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.
New York City
Yes, “all plays require that directors and actors make considered choices. Performance produces meaning.” And when Seven Jewish Children is produced by anti-Semites, and the Jew is not seen as the Israeli Jew but as part of that despicable race, and that “ugly monologue” is spoken by members of that race… then what will I tell my Jewish child? Regardless of her outrage or any other motive, Caryl Churchill has written a play that adds to the body of hateful literature that has tormented the Jew for ages. Your apologia is misplaced.
For us liberal Zionists, the play represents not a dissenting opinion but the opposite: the majority, and rancorously suppressed, opinion. The characters are types–with attitudes that alternate between fear and viciousness. There is the possibility of sensitivity to the experience of the typed characters, but that is not written deeply into the play. As the article mentions, the staging is nearly entirely at the discretion of the directors and performers. Among many who present the play, there is limited sympathy with the experience that underlies the types. Some of it is describable as excessive, insensitive to the other to the level of willing violence, banal violence. But unlike most drama, which evokes sympathy from multiple perspectives, the sympathetic protagonists of Seven Jewish Children are the unfaced children.
It’s an unspoken irony that each of the callous types was once the original child in the story, who grew up with the confusion of her times, facing the confusion of how to address violence directed at her. In a way the author and the audience are also protagonists, asking and asked to adopt callousness toward the other.
Caryl Churchill goes beyond the brutality of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead to lay bare the bitter irony of the original Palestinian expulsion of 1948: a land filled with people dispossessed by a persecuted people in search of a land. As incendiary as Churchill’s opus may be, it barely scratches the surface of this tragedy. Readers concerned about human rights should read The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, a sobering book by Ilan Pappe, Israel’s most courageous historian. Meanwhile, the Jewish state must return to the ancient Judaic tradition of tikkun olam: healing the world. In this way, 7 million Israelis can make peace with the past–and heal the tragic rift with the Palestinians.
ROSARIO A. IACONIS
To AIPAC and to those who resist allowing Seven Jewish Children and My Name Is Rachel Corrie, etc., to be performed:
You are dead
If you will not talk about
What you will not talk about
Or allow me to talk about.
I do not allow you to be dead.
Do not be frozen in the Camps.
Do not stop us from suggesting that America
Could be a better friend to Israel differently,
Or that to criticize is an act of love.
Do not disallow that Israel might be partly wrong,
Or that the Palestinians might be only partly wrong.
If you will not talk about how they might be partly right,
Then you are dead.
Judaism is ethical;
To be Jewish is always to see oneself on the edge of being wrong
And not to flinch from the balancing act
Of being fully alive and fully seen by God.
We must talk.
We must talk about it all.
I do not allow you to be dead.
Do not do that to yourself.