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JFNA General Assembly in Denver - Zionist Theater!

by Samantha Tropper |Nov 07, 2011|Comments


Well hello there, Colorado. Nice to see you.

Ready for the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly? Buckle your seatbelts and please keep all hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times. Thank you.

After perusing the various booths about Jewish education, travel, and philanthropy in the Exhibit Hall in the Sheraton Hotel Denver, I attended my first session. This opening forum, entitled "The Big Blue Tent and Jewish Dissent," was an interactive presentation of a play about Israel and the Zionist movement.

In their introduction, the speakers discussed the movement to delegitimize Israel, saying: "Ultimately, the assault on Israel's legitimacy is a rejection of the idea that the Jews are a people with the right to political self determination in their historic homeland." While I agree that the Jews have their own rights, I also think that there is another group of people who could make the same claim that the Jews are making with this statement, since the Palestinians are also trying to establish a political presence in a place with historical meaning to them. However, as I was thinking about all the things I would like to say to this speaker about his views, he surprised me with the following statement: "The aim of a loyal critic is to better, not batter, society." This made me rethink the way I sometimes talk to people about their somewhat radical beliefs. If we are going to tell people something they are doing is not working well, we better be able to tell them how to make it better.

During the workshop, a play was put on called, "Paul Has a Bad Day." Paul Morris, played by Alexander Strain, is the CEO of an organization that also funds a Jewish Community Center. Paul battles with his own emotions, decisions, and beliefs throughout the day as he discusses anti-Zionism with four people he meets, all of whom were portrayed by Laura Giannarelli.

In this JCC, a play is being put on that was written by Toni Cohen, a Jewish woman involved in the anti-Zionist movement. She claims that there is an apartheid in Israel right now, that the Jews are committing "atrocities and destroying Judaism." The acts some Israelis are committing are violent and unnecessary in my opinion, but, like Paul, I wonder if 'apartheid' is going a little too far.

Through continued talks with Alyssa, the theater director at the JCC; Thalia, his secretary; and Carol Fishman, an important donor, Paul encounters multiple views on the Zionist movement and the legitimacy of Israel. Thalia claims that the State itself is "a bit racist," much to Paul's surprise, and Carol withdraws her support for the JCC because of the play by Toni Cohen that she thinks will open up unfavorable discussions about Israel.

After the 25-minute play, the audience was asked for advice to make it better, and some audience members even hopped up onstage to portray characters themselves! (I was unfortunately not called on, despite my enthusiastic jumping and hand-waving in the back of the room.) Some of the comments I found most interesting and in-line with what I was thinking were about Paul having missed a chance to find common ground with the discussions he had because he was always on the defensive instead of genuinely being interested in the others' opinions and learning why they felt the way that they did. Thalia was also brought up. She was portrayed as the youngest in the cast, probably in her mid- to late-20s, and also as the one with the least confidence in her views, some of which were even founded in misinformation since she was relatively not well informed. This bothered me a little because I am twenty years old, even younger than she was portrayed to be, and I feel like I can form my opinions more strongly and with more certainty than she was able to do. Her character seemed to underestimate hers and my generation. I know many people my age and a little older who are well-educated on Israeli culture, history, and politics, and can form solid views and arguments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Zionism. Her character should be revised to give us a little more credit!

I enjoyed this workshop a lot because it involved two of my passions: theater and Israel. While I did not agree with some views presented in the play, I found it informative and it made me think about discussions I have had and will have in the future about Israel, Judaism, and Zionism, and the way in which I can present myself to be understandable and credible.

Dinner was fabulous (and kosher!) and now it's off to the Matisyahu concert! Time for a night of music and merriment!


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