Culture, Israel

Aaron Davidman's "Wrestling Jerusalem"

[pullquote align=left]”Wrestling Jerusalem” will be performed at Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA on March 28. Buy tickets here.[/pullquote]“It’s complicated…”
How many times have conversations about the Israel/Palestinian conflict ended with those words of surrender? How often have I, myself, retreated to that phrase as if to some safe zone when my own head is ready to explode from the maelstrom of opinions and facts that I endlessly encounter? Is it a cheapening of the debate? An easy excuse when words don’t suffice or we feel exhausted from the head-whipping assault of data and intractable opposition?
The brilliance of Wrestling Jerusalem,” a one-man play I saw last Saturday and saw its genesis at Theatre J, is that it excavates deep down to show that same complexity in its truest form. Aaron Davidman, playwright and performer, and director Michael John Garces remind all but the most arrogant of us the honest complexity of this issue.
Truthfully, I bought the tickets because I recognized Mr. Davidman from a recent yoga retreat I participated in at Esalen in Big Sur. I was curious to see what kind of drama a yogi creates. I asked around, heard some general feedback that the show was good, but went with few expectations. The show was sponsored by LabShul, New Israel Fund, and ReBoot. I brought my Israeli husband and a few younger Birthright-educated relatives and settled into the auditorium at the JCC in Manhattan.
Davidman succeeds at depicting this concept by inhabiting the personae of 15 different characters, plus himself, all of whom comprise the mosaic of attitudes and experiences surrounding the conflict. We encounter a rabbi, American Jews, parents of children on both sides who have become casualties of the violence, a settler, Palestinians including a UN worker, a B’Tselem activist, an Israeli general and more. A rabbi, in facing the Occupation, asks in anguish if this is the land, the Judaism, the GOD he has loved all his life. A settler tells us of the mystical, sacred role of the land of Jerusalem and after reciting a litany of Palestinian transgressions asks how he is expected to just hand over the keys to his beloved city.
That the playwright represents these disparate viewpoints so authentically can only be the result of extremely compassionate listening. And in fact, Davidman bases his characters largely on people he’s met through years of visits to the region. It’s heartbreaking at times, hearing the genuine expressions of passionately held views and I admit that some of the most tender moments for me came when hearing the voices of narratives with whom I rarely find any common ground.
So that’s the political-personal piece. But the theatre of Davidman’s performance was stunning. It was ninety minutes of riveting, fast-paced, superb dramatic action. With impeccable movement and voice, he moved from character to character embodying the accents, mannerisms and language of each. He hit them all recognizably, nuance for nuance. One of the ideas expressed in the play is the Kabbalistic belief in divine light contained in one vessel, ultimately shattering. This idea frames the entire play, as we observe the multiplicity of perspectives held by the actor.
The after-show questions were facilitated by Amichai Lau-Lavie of LabShul with a panel including Philip Himberg, Artistic Director the Sundance Institute Theatre program, and Libby Lenkinski, NIF Director of Strategic Initiatives. Lau-Lavie asked us, in one word, to describe what we were left with after the very last word of the play. This immediately brought the spectators to a deeply reflective and at times, emotional place from which to begin our dialogue. For, me, the word was “tikkun.”
Wrestling Jerusalem will be performed at Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA on March 28. Learn more about Aaron Davidman and his performances here.

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