D.C. Jewish theater director defends reading of anti-Israel play
WASHINGTON — Ari Roth is not surprised that his decision to stage a reading of “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza” has infuriated some in the Washington Jewish community.
“People have a right to be offended, and I respect those who have read the play and are offended,” said Roth, the artistic director of Theater J at the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Center, where the 10-minute play was performed this week. It also will be staged Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in Washington at the Forum Theater.
Roth himself was upset by the script.
However, he has added two pro-Israel plays to the evening as well as a panel discussion as part of an effort to give a broader context to the play.
Written by British playwright Caryl Churchill, the play is an indictment of Israel, Israelis and their attitudes toward Palestinians. It describes how the Jewish parents discuss teaching their children about the Jewish state and the Gaza war. For example, one portion deals with living in Israel. The parent says: “Tell her, of course tell her, tell her everyone was driven out and the country is waiting for us to come home. Don’t tell her she doesn’t belong here.”
Insofar as the Palestinians are concerned, the dialogue reads, “Tell her we’re stronger. Tell her we’re entitled. Tell her they don’t understand anything but violence.” And, “Tell her they’re filth.”
It’s that kind of rhetoric that alienated some local Jews.
Martin Berman-Gorvine, 39, of Silver Spring, Md., said in an interview that he has been a peace activist in Israel and the United States. He knows that Israelis don’t always treat Palestinians fairly, and there is room for criticism.
“But this is a piece of anti-Israel propaganda and not something that should be a part of the broad spectrum of debate in the Jewish community,” the Silver Spring resident said.
Herman Taube, 90, is stronger in his condemnation. “We have some Jews who you spit in their face and they say it’s raining,” said the Rockville resident. “That’s what happened at Jewish Community Center.”
Roth called Churchill a great writer, saying she has penned this script “both well and to some degree recklessly, even with a great deal of craftsmanship and with a sense of moral outrage to which it might be unwise for us to cast a blind eye and a deaf ear.”
In addition, Roth noted that Theater J presented two pieces written in reaction: “Seven Palestinian Children,” by playwright Deb Margolin and “The Eighth Child,” by Robbie Gringras, artist in residence at Makom, Jewish Agency for Israel.