Gili Getz, a self-described “Israeli-American Jewish liberal Zionist,” performed a one-man play titled, “The Forbidden Conversation,” on Wednesday, May 9 at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s Katz Theater.
The 30-minute performance, which was hosted by J Street Pittsburgh, enabled participants to observe Getz’s scripted introspection on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as discuss personal connections to the topic.
With minimal props and merely gesticulations and vocal cadence as his tools, Getz offered a show that permitted observers to sense one man’s struggles with articulating the historical and present-day situations of Palestinians and Israelis.
As the 44-year-old photojournalist narrated, a familial moment of crisis ensued in 2014 when he and his father were no longer able to discuss the conflict because of their differing political views. Such inability to confer and debate birthed an artistic enterprise, he told the more than 50 attendees.
“I wanted to tap into it. What is that like not talking about Israel? How did we get here,” he said in a post-production interview.
In processing those questions, Getz spent 2015 working with LABA, the Laboratory for Jewish culture, at the 14th Street Y in New York City. He studied Talmud, spoke with rabbis and produced “The Forbidden Conversation,” which premiered at the Center for Jewish History in the spring of 2016.
Apart from crafting an act, seeking solace in art facilitated rapprochement between father and son, said Getz. “He was a part of the process. It allowed us to open a dialogue, not just about politics but about how we feel.”
Despite having staged “The Forbidden Conversation” close to 30 times at Jewish community centers, synagogues and Hillels throughout the United States, Getz’s 70-year-old Israeli father has never seen the show. Nonetheless, the elder Getz is familiar with the work.
“I read him the play,” said the son. “The whole process made us closer. We overcame something very deep.”
As Jews, “fighting we do very well, talking we do very poorly,” he added. “The main thing is allowing people to find space.”
What I have seen is that as opposed to holding open dialogues on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, many Jewish communities have deflected such matters…
But finding vacancies is easier said than done, said Getz, who in addition to documenting Jewish activism in New York City and Washington, D.C., has traveled the United States performing his show. For him, time on the road has demonstrated that “some families choose not to talk about Israel because of shalom bayit,” the Jewish concept directly translated as “peace in the home.”
The silence is furthered by communal leaders who have expressed, “We don’t do politics here,” said Getz. “What I have seen is that as opposed to holding open dialogues on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, many Jewish communities, synagogues and college campuses have deflected such matters to the handling of four major organizations: Jewish Voice for Peace, J Street, AIPAC and the ZOA.
“Having only four perspectives, it really throws people off.”
Worse yet, without an ability to discuss the realities of contemporary Palestinians and Israelis, American Jews will become detached, he predicted. “The mass majority of Jewish youth is disengaged from this conversation.”
Prompted by questions such as, “What is the price that Jewish Americans pay for not being able to have this conversation?” “What does a healthy version of this look like?” and, “Who has had a hard time in their personal life discussing Israel/Palestine?” attendees at Getz’s Steel City show broke into groups. After reconvening, volunteers recapitulated chats and shared strategies for progress.
“I think discussion is always a good thing and we need to have more discussions,” said Simon Weiss, of Squirrel Hill. “To get other people’s viewpoints is enlightening.”
Such was the goal of Getz’s visit, explained Malke Frank, co-chair of J Street Pittsburgh, as it granted an “opportunity to come together.”
Programs like these provide “a safe space for people in the community to share their experiences, to share their fears,” added Frank, “to share their hopes and to hear their thoughts for the future.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.