Month: May 2019

Jerusalem Community Theater, Hidden in Plain Sight

Jerusalem Community  Theater

Wait, what? There’s community theater in English in Jerusalem?

I found myself hanging out just on the very edge of a fascinating and beautiful community. One I didn’t even know existed. How did I find out? Well… I married an actress.

But if it weren’t for that, I may have never noticed it was there.

The community is thriving, with over ten companies and a wide variety of shows performed every year.

But like anything else in the world, there’s room for improvement. And certainly room for expansion.

Why Jerusalem Community Theater?

People get involved in Jerusalem’s community theater groups for all sorts of reasons. According to CB Davies, the founder of JET, “Some people were involved in theater at some point in their life and want to do it again. Some … love the show … and so want to be a part of that … [and] there are those who want to continue to do theater and use their skills.”

However, it’s the social aspect that intrigues me the most. According to Rivka Deray, JET’s Content Manager, “It’s an incredible way for people, especially new Olim [immigrants], to find a community and create a social circle in Jerusalem.” She adds that, “New people join all the time, and there are people who always welcome them in and make them feel at home.”

There are many great adjectives people use to describe this community. The community is welcoming, diverse, and extremely supportive. Davies says, “We’re very multicultural. People join from all parts of the world.” And Marty Weisel, founder of JET Venues and a member of JET’s content team, says, “The best thing about the community is the people … surrounding myself with friends who support me and care about me.”

Room for Improvement

But as with anything great, there’s always space to grow and develop. And there are those working tirelessly to take this hidden gem in Jerusalem and make it even better.

Some speak about taking the performances and bringing them to the next level of quality. Weisel says, “The productions given by the community are incredible, however … there is always room for improvement. There is so much talent in the community … and we need to find the way to raise the standards all the time.”

Davies wants to expand the community, a suggestion that means a lot to me personally. I love theater. And yet I lived in Jerusalem for over a year without even realizing there was community theater at all, let alone in English. Davies wants to see the theater community “marketing itself better, reaching out to bring more people into the community, giving more people a chance to perform or use their skills [and] training.”

Some ideas are simpler, just to add a little pizazz to what exists. Deray offered a novel suggestion. She would like to see annual award ceremonies to celebrate some of the most impressive accomplishments in the community.

Next-Level Integration

However, the most common sentiment was that despite everything amazing that’s happening, a certain level of unity is lacking. “I would love to see it better integrated,” says Deray. “I’d love if there was a more interconnected system where any company could receive supplies, funding, etc as needed.”

Davies would also like to see a stronger “connection between the different companies.” He states that “they all give something different to the community, but in the end we are all the same artistic community.”

They believe the community is made up of multiple disparate parts, each one great in its own way. However, when the groups can come together under one banner, the potential is limitless. The whole will be far greater than the sum of each of its parts.

JET (Jerusalem English Theater)

And that’s where JET comes in. JET (Jerusalem English Theater community) was created to foster unity, and give all of its members everything they could have ever hoped for. “JET’s goals are to create a single place for companies to lean on,” says Deray. “Whether that is by providing locations, or advertising for all upcoming performances and auditions, or helping companies coordinate show schedules to avoid event conflicts. We want our site to become the Google of Jerusalem community theater, where people who aren’t as familiar yet can go to one beautiful website and find out all they need to know about upcoming performances and how they can be a part.”

It would be “a website that brings all the community into one place”, according to Davies. Replete with “blog posts to let people see what happens behind the scenes, promote the community, and let people express themselves.”

And part of the greater overall vision is to not only have a website, but an actual physical location (JET Venues). “A space that is geared towards performing arts”, says Weisel. “By having classes and opportunities available all the time … actors can hone their craft … and do what [they] love all year round.” Davies sees JET Venues ultimately as “a place that the community can call home for its artistic endeavors. This hopefully will allow artists to emerge, create, and bring new material and stories to Jerusalem”

And, of course, for the overall benefit of the community, everyone would love to see more and more involvement from a wider array of people. “I would love to see the theater community circle expand ever greater,” says Deray, “becoming home to more and more people and talents.”

Jerusalem Community Theater… is a Potato Chip

Davies says about much of these changes and developments, “I think in a way it is happening already, but I’d like to see more of it.”

Jerusalem Community Theater is a gem, hidden in plain sight in Jerusalem. It’s growing and improving all the time. Nevertheless, some folk want and need more. And they’re working to make that a reality.

Ultimately, Jerusalem’s theater community is a joyous one. “The shows themselves are like potato chips”, says Deray. “Once you’ve experienced the incredible feeling of putting your all into a production, working with and getting close to friends, old and new, you just have to come back for more.”

Yup, a fantastic community. However, there are a handful of folk out there hoping the community sees days with more, even tastier chips.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Entertainment, Israel, opinion, 0 comments

Not the Game of Thrones I Remember

Game of Thrones

Warning: This article is loaded with Game of Thrones spoilers. Beware!

