, Miller would stand for the pledge of allegiance but would not utter the mantra. "I felt an allegiance to the Israeli flag," he says shaking his head in embarrassment. "Turns out all the flags are the same. Just the colors and the rate at which you are taxed vary," he says of his misguided path towards Jewish militancy that would ultimately lead him to pursue the false dream of a red beret.
Miller moved here the beginning of 2001 and is actively trying to forget many of the details since.
Roggan first arrived in April 2008 to audition for the Batsheva Dance Company's Ensemble troupe. "I came for Batsheva but I realized, even before the audition, that's it's about Israel and the dance scene here," she says of the decision she made to further explore this place, no matter the audition's outcome.
DANCE IN ISRAEL
"First of all, it's a completely different style than what you get in Europe or America," says Roggan of her initial attraction to the local offerings. "There's a certain urgency to the movements. They're absolutely physical and through that comes something intellectual, not the other way around." She misses contact and floor work, two aspects she says are lacking here.
The meeting took place through a common friend, another German dancer who had met Roggan at the Batsheva audition. Neither made it and both had a few more days in the country before having to head back to Germany. It was Pessah and Roggan came to Miller's for dinner in lieu of a traditional holiday meal. At the end of the night, they shared a kiss before Roggan had to rush off to the airport.
Roggan e-mailed Miller to let him know her return was imminent. She arrived on November 4, 2008 to a most intense scene. Miller, his roommates and many of his friends had stayed up all night to watch the US election results. Roggan was as pleased as Miller to see some semblance of democracy returned to the American people. Not long after she received a role in the Dana Ruttenberg Dance Company's piece "NABA," which recently debuted at the Suzanne Dellal Center. She also teaches gyrokinesis (moveonit.net), a technique that focuses on the spine, using fluid movement to increase an awareness of the whole body, increasing energy and ease of movement. She has just begun working on a new dance piece with a new choreographer along with a handful of other projects. "NABA" will continue to be performed on local and international stages.
COUNTRY OF THE JEWS
"I'm surprised that people don't have any problems that I'm from Germany," says Roggan. There are, however, elements of Israeli society that she finds ridiculous. As example, she cites, "Passover, with the plastic covers over the food at the AM:PM [supermarket]. As if the city's supposed to be kosher. It's a big farce." Troubling in particular for both her and Miller is the lack of public transportation on Saturdays.
TEL AVIV OF THE JEWS
"I see a clear distinction between Tel Aviv and the rest of the country," Roggan says. "I can see the famous 'bubble.' Because of it, the people are actually ignoring a lot of the stuff going on in the rest of the country. I think that Israel is a highly interesting country because of all its problems. But, it makes me sad how Israel handles those problems."
Miller agrees, "It's the only city I could live in here. Still, it remains difficult, because, at the end of the day, you can't divorce the 'bubble' from Israel."
FUTURE AND FEAR
Both Miller and Roggan see themselves staying for a few years, though neither views Israel a legitimate location to raise children. "The cult of war and peace here is frightening," Miller says.
"I've heard that there's no public educational system that teaches how to make peace with your neighbor," Roggan says. "Rather, they're taught they must defend themselves, which teaches them fear. This is the worst thing ever."
Neither would send their child to the army. "Why would we invest all that love, time, money, blood and sweat just to send our kids off to kill or be killed? And at such a wonderful age! That's not parenting," Miller says, "that's psychopathic."
Friends and family from back home are what's most missing here for the both. Roggan adds that she also misses the ability to regularly express herself in her native tongue. Miller misses full-flavor bacon. In either case, they can see themselves spending a few years in both the US and Germany. Then, of course, they'll each be faced with missing those who remain in Israel. "I don't expect this country to exist for another full decade," says Miller, "so it'll be good for those close to us here to have somewhere to take refuge when that time comes."
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