Who Are the Seven Jewish Children?

1 04 2009

 

Seven Jewish Children - Jerusalem Post

Seven Jewish Children - Jerusalem Post

Are you fed-up with artsy posts yet? Well, here’s one more… A long one this time.

Famous British playwright, Caryl Churchil, recently wrote a controversial play regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has received both praise and anti-Semitism accusations. Over the past few weeks, newspapers covered the play, magazines wrote about it, and bloggers typed and typed and typed.

In this post, I will give you a summary of the controversial piece, a personal opinion and finally online resources to read, for those of you who are interested. Bored already? Give it a try.

 

Summary

“Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza” is a short, 10-minute play, first appeared in the Royal Court Theatre, London, in early February. It reached New York several days ago, with three readings at the New York Workshop Theatre, from March 25th to 27th.  Theater J in Washington, D.C., also featured two readings with the blessing and encouragement of Artistic director Ari Roth. I’ve also read that it will be going to other international cities soon.

The play is built on seven scenes. Each depicts Jewish parents discussing what to teach their children –mainly a little girl in the form of “her” – about Jewish suffering and the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can read the New York Times Script.

“Tell her they did it to themselves,” the lines say in scene seven, “Tell her they want their children killed to make people sorry for them, tell her I’m not sorry for them, tell her not to be sorry for them…. Tell her they’re animals living in rubble now, tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out.” These particular lines are what provoke the anti-Semitism charge.

The play peaks at the end, scene seven, where Jews transform from oppressed under the Nazis to oppressors through the State of Israel. The play ends with:

“Don’t tell her that

“Tell her we love her

Don’t frighten her.”

 

A Personal Take

Churchill has always been clear about her views when it comes to this conflict, and it isn’t pro-Israel. In fact, she can be more outspoken than Palestinians themselves. I have noticed that the play reads a little differently than when heard and seen. Check out the YouTube video at the end of this post to get a sense.

I agree that some of the parents are portrayed as inhumane in this play, choosing security over ethics. Sometimes they look like they’re in denial; nonchalant about the Palestinians; almost racist. 

At other times, however, they feel and look like every other parent in this world: worried about the safety of their child, filled with love, wanting to protect at all costs. That is the core of humanity.

From an art point of view, this play is beautifully-written. The repetition of the words “Tell her” in each line is deliberately crafted to engrave that message of “telling.”

“Tell her” becomes a soothing sound; calming in its consistency. You begin to look forward to it.

The simplicity of the play is exactly what makes the images it evokes most horrific. The juxtaposition of this simplicity with the harsh reality makes it artistically brilliant. “Seven Jewish Children” focuses on words and emotions rather than elaborate scenes. 

 

Now to the super serious stuff…

I don’t believe that criticizing Israel necessarily constitutes anti-Semitism. People criticize for many different reasons, and some of us do so because we believe there’s a better way; that there’s a brighter future and all sides of the conflict are responsible for it. The recent war in Gaza, followed by Human Rights reports and soldier testimonies did nothing to modify Israel’s image. Hence, this play.

A blogger wrote that yelling anti-Semitism with regards to this play trivializes the idea of anti-Semitism. I tend to agree.  In fact another blogger wrote that censoring this play would have worked against Jews and Israelis rather than for their benefit.

One blogger wrote a long piece justifying the existence of the State of Israel and its actions as a response to this play. Most of the anti-Israel accusations are laid out and countered with a line of thinking that follows “Well, the Arabs have done worse.” I encourage and love debate. But this line of thinking has gotten us nowhere and it is used by both Arabs and Israelis, Muslims and Jews, all across the world. It’s beginning to get a little old.

Another blogger wrote that some of his Israeli friends agree with some parts of the play, that there exists demonization from the Israeli side. I believe that all sides of this conflict dehumanize all the others. Why would we be in this situation if it wasn’t so? 

One large debate is about the title of the play. Why “Jewish Children” not “Israeli Children”? The argument is that in choosing “Jewish,” Churchill casts a generalization on all Jews, therefore, becoming anti-Semitic. The only reason I could think of for this specific choice is that this play is not just about Israelis because Churchill portrays Jewish parents during WWII. They were not Israelis then.

I will leave the debate about the BBC’s refusal to air the play on its Radio 4.

But I will add one more note: plays are not created to be impartial. Plays are not created to agree with you, and some writers’ opinions can be junk. Plays and their likes are created to express an idea, from the playwright’s point of view, from the artist’s point of view. You can’t, and shouldn’t, put chains on that. Can you image where that line of thinking would lead us? Downhill, to the dungeons of undemocratic societies.

 

The List

Aside from the links embedded in my previous long paragraphs, here’s more for those intrigued:

1.     Michael Billington’s review on the Guardian 

2.     Playwright Sonja Linden on Free Speech Blog in response to the BBC

3.     Norman Geras’ witty review, imitating Churchill’s language

4.     The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg interviewing Theatre J’s Ari Roth

5.     The Jerusalem Post‘s article

6.     FrontPage Magazine’s article 

7.     The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephen’s response

8.     The Nation‘s article 

9.     Mark Damazer from the BBC Radio 4 blog

10.   Ben Cohen on the Z-word blog

 

If you can think of more that are constructive, taking different sides, feel free to add them through comments. Rants are also fine.

Here’s a YouTube video of one reading…

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One response

5 04 2009
Margaret

Flip Israel’s oft-stated principle that it represents “the Jews” and one finds individuals responsible for policies that they must then disavow. I join you as a tax paying citizen. I do not support continued aide for Israel’s military activity. There are many reasons to oppose such policies, for me opposition begins with death and the trivilization of law, and -seemingly- may end in global depression.

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