I love Game of Thrones. Yeah, I know, it’s me and the rest of the world. But it doesn’t change the fact that I love everything from the intense action to the riveting dialogue to the top notch acting.

But Game of Thrones, whereas I do love you… I just don’t like you sometimes.

I think it’s important to explore some elements about why I love the show… in order to understand why I’ve been disappointed so much lately.

Game of Thrones is Anti-Hollywood

I didn’t know anything about Game of Thrones when I began watching it. Then again, I come into almost everything I watch blind. But Hollywood consistently leaves me with little to keep me on the edge of my seat. The good guys win, some characters are untouchable, and the love interest will put cute smiles on all our faces. All wrapped up neatly by the end.

But Game of Thrones shocked me time and time again. I watched a child pushed out a window in the first episode and knew something was quite different about this show. And at the infamous Red Wedding, as I saw the “good guys” systematically and brutally decimated, in jaw dropping fashion, I knew I was hooked.

My emotions were entirely trapped in the show. And like in real life, I never knew what was coming next. And I’ve spent the last several years on the edge of my seat.

Game of Thrones, Surprisingly Unsafe

In conjunction with the element of surprise, I love the fact that no character is ever truly safe. We’ve seen our beloved decapitated. We’ve seen their pregnant wife stabbed in the belly. And we’ve spent seasons growing to adore certain characters, only to see the show yank on our emotional wellbeing and toss it to the trashcan. One moment we look at you with admiration; the next, you are permanently removed from our lives.

No one is invincible. Everyone can get everything taken away from them in a heartbeat. Even in an embarrassing and disrespectful manner. As un-Hollywood as it can get!

The Patient GoT

In addition, Game of Thrones is patient. If the most important thing needed to create a dramatic impact is time, then so be it.

My heart was pounding when Jon Snow and Sansa Stark were reunited. They said goodbye to each other in the first season, and not knowing anything about what the other had been through, saw each other again five seasons later. I felt chills when it happened. I have never known a show willing to wait even remotely that long to create a sensation so special.

We Love to Hate

Finally, many shows have great heroes. But no one has mastered the villain the way Game of Thrones has. It’s harder to understand why hate and anger are as important as love and respect. But it’s true. Yes, we all love Tyrion, Arya, and Daenerys. But we went to sleep at night dreaming of how Joffrey could finally be out of the picture. We were restless for weeks wanting to know if Ramsay Bolton would get what’s coming to him. And the Night King has cost many souls a night’s slumber.

Season 8, Episode 3…

I’m writing this post shortly after watching the epic third episode of the final season of Game of Thrones. The episode was a masterpiece that kept the world breathing heavy for 90 minutes.

I loved it.

And I’m also terribly disappointed. All of the principles I mentioned before were ignored. Hollywood inserted its venom into the episode, and even though it was extremely entertaining, regretfully I believe ignoring what makes the show great, will ultimately make its ending quite forgettable.

Game of Thrones, Predictably Safe

What do I mean? There was nothing surprising about the episode. Nothing at all. It was a pure Hollywood delight. Yes, some characters who we have gotten to know for several years now perished. But every last one of them was expendable.

Does anyone really care if Theon Greyjoy finally met his Creator? Or if Beric Dondarrion will not be around for the next three episodes? Frankly, I don’t. Yes, they’re significant in the show, but they’re really not our heroes, nor are they characters of consequence.

But they all die amazing, heroic deaths. No one was slaughtered with their guard down or in some incredibly unexpected way. Everyone died like a champion. Even little adorable Lyanna Mormont took out a giant as she met her fate.

But what about Jon Snow and Daenerys and Tyrion? Completely and totally untouchable. For eight seasons, we haven’t seen Daenerys touch a single weapon. And now, just when it’s convenient, she’s a master killer of the Night King’s army. When we know the good guys are going to win, and the heroes cannot be harmed, Game of Thrones ceases to be Game of Thrones. We’re not kept on the edge of our seats. We can calmly watch knowing everything will be OK.

A Path Already Traveled

Game of Thrones seems to be taking a path already traveled, returning from a multi-season adventure where we never knew what to expect. It’s a world where Theon Greyjoy can die but Arya Stark cannot. A world where Theon gets to die a heroic death, as a great and valiant warrior.

We’re no longer waiting for a buildup to a great moment. And we’re watching as villains are dying like flies. The dreaded Night King, who poured fear into our hearts for years, whose spear took a dragon right out of the air, can be conquered by a single knife wound from a young girl.

GoT, What Will Be?

I miss the days of not knowing what will be. The days where heroes and villains had ambiguities. When plot and depth of character intrigued us, rather than being pulled in by just action and excitement.

Television has progressively become more and more disappointing. Few shows can capture my attention for more than a few seasons. Game of Thrones, you have been my shining light in a dark, dark cave. You’ve got three episodes left. Please don’t disappoint.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Entertainment, opinion, 0 comments

In a Stranger’s Grave

In a Stranger's Grave

Last year, Jerusalem’s community theater group Theater and Theology put on a remarkable play. The show tackled the issue of how a religion deals with an ever changing world. Off the Derech Dolorosa was not only a pleasure to watch… I’d definitely give it two thumbs as a fantastic play to propose after.

