Despite Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon’s heroic efforts to redeem Caryl Churchill’s good intentions [“Tell Her the Truth,” April 13], I can’t help but read the penultimate speech of her play as an invitation to anti-Semitic stereotyping. What human being is not moved and sorrowful at the death of any child? Only a monster reacts to a bloody child with the cold calculation of the speaker. And Churchill leaves her audiences with that portrait of the Jew, undoing any sympathy created by her earlier dialogue. This is Shylock, without the humanizing gesture of the “hath not a Jew eyes” speech, devoid of even the capacity for empathy. One can criticize a war without dehumanizing a people.
I’ve read Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza three times and cried through each reading. As a mom and an activist living in Israel, I found the play devastating and true. Beyond that, it is remarkably compassionate and clear in its historical consciousness and the awareness that our deepest urge, to protect our children, can have terrible moral consequences. There’s not an anti-Semitic word in it.
As my Israeli husband said, she captured exactly how it really is to live here. We constantly struggle with the questions of when and how and what to tell our children about what is happening all around them. That’s why, for example, I take my older daughter to events supporting the shministim, the high schoolers refusing to be drafted. Perhaps, as Kushner and Solomon write, this girl will grow up to work for justice.
It is not anti-Semitism but that ability to open people’s eyes that is so scary to those who attack Churchill’s play.
If The Nation truly has an interest in finding a way through the swamps of hatred that obscure the path to peace between Arabs and Jews, it might think twice before lavishing praise on such irritants as Caryl Churchill’s play. Rubbing salt in wounds hardly heals. The argument that it has been critically acclaimed doesn’t work so well after we look around and see that the play’s effect has been to stir the pot of hate. May I suggest that you do a piece on the work of novelist Daniel Spiro, who has organized (in the Washington, DC, area) a formal gathering of Muslims and Jews to strengthen the common ground that’s certainly there beneath their feet?
Caryl Churchill’s play, along with the exegesis and defense by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon, has at last provided an occasion for hesitant dialogue within the American Jewish theatergoing and theatermaking public. This was true, at least, at New York Theater Workshop on the two nights I attended the play and discussion. There were very few Arabs in the audience, and few non-Jews. This tentative loosening of the collective tongue makes me wonder what in particular about the history of American Jewry has made it so difficult, nay, impossible, for Jews to disagree openly about Israel’s forty-year occupation and the American foreign policy that supports it.