Peres pays Passover respects

President Shimon Peres visits Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar.

President Peres521 (photo credit: Spokesperson’s Department Beit Hanassi)
President Peres521
(photo credit: Spokesperson’s Department Beit Hanassi)
■ AS HAS been his custom for many years, President Shimon Peres called on Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger to wish them well on the last of the intermediate days of Passover. He also called on former chief rabbi and Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, with whom he has a long-term relationship that transcends all political differences. The two men have a genuine fondness for each other.
The fact that Shas did not make it into the government this time around did not preclude Peres from continuing to pay his respects to Ovadia Yosef.
■ STAGE ONE, the fourth annual English Speaking Theater Festival, held at Beit Avi Chai during hol hamoed, was further proof of the need for a permanent repertory theater in Israel. There are several English-speaking theater groups – some professional, some amateur and some community sponsored – but year-round English-language theater is still a dream away. The combined and individual talents that go into Stage One demonstrate a host of often hidden thespian gifts because few of the people involved are full-time actors, directors, producers or playwrights.
One of the plays staged for the festival, It's Not You, Well…, Maybe It Is, written by Sura Shachnovits and Raphael Poch, who is also the artistic director of the festival and played a supporting role in the play, should be taken on tour throughout the Jewish world. A comedy that has a very serious side to it, the plot is about setting up singles with each other, with the would-be matchmakers seldom knowing enough about either of the parties other than the fact that they’re single and should be married. The pressures put on Jewish singles, whether religious or secular, are horrendous – worse actually in religious communities, where early marriage is encouraged to ensure that active hormones will not lead to premarital sexual activity. In the play, the pressures, fears and uncertainties were illustrated in a series of vignettes in which the situations and the dialogue were very realistic and the acting was so good that some members of the audience may have felt like voyeurs witnessing real-life situations.
Another excellent production was Yehoshua Sobol’s Schneider and Shuster, based on the legendary Yiddish comedy team of Dzigan and Shumacher, two Jewish comedians from Poland who survived the Holocaust years by escaping to Bialystok, which was occupied by the Soviets. They also spent some time in a Russian forced labor camp, from which they escaped and came to Israel. Set in the shadow of the Holocaust, the play is very timely. Sarel Peterman and Hen Voda, who played the title roles, were nothing short of brilliant in a trilingual production in which their accents were perfect. In addition to performing in English, Yiddish and Hebrew, they also introduced convincing Russian and German accents into their dialogue.
The festival, which also included folk and rock music and cabaret-style comedy, concluded with a monologue competition, in which there were 10 finalists out of what Poch termed “a myriad of monologues” submitted for the competition.The central theme of the monologues was “I Jewish,” and the entries proved yet again that wherever there are two Jews, there are three opinions. Although everyone stuck to the theme, the variety of ways in which they dealt with it was amazing in terms of concept and language. Steven Winston, who won first prize for his Tarzan act, in which he pounded his chest growling “I Jewish!” and got the audience to follow suit, made aliya from Scotland a year ago. He was standing in for a friend who wrote the monologue but who decided to go off on vacation.
Zusha Mantinband, the winner of the second prize, performed a moving monologue about a Jewish boy growing up in a totally assimilated family, who left to recapture his heritage.
The third prize winner, Miriam Esther Eyges, came from Boston specially to compete. A divorcee who found religion late in life, she was encouraged by the wife of a Chabad rabbi to go to the mikve (ritual bath), even though she was past the age and had no immediate prospects for remarriage. The rabbi’s wife understood Eyges’s need to feel pure. But it wasn’t an easy experience for Eyges, whose monologue Mikve Mission – Potholes on the Way to Purity was tinged with humor, determination and courage. The audience was with her all the way and reacted with laughter and applause. For Eyges, the prize was less important than the realization of a 30-year dream to come to Israel. She simply couldn’t afford the price of an airline ticket. But when her monologue was selected for the finals, relatives and friends in Boston and in Israel donated and loaned money to her so that she could make the trip.
The enthusiastic audiences that Stage One attracts every year, plus the audiences of other theater and operatic groups – such as Jerusalem’s Encore Educational Theater Company, the Jerusalem English Speaking Theater (JEST), The Hillel Theater Workshop at the Hebrew University, Raise Your Spirits – The Gush Etzion all-female group of actresses, singers and dancers, the Beersheba-based Light Opera Group of the Negev (LOGON), the Old Barn Players near Ashkelon, Tel Aviv Community Theater (TACT), Haifa English Theater (HET), the Guild Theater Group of Ra’anana – are indicative of the need to establish a national English-language theater in Israel with a permanent home. Some of these groups occasionally perform outside their particular geographic domains, but it’s not the same as having a national theater such as Yiddishpiel, which plays primarily at ZOA House in Tel Aviv but tours the country and also performs abroad.
■ REGULAR CONGREGANTS were outnumbered by tourists during Passover services at the Hazvi Yisrael synagogue in Talbiyeh. Many of the regulars preferred going to hotels elsewhere in the country than having the hassle of preparing for Passover at home in Jerusalem, which is why they were absent for the whole of the festival. In welcoming the visitors, synagogue board member Robert Asch reminded them that there are three pilgrim festivals on the Jewish calendar, and he implied very clearly that the visitors who came to Jerusalem for Passover were expected to return for the other two pilgrim festivals as well.
■ ATTENDANCE HAS increased to such an extent at Chabad Rehavia, that Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg had to find alternative premises for prayers, although the Chabad Center continues to function in the Rehavia Windmill for all other purposes. The Jerusalem Great Synagogue was kind enough to make one of its halls available to Chabad, so it now has under one roof an Ashkenazi Orthodox congregation, a Sephardi Orthodox congregation and a Chabad congregation.
■ SOME 200 Australian participants in the Zionist Federation of Australia Gap Year programs in Israel will attend the annual ANZAC Day ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery on Mount Scopus on April 25. Prior to the traditional commemoration service, which will be hosted by Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner at 10 a.m., the Gap Year students will receive a guided tour and a lecture on the significance of the ANZAC campaign and the involvement of Australian and New Zealand troops in liberating what was then Palestine from Turkish rule.