Living on a Prayer: Evacuee returns to the stage

Rina Akerman's one-woman show addresses why she chose to live in Neveh Dekalim.

stage 88 (photo credit: )
stage 88
(photo credit: )
On Saturday night, 300 women of all ages sat in a chilly auditorium at the Noam Yeshiva high school in the capital's Givat Mordechai neighborhood, watching Gush Katif evacuee Rina Akerman's one woman show about why she chose to live in Neveh Dekalim. The event, organized by a group of evacuees still housed in the Shalom Hotel in Jerusalem, was in honor of the meshubachot - the girls and women who moved to Gush Katif in the days and weeks before the disengagement - and those who have assisted the evacuees since. Akerman, a vivacious mother of 11 who chose to stay home to raise her children, wrote the show five years ago, and has performed before religious and secular women's audiences around the country. She wrote it after the terror attack on the Kfar Darom school bus in which her daughter's teacher, Miri Amitai, was among the murdered. Akerman explains: "This was the first major terror attack of the intifada... it took place two days after my son's brit milah [circumcision]. My husband volunteered his services in Kfar Darom and he was there 'till the early hours of the morning. I wrote the show when I was alone in the middle of the night, nursing my newborn and waiting for my husband to return from Kfar Darom." After the murder of Tali Hatuel and her four daughters on the road to Gush Katif in May 2004, Akerman incorporated the response of the Gush Katif community, in which the burial of the Hatuels was followed by a symbolic planting of trees, into the script. Although Akerman had performed the show in her community a few times, she didn't think much more of it until disengagement became a serious threat. It was then that she was asked to perform it as part of the community's information campaign. One memorable performance took place at Kibbutz Nachal Oz, a secular kibbutz on the Gaza border. Akerman recalls, "They were very touched and I think it opened a meaningful connection, a dialogue, between us." The show's title, In the Forest, in the Forest, We will Dance (taken from a Hebrew children's rhyme), provides the theme for Akerman to talk, sing, skip and dance her way through an account of her youth in France, summers in Switzerland and the tragic murder by Nazi-collaborators in a Lithuanian forest of her grandmother Bubbe Reine, for whom she is named, and its connection to Akerman's decisions to make aliya and later settle in Neveh Dekalim. After her family's traumatic evacuation from their home in August, Akerman turned down a number of requests to rewrite the show and take it on the road again, preferring to focus on her family's needs. "For a long time, it was too painful to return to the script. I didn't feel I had the emotional strength to make changes to it," says Akerman, "But someone who had seen the show told the principal of a girls' high school about it, and she was insistent that I should perform it for her students." In December, Akerman finally gave in to the request, but she did not change the original version. "I want people to see how life was there, to understand our strength and that we were torn away in the middle of everything." Throughout the show, Akerman refers to Gush Katif in the present tense, describing the trees she has planted in her garden and her children playing outside. Only after she steps to the side of the stage to signal the end of her original script does Akerman return to speak directly to the audience about how she views the destruction of her community of 16 years. In a particularly moving conclusion, Akerman says, "After our house and orchard had been torn down, my husband Eli returned to witness the destruction. In front of the rubble that was our home, Eli saw a single pomegranate left hanging on one of our withered, dead trees. He picked the fruit and brought it with us to the hotel. We ate the seeds of that pomegranate on Rosh Hashana. This is our message... the trees we planted so lovingly in Gush Katif have been trampled and destroyed, but we still have the fruit, and with God's help we will rebuild." Since the goal of Saturday night's performance was to help the young people who had helped them, once it concluded Akerman's husband, Eli, director of psychological services in Kiryat Arba, invited members of the audience to take the microphone and speak about their experiences and feelings during and after the disengagement. One young woman, a 22-year-old university student from Dimona, described how she had missed three major examinations last summer in order to move, in solidarity, to Neveh Dekalim. "I will have to repeat an entire year of studies to make up those courses," the student told the audience, "But it was worth it. I needed to be able to look back and know that I did my part to try to save Gush Katif. I don't understand the public's lack of caring for these idealistic and selfless people." Another young woman said, "Since the expulsion, I have felt stuck. This show gave me the opportunity to cry, to go back and remember, and now to move ahead." For Akerman, comments such as these make all the emotional and physical demands of her performance worthwhile. "Many of the young people who were in Gush Katif returned to families and communities that even though they were sympathetic, are unable to emotionally relate to their feelings. I want to reach out to every girl who was there with us - no one should be left alone after the destruction."