Landed gentry

Rani Blair brings the periphery to the stage in his play ‘Galut.’

‘Galut’ play (photo credit: EYAL BRIBRAM)
‘Galut’ play
(photo credit: EYAL BRIBRAM)
There are all sorts of ways of getting your thoughts and ideas out there – especially these days, what with the proliferation of social media and the Internet. Not that long ago, Rani Blair tried the direct, political route when he ran for the Knesset as No. 3 in the new Eretz Hadasha (New Land) Party.
Unfortunately, the attempt to get a foothold in our elected house of legislation failed, but the messages Blair and his cohorts tried to promulgate to the populace are still very relevant.
With his political ambitions stifled, at least for now, the 53-year-old Blair fell back on his primary line of work, theater directing.
And there is plenty of the sociopolitical ilk in his play, Galut – which translates as exile or diaspora, and will be performed at Tel Aviv’s Tzavta theater at 8:30 p.m. on Monday.
Galut is based on Blair’s TV series Adama, which caused quite a stir around three years ago and brought all manner of troubling undercurrents to the surface. The family in question lives on a moshav in the periphery and has anything but a quiet life. The national agricultural sector is on its uppers, and there is plenty of murky familial baggage afoot.
Blair did not have to look too far for the subject matter. Adama and, naturally, Galut have a lot of the autobiographical about them. Today Blair lives in Tel Aviv, but he hails from Moshav Yesha not far the Gaza Strip, and his late father, Yosta, was quite a pioneer. Yosta founded the Association of Israel Agriculturalists, and was a staunch advocate of supporting the country’s toiling farmers and trying to ensure that everything was above-board.
In fact, Blair prefers his own neatly tailored epithet, “autogeographic,” for the TV series and ensuing play.
“I took stories from here and stories from there and put them all together,” he says.
Stories are hardly in short supply, neither in Blair’s life nor in the galut. After many years away from the moshav Blair, an only child, returned to the Negev when his father became seriously ill. Once back on his old stomping grounds, all sorts of memories came flooding back, one of a particularly horrifying nature. When Blair was around 10 or 11, a similarly aged boy from the moshav died when an old wrecked car he was playing in went up in flames.
Many years later, when Blair attended the local Remembrance Day ceremony, his childhood pal’s death suddenly emerged, and got the director thinking about official injustices.
“I found myself standing next to an old man, Eli, who was the father of the boy who died, Danny. They called out all the names of the soldiers who fell in the wars or other military action, but Danny’s name wasn’t read out,” he recalls. “I thought about the unequal division of life, that even in death there is a class structure.
Danny wasn’t a hero. He didn’t die defending the country, so he can be forgotten.”
The germ for the TV series, and Galut, was duly sown. “I thought what might happen if Eli went to the committee in charge of ceremonies on the moshav and demanded that his son’s name also be read out on Remembrance Day. That’s what I wrote about, for an episode of the series.”
Blair is aware of the fact that he is addressing an element of Israeli life considered to be a cornerstone of our national consciousness. The director is clearly not wary of slaughtering sacred cows.
“I remember going to a grocery in Kfar Shmaryahu during the Second Lebanon War. There was a woman standing in line, and she saw a headline in one of the newspapers and said: ‘Oy, I see a Golani soldier was killed.’ Then the grocer said: ‘Golani? Yesterday a pilot was killed.’ “You see, there are the haves and havenots in death, too. It’s crazy. It’s part of our Jewish DNA; it’s a Diaspora mentality.”
Blair says that also goes for the official level.
“Just think about how hard people had to fight to get the victims of terror commemorated on Remembrance Day,” he notes. “It took them three or four years of waging something like a world war.”
All of the above found its way into the first episode of Adama, and now into Galut.
The creation of the play was instigated by the small Eshkol region-based Negev Theater troupe, when Blair was asked to transpose the TV series to the stage.
Galut shakes up a veritable can of worms, and a plethora of sorrows, but also has its funny and even heart-cockle- warming aspects.
“A year after Adama was shown on TV, at the following Remembrance Day ceremony at Yesha, Danny’s name was also read out,” reveals Blair. “That was very moving.”
Blair says he is delighted to hook up with the Negev Theater company for all sorts of reasons. For starters, it is his spiritual homebase, and feeds off the same rustic energies and clean air that he imbibed as a child at Yesha. He and his Eretz Hadasha cohorts were keen to do something to promote the efforts of theatrical professionals, and culture in general, around the country.
“I’d like us to be Britain, where they have a repertory theater company in practically every town,” he declares, adding that he not only wants the national culture pie to be cut more evenly, he’d like people who hail from our rural regions but gravitated primarily to the environs of Tel Aviv to further their careers.
Blair is a prime example of this – able to stay partly on the moshav or development town yet still able to make a living, without having to travel to the city in order to catch some quality entertainment.
Part of that is down to the lack of state investment in public transportation. “If we had a good train network, like they have in France, I could live in Yesha, next to my childhood friends and my widowed mother, and take the train to work in Tel Aviv in the morning and return home to the moshav in the evening.”
Ideally, Blair would like his friends and family at Yesha, and other small communities, to be able enjoy high-standard cultural offerings like Galut on their own patch. There is an even stronger case to be argued for the likes of Blair’s latest creation, with which the director believes many residents of moshavim and kibbutzim can identify strongly.
“The big story in Galut is not about Danny, it’s about the fate of farmers and what has been happening to the agricultural sector as a whole,” he points out.
He would very much like the play to set off alarm bells, in political circles and on the street level too.
“The state makes cynical decisions about the people who grow the country’s food. As far as the authorities are concerned we could just as well import the food, and the people who’d make money on that would be the people with the money – not the farmers.”
Blair is clearly following in his dad’s footsteps.
“There is no fixed selling price for agricultural produce here, so the growers never know if they are going to make a living,” he continues. “Farmers get into financial trouble, the banks don’t want to lend them money, so the farmers have to turn to the gray market.
“Agriculture is a great place to launder money. My dad talked about this a long time ago.”
For tickets and more information about Galut: (03) 695-0156/7.