Decide for yourself

Dear reader,

I'm interested in what you think about Caryl Churchill's play "Seven Jewish Children."  Many people have said it's anti-Semitic.  Most of the people who claim it's anti-Semitic have not read the whole play.  They react on the basis of hearsay, or from reading a few lines.  You need to read the whole thing to put it in context.

The play is very short.  You can read the whole thing easily in five minutes.  Click here to read it. Or click here to see it performed by Jennie Stoller.

After reading (or watching) it, come back and comment.  Scroll down to see my comments, but I suggest you read it first and form your own opinion before reading my comments….

Reb Barry

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I found the play very powerful — and NOT anti-Semitic.  It's strong — but the things she says that are offensive are things you can read in the paper as quotes from various Israelis.  She's not making stuff up — sadly we do have people who say things like what you read in the last section.

Clearly she starts out very sympathetic to the Jews as she describes the fears and horrors of pogroms and the Holocaust.  She chronicles how opinions change when you're under attack.  Yes, she makes it a bit of a caricature, but I can tell you having lived in Israel during the start of the Second Intifada that my politics took a definite rightward shift and my heart was somewhat hardened in the wake of the many innocent people killed by terrorists.  It's sad; but it happens.

The play has been attacked on the basis that it is not "balanced."  Or that "not all Israeli are like that."  Well, duh!!  I'm an Israeli and I'm not like that.  But the play is art.  The goal of art is not to be "balanced."  Art does not claim to represent the average — art shows people who are exceptional.  That's what makes it interesting.  A play that was balanced and presented the exact average would be as boring as watching paint dry.  There is nothing balanced or representative about Hamlet, either.

You can read an interesting blog entry with Churchill's comments here.

The appropriate response if you think the play is not balanced is to write a different play of your own that presents your view.  Deb Margolin has done just that, in a response play called "Seven Palestinian Children."  With the author's permission, the script is posted here.

My wife Lauri and I are thinking of staging a reading of the play — probably both plays together.

Josh Ford wrote an interesting piece "Why Do a Reading of Caryl Churchill’s “Seven Jewish Children” at a Jewish Theater?"  Click on the title to read it. 

If you'd be interested in participating in, or seeing, a production of Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza" in Jerusalem, let me know.

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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

5 thoughts on “Decide for yourself

  • April 29, 2009 at 9:10 am
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    I was listening to the play while following with the text, then eventually stopped reading and just listened.
    I enjoyed it, i think it’s well written and quite strong.
    Looking around on the internet and reading the discussions, it seems to me that many of the angriest people haven’t read the play, some others quote half-sentences (for example, someone quoted “tell her all I feel is happy”, but left out the rest of the sentence – “it’s not her.”)

    Most of the arguments she writes, including the most outrageous among them, is stuff I actually read during the war, commentary, blog entries, even comments on my own blog.

    And no, it doesn’t seem anti-semitic to me…

    Good luck staging that, should be very interesting!

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  • April 29, 2009 at 9:14 am
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    A creditable example of critical art, a little slick and predictable, but engaging and moving nonetheless.
    I particularly like the way Churchill uses the wholly sympathetic impulse of concern for one’s children as the slope down which leads eventually to harmful acts and denial. Who would want to explain to his daughter that the neighbors have a lovely, cool swimming pool but you can’t have one? And, even were that bridge crossed, would it not be so much easier to explain the swimming pool renunciation as for ecological reasons, not because of some complex, and potentially open-ended, obligation towards unseen, unwanted and inconvenient strangers, so different and seemingly inconsistent with oneself?

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  • April 29, 2009 at 11:42 am
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    the play was like listening to elie wiesel morph into allen ginsberg. no more anti-semitic than Mel Gibson’s “Passion” or any novel by Philip Roth – the master of self-hating Jewish themes. I wasn’t bothered by the content, but by the notion that I agreed, perhaps a bit too much, with the bulk the dialogue.

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  • April 29, 2009 at 1:45 pm
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    Thanks for this nice round-up of what’s out there on the web regarding the 7JC controversy. I appreciate your considered response.

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  • May 25, 2009 at 7:13 am
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    I reposted a few of these links. Thank you so much for posting them.

    Reply

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