And this year, they’re back to tackle an extremely divisive and potentially painful issue: The retroactive cancellation of Jewish conversions.

The Conversion Crisis

There are some crazy and complex things that happen in Israel’s religious community. Sometimes they’re amusing. Sometimes downright heartbreaking. And sometimes so perplexing, they feel impossible to wrap one’s head around.

In Israel, there are assorted issues surrounding conversion to Judaism that are complex talking points in our community. Small and enormous travesties abound. These issues inspired Miriam Metzinger to tackle them in her play, In a Stranger’s Grave.

“I … was re-reading Sophocles’ Antigone,” Metzinger said, “about Oedpus’ daughter Antigone who was not allowed by the king … to bury one of her brothers because [he] felt this burial would cause a kind of moral pollution. I immediately thought about a story I had read in the newspaper about someone whose body was denied burial … because the conversion was not recognized in Israel … The issues in Antigone … are still … current many centuries later.”

One of the show’s stars, Avital Macales, said, “Before getting to know this play, I had not heard that something like this could happen. I found it quite shocking when I finally heard about it. And I look forward to hearing the scholars speak after each performance and finding out what they think about the matter.”

Shocking Awareness

Personally, I was stunned as well. I’ve been studying Judaism for quite some time now. And despite my many reasons to be wary of the actions of Israel’s Rabbanut, initially I thought the play was addressing either a non-issue, or an extremely obscure topic.

After all, in Jewish law, a Jew never stops being a Jew. Even if one wants to, the DNA sticks to you like super glue. Neither casting off your beliefs nor renouncing your connection to the Jewish people, will have any impact whatsoever. And, of course, when one converts to Judaism, there is no difference. A Jew is a Jew. And once you’re a part of the tribe, there’s no going back. No matter what happens.

In a Stranger’s Grave

Sadly, I was wrong. In a Stranger’s Grave is based on real stories. True events that challenged the lives of real people, with real feelings. Tragedies that hurt people, and caused long-lasting impact.

Macales plays Esther Gottlieb, in her words “a 23-year-old woman who grew up in an Anglo Yeshivish environment in Jerusalem to a loving mother (a convert) and father, and one sister, Chana, with whom she is very close. [They] unfortunately suffered the loss of their father and, six years later, their mother.”

The story centers on the Rabbinic reaction to Esther’s mother’s conversion and the issue of whether or not the conversion can be retroactively invalidated. “The different reactions of the family and community members to the crisis highlight current conflicting values in the Jewish and Israeli world,” according to Yael Valier, the show’s director and the founder of Theater and Theology.

Macales describes Esther as “strong, opinionated, idealistic, and [someone who] looks truth straight in the eye”. Thus she is the perfect character to stare right in the face of a complex issue that can easily be misconstrued as black and white. She’s also a delight for Macales to play, seeing as she pours on the sarcasm, whereas her portrayer offstage likes to “keep all [her] real-life sarcasm bottled up inside”.

A True and Present Danger to Israel and the Jewish people

Valier describes this conversion disaster as “a fraught subject that is reaching crisis proportions in Israel”. But how can it be that something so complex and damaging is simultaneously obscure and ignored? Valier says, “the people affected don’t talk about it because by their very nature, conversion problems are kept quiet.” This topic, and others like it, is a true and present danger to Israel and the Jewish people. “It can [happen], it does [happen], and we should be aware.”

Miriam Metzinger wrote In a Stranger’s Grave to address an issue that needs to be discussed. Yael Valier and Theater and Theology produced In a Stranger’s Grave to make sure the word gets spread. But it’s up to the rest of us–those who care deeply about our country and people–to make sure issues like these are not swept under the rug.

I’ve said it many times before: We could be doing better.

What is Theater and Theology?

There are many community theater companies in Jerusalem. However, this group is different. One of the novelties of the Theater and Theology experience is the speakers. There is a scheduled talk after each performance, a scholar who addresses the play’s subjects. The scholars approach the issues from a number of different perspectives. Some noted speakers include Rabbanit Shani Taragin and Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo.

The fascinating subjects are all meant to get you thinking. They spur conversation and open up doors for discussing topics we’re not always comfortable talking about. All of these fantastic scholars help us delve just a little deeper into subjects we care about immensely; however, we sometimes don’t know exactly how to collect our thoughts and feelings about them.

In a nutshell, Valier says that Theater and Theology “brings fascinating, current angles on philosophical questions to theater goers, and it takes scholars out of the lecture hall and into the theater. For me, that’s heaven.”

You can click here to learn more about Theater and Theology and to buy tickets for In a Stranger’s Grave. And keep your eyes wide open for more interesting productions in the future. Miriam Metzinger has upcoming dramas and comedies in the works. And Jerusalem’s theater community is a hidden gem in Jerusalem, with a lot more to come.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, judaism, 0 comments