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Local students join ‘Klinghoffer’ protests
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Local students join ‘Klinghoffer’ protests

Four demonstrators from Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, from left, Jonathan Esterlit, Daniella Berk, Shep Gerszberg, and Rabbi Richard Kirsch, objected to the opera for “glorifying terrorism and murder.”     
Four demonstrators from Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, from left, Jonathan Esterlit, Daniella Berk, Shep Gerszberg, and Rabbi Richard Kirsch, objected to the opera for “glorifying terrorism and murder.”     

Among those protesting a Metropolitan Opera performance of the controversial opera The Death of Klinghoffer were former New York Gov. David Paterson, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and three students and one faculty member from Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston.

“I wanted them to be aware of what is going on,” said Rabbi Richard Kirsch, guidance counselor and athletic director who escorted the students to Lincoln Center in New York. “They are very passionate. It is all part of the activism they are involved with. I think the people who are putting on this opera have a right to do that, but we have a moral obligation to speak up about this.”

The students joined hundreds at the Lincoln Center plaza on Oct. 20 who gathered to denounce the 1991 opera as a glorification of the terrorists who murdered the wheelchair-bound Jewish tourist Leon Klinghoffer in 1985.

“I am here because this opera is a travesty,” said junior Jonathan Esterlit of Short Hills. “It is a disgrace to Klinghoffer’s death and it is a terrible thing in general, especially in this time with ISIS on the rise and rising anti-Semitism in Europe.”

Protesters have argued for months that the opera is anti-Semitic in tone and effect and called repeatedly on the Met to cancel its eight performances. The Community Relations Committee of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ shared a petition from their New York counterpart saying the signers were “deeply disturbed” by the production.

“We are all here for the same cause, and we are against glorifying terrorism,” said Daniella Berk, a senior from East Brunswick. 

Shep Gerszberg, a senior from Highland Park, said, “They are very much allowed legally to put on this play, but it is a moral matter that they are allowed to put on a play that justifies the murder of a man and humanizes terrorists who have no humanity.”

NJ State Sen. Robert Singer (R-Dist. 30) of Lakewood noted that the production was made possible by an anonymous gift to composer John Adams.

“Follow the money,” he advised. “These things happen here because someone paid for it…. I’m sure down the road we will find out that some group — maybe Hamas, maybe some of our friends at the United Nations across town — funded this.”

Inside the opera house, the first heckling occurred minutes after the curtain rose. A man seated in the rear of the orchestra booed a group of women dressed head to toe in black,  the “Chorus of Exiled Palestinians,” lamenting their loss of land in 1948, just before a “Chorus of Exiled Jews” in the shabby clothes of World War II refugees presented their claim to the State of Israel.

The man was escorted out  by plainclothes police officers and was issued a summons for disorderly conduct. His was the only arrest of the evening.

But the most pronounced interruption occurred a half-hour into Act I, when another man began chanting “The murder of Klinghoffer will never be forgiven.” After he said it four times, someone else shouted “Viva Palestine.” The opera went on without pause.

At intermission another man rose and urged the audience to “say Kaddish for Leon Klinghoffer,” but his voice trailed off after the first few words of the prayer.

The scattered booing during curtain calls at the opera’s end was drowned out by cheering and a standing ovation for the cast, director, and orchestra.

The controversy was addressed in the opera’s Playbill, in which a program note insisted that the opera “in no way supports” anti-Semitism.

The program also includes a full-page rebuttal, by Klinghoffer’s daughters, Lisa and Ilsa.

The opera, the sisters wrote, “presents false moral equivalencies without context and offers no real insight into the historical reality and the senseless murder of an American Jew. It rationalizes, romanticizes, and legitimizes the terrorist murder of our father.”

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