Israel, Dialogue & Our Community

by Carole R. Zawatsky
CEO, Washington DCJCC

The Washington Post has an article today about the challenges facing Jewish institutions and Jewish artists who seek to engage with the difficult issues surrounding Israel and its quest for peace and security with the Palestinians. The case-in-point concerned the controversies that arose from this past spring’s presentation of the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv’s production of Return to Haifa at our resident, professional theater company, Theater J. We are at a unique moment in American Jewish life. The reality is that in the process of seeking to understand and grapple with this large issue facing Israel and ourselves, our community is still searching for a safe way to engage in this discussion with honesty, civility and respect for the passionate sincerity on both sides. This conversation goes beyond the boundaries of our local Jewish community and speaks to its importance and relevance.

Thus, the Washington DCJCC is committed to inspiring balanced, thoughtful and relevant Jewish culture through film, theater, literature and music, that welcomes all perspectives both from right and the left living up to the highest principles of our Jewish tradition.

Monday evening as we observe Tisha B’av – the anniversary of one of the most calamitous dates in Jewish history that marks the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, it is taught that the Temple was destroyed because of the “senseless hatred of one Jew for another.” (Yoma 9b) It is tempting to conclude that the past is prologue and that the strains placed on the ancient Jewish community by Babylonian and Roman invasions parallel the threats of today. Our Jewish future continues to hold great promise when we encourage all those who hold a stake in our destiny the opportunity to immerse their intellect, their creativity and their spirit in preserving and enriching the Jewish present.

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Passing Marks–Getting Beyond Critics in a One-Daily Town

Part of the deal of presenting arts in a city with only one widely-read daily newspaper is that your fortunes become inextricably tied to your coverage in that paper. This cuts both ways. When the coverage is good we prosper, praise the generous and wise coverage bestowed upon us and send links to the positive press in mass emails. When the coverage is not so good, which is to say either critically negative or non-existent, we suffer. We curse the folly of investing so much authority in one publication. We snidely remind ourselves that newspapers are a dying medium anyway with steeply declining circulations, ad revenues and prospects. But we don’t argue the call. Not publicly anyway. To do so is an implicit violation of the deal. Peeing in the well from which you’ll eventually need a drink.

The situation meets its absurd (il)logical end in the theater, where the voice of one critic in particular, hugely impacts the success of a show. Following the jubilation of the great feature article on Sunday, came today’s harsh reality and a heavily negative review from Peter Marks for David in Shadow and Light. He calls it “a ponderous mishmash.” He derides the music as “meandering” and “atonal,” the lyrics as “doggerel” and the production in general as “turgid.” It was a pretty harsh review, as these things go–especially harsh when you consider this was a new work with (I think) a lot of merit. And so, with all due respect to Mr. Marks, we disagree.

The music Marks found meandering and atonal, I actually find quite melodic and complex. Daniel Hoffman’s music draws on middle eastern rhythms that are built differently than the chord, chorus and tonal structure of your average, western musical. To call it “atonal” brings to mind Schoenberg’s critique of the term that, “it is on a par with calling flying ‘the art of not falling,’ or swimming ‘the art of not drowning.'” Which is to say that the review judges the music for what it is not without ever investing a serious consideration of what it is. The critic has every right to consider and reject, but where was the consideration? Continue reading

“Mom’s The Word” Says the Post

Mother’s Day comes early this year at Theater J and the first gift is the review of 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother from Peter Marks who writes in the Washington Post this morning:

Gold — who’s extravagantly tall (6-foot-3), boisterously gay and unabashedly opinionated — alternates in this piece at Theater J between portions of her stand-up routines and a series of impersonations of Jewish women of varying ages and attitudes toward religious observance…

But comedy of this nature can’t survive for long in the thin, throat-closing air of sentimentality; thankfully, Gold spends more time twisting the knife than prospecting for tears. She gets right, for example, a hair-trigger sense of outrage — guffaw-inducing in its explosiveness — that’s ignitable in a woman of Ruth’s seemingly impatient temperament.

Those seeking an extra dose of Judy Gold should also check out the Screening Room’s presentation of Making Trouble on Tuesday, February 5th. In this documentary, Gold serves as one of four modern Jewish comediennes gathered together to comment on the careers and legacies of the groundbreaking women who came before them. Judy plans to be at the post-screening discussion along with Lauren Antler of the Jewish Women’s Archive, the producers of the film.

Updated: The Examiner and DC Theater Scene loved it even more than Marks.

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