A Guest In Haifa

We’re four of us attending the IsraDrama Festival in Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa; the four of us being Ari Roth, Shirley Serotsky, Jennifer Mendenhall  and Stephen Stern.  Here’s Jennifer’s first post:

Blogging on the go.
Getting ready to go to Israel tomorrow. Sinai has sent me his cell phone number and says he’ll be at the airport. I’m finishing up corrections on three audiobooks at once, have press-ganged the kids into clearing the living room which is due to be painted next week, juggled suddenly being a one car family thanks to the eedjit who totaled our 14 year old wagon, picked paint colors, what else? Haven’t packed or done laundry yet…

Imagine if you will, a total change of light and sound and air, an immersion into a foreign city filled with different nationalities and languages and foods, a peaceful apartment with a spacious balcony overlooking a lemon tree, the kindness of my hosts, who feed me and take me on excursions and indulge my mania for taking photographs of absolutely everything.

Today is Monday, I think? For three days I have been absorbing everything, and l am full of a kind of beautiful chaos of experiences. Toda. Todaraba. This means thank you, thank you very much. Thank you Sinai and Timna, for welcoming me so completely. I am forever indebted to you. Thank you to Ari and Stephen and Theater J for this chance to visit Israel, and to the organizers of the Isra-Drama festival, which begins on Wednesday evening. Some of us are starting early and will see a production at the Habima Theatre on Tuesday evening: Kohav Yair by Shlomo Moskovich at the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv.

We are seeing ten plays in five days, taking a tour of Jerusalem, attending a symposium about political playwrights at the Cameri Theatre and a presentation by El-Maidan Theatre, an Arab speaking theatre in Haifa. Being an orderly sort of person, I thought I’d write a blog each day about what we saw and did.  But I have succumbed to this place, where everything is mixed up and intertwined and you cannot take a step or eat a plate of food without stumbling into history, politics, nations and geography. Inextricable is a word that seems appropriate for this land.

Driving around Haifa with Sinai, he points out the beautiful old Arab houses, with intricately carved stone work and elaborate grills,  balconies rising floor by floor to the deep blue sky. I ask him who lives there now, and he shrugs. Sometimes Jewish, sometimes Arab. There are Christian Arabs, and the Achmedim of Kababir, who decided not to fight and whose families are still in the houses they built a hundred years ago. It is so much more complicated than the picture we receive in the United States, so much more sophisticated a set of puzzle pieces than we are accustomed to putting together.

In preparation for this trip, I read The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. It is a true account of the history of two families: the Arab family who fled their home and land during the war of 1948, always imagining they would return, and the immigrant family from Bulgaria, fleeing the horrors of Hitler, who became the new residents of the beautiful house with a lemon tree in the back yard. Please, read this book. It is helpful for those of us with no direct experience of this land, and also for those who might be afraid to look beyond the familiar. The story of Bashir and Dalia illustrates the struggle between Palestinian and Israeli: two people’s right to a home land, the same land, bitterly, mutually exclusive. There is also hope, which seems hard to believe, that accord can be reached; this will not happen if people refuse to learn, or refuse to see and understand.

The two characters I played in Imagining Madoff and After The Fall were complete opposites in mindset, personality and physicality. But they shared an astounding confession. The Secretary said “I didn’t know. I just didn’t know” about Bernie Madoff’s fraud. Hola said, about the concentration camps, “It was my country – for longer, perhaps, than it should have been – but I didn’t know. And now, I don’t know HOW I could not have known”. There is so much I do not understand about the conflict in this part of the world. But if I keep my eyes and ears open, I will learn.
Laila tov. Good night.

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