The wandering Israeli

Many people of a certain vintage, say senior citizens in their late sixties and older, can recall exactly where they were when they heard about the assassination of US president John F. Kennedy, in 1963.

Elad Shippony (right) has embarked on many an escapade; here with percussionist Eran Edri (left) and Sagi Eiland, guitar and vocals. (photo credit: DANIT SIGLER)
Elad Shippony (right) has embarked on many an escapade; here with percussionist Eran Edri (left) and Sagi Eiland, guitar and vocals.
(photo credit: DANIT SIGLER)
Elad Shippony is a doer. It’s as simple as that. The forty-something Israeli-born, Los Angeles-raised actor has a history of setting his sights on something and just getting his nose to the grindstone, putting his money where his mouth is, and doing anything and everything required to achieve his objective.
That pragmatic line of attack has left Shippony with fluency in Arabic and Spanish and more than a smattering of French and Russian, naturally in addition to Hebrew and English. Add to that a one-man theatrical production that has been doing the rounds of the country, with occasional Stateside jaunts, and the proof of the go-getter pudding is there for all to see and enjoy.
Oh, and one should not forget that the show in question, The Wandering Israeli, is currently available to entertainment consumers in three languages – Spanish, English and Hebrew. On Saturday, November 4, Shippony will perform the play three times in succession, at 5 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., in the aforementioned linguistic order, at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv. The play is offered as a salute to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated on November 4, 1995. “It was also a Saturday night,” Shippony notes. “So it is all the more apt.”
Many people of a certain vintage, say senior citizens in their late sixties and older, can recall exactly where they were when they heard about the assassination of US president John F. Kennedy, in 1963. The same may apply to anyone old enough to remember when Rabin was fatally wounded, as he left a rally in what was then Malchei Yisrael Square – now Rabin Square – in Tel Aviv.
Shippony was one of the few Israelis who happened to be in the Jordanian capital of Amman at the time.
He had been there for three months when that fateful event took place, principally to get a street-level taste of life “on the other side” and to learn Arabic. He reckoned that to become proficient in a language, you need to be somewhere where you can immerse yourself in it on a daily basis. Judging by the fluency of his speech and his diction in the various Arabic excerpts in The Wandering Israeli, he managed that with aplomb.
While the performance is proffered as a salute to Rabin, it is about much more than that, as the title suggests.
Shippony left the country, with his family, at the age of three. He returned at the age of 17, after graduating from high school a year early.
“It’s very romantic to say I wanted to be a soldier, but the truth is I wanted to be a professional soccer player,” he says with a chuckle.
“I had a cousin who was on the management board of what was then a top team here – Beitar Tel Aviv.” The reference to the club’s standard of performance was, no doubt, made tongue in cheek. Although Beitar won the odd title during its 66-year history – it folded in 2000 – it was never quite up there with the country’s legendary soccer outfits.
Still, at the time, the team played in the Premier League, and the soccer scene in Israel, in the late ’80s, believe it or not, was in a healthier condition than its Stateside counterpart, which was going through a slump.
Shippony’s own career, in the Holy Land, did not quite scale the hoped-for heights. He had a run, as goalkeeper, on the junior team and eventually made it to the senior squad. “I was a substitute for a game at Bloomfield Stadium [in Jaffa], but didn’t get to play. That was the closest I got.” There was more to come from the goalie. “I made a comeback at the age of 38. I played for three years, for Hapoel Pardesiya, in League 2 – another great team,” he laughs.
That latter-day attempt to resurrect his abortive soccer dreams is characteristic of the man, and one that has informed his endeavor in every avenue he has followed to date. He comes up with an idea and then simply runs with it as far as it – or he – can go.
It later turns out that Shippony was being economical with the truth about his motives for making aliya.
“I really wanted to be here. My heart was in Israel,” he subsequently confesses, adding that he was all set for college studies, in journalism, but decided to make his home in Israel. “I immediately felt I belonged here. I come from a Zionist background. I love this place. In contrast with them [born-and-bred Israelis], I chose to live here.”
Following his military service as a combat soldier, like many IDF vets he hit the road and went off to see the world. Typically, Shippony traveled further, and took more adventures, than most.
“I took a boat along the Congo River, with a friend, for a month,” he states. He also went trekking in the Andes with his dad. “I have always tried to be different.”
That is glaringly obvious, and will come across in buckets in The Wandering Israeli, which comes with live musical accompaniment courtesy of guitarist Sagi Eiland and percussionist Eran Edri. The show’s website concisely describes it as a “journey down the lesser- known pathways of modern-day Israeli culture.”
Shippony conjures up a rich brew in the show, with seasoning from across the Israeli social spectrum, possibly as only someone who spent his formative years living in a different culture can.
The Wandering Israeli was first unveiled in 2004 and, as is his wont, Shippony largely performed the piece on the fly.
“I don’t have any formal training in acting,” he says. “I learned as I went along.”
Sky-high confidence notwithstanding, Shippony says the first shows were “catastrophic,” but that things picked up along the way. He also picked up some valuable professional tips from an experienced theater director.
Today, he reels off the script in an entirely convincing and engaging manner. It is hard to think of anyone else here with accrued thespian credentials – The Wandering Israeli has run over 600 times to date – better equipped to convey the sense of being an Israeli to Israelis and non-Israelis alike. After spending only a few minutes in Shippony’s company, it was clear that I was in the presence of a born storyteller, with the energy and joie de vivre to boot.
His ability to go with the flow led him to embark on many an escapade across the globe and across the board. The English version of the show, for example, came about last year as Shippony was busting a gut to put together a Stateside tour that would at least cover the costs. To that end he reckoned he had to secure at least four bookings, and he had but three. That was until he hit on the idea of putting together an English version, thereby boosting the number of dates to six in one fell swoop.
That was easier said than done, but as usual he managed it.
“I sweat blood to translate and transliterate the words and sensibilities of Israeli culture into English,” he says, mother tongue-standard English notwithstanding.
It was the same with the rendition in Spanish, a language he learned while trekking in South America.
There is plenty of humor in The Wandering Israeli, along with some pretty emotive stuff. Shippony made a documentary about the backdrop to the play, which features his return to Amman a full 15 years after he left in the wake of the Rabin assassination.
Among other moving and comedic vignettes, we discover that Shippony learned of the tragic event from Kamil, the owner of the hostel where he’d been living for three months. After informing him of the killing, Kamil expressed his condolences and told Shippony, in Arabic, “We are all with you.”
Whether your choice of language is Spanish, Hebrew or English, or all three, should you make your way to the Café Theater venue at the Cameri tomorrow evening you may find yourself wondering whether to laugh or cry, or both.
For tickets and more information: (03) 606-0960, and