If polarization within the Jewish community continues and we avoid talking about our differences over Israel, said Gili Getz, “the next time there is a political fight or crisis, it will wreak havoc.”
In a Jan. 22 phone call from New York City, where he lives with his wife, artist Yael Kanarek, the Israeli-American playwright told NJJN that Jews have two choices: “to walk away (not talk about conflicts) or explore a healthy culture of divide over Israel-Palestine.”
At the moment, the position that’s prevailing is “we do not talk about Israel, and that’s the one position I’m trying to advocate against,” said Getz, adding, “We can’t not talk about Israel; it is fundamentally who we are.”
Getz will perform his one-man play “The Forbidden Conversation” at Congregation Kol Emet in Yardley, Pa., on Sunday morning, Feb. 17; the work, he said, is meant to initiate discussions about Israel in the American-Jewish community. A conversation with audience members will follow his performance.
The show fits with Kol Emet’s efforts “to open up conversations about Israel — the things we love about Israel and the things we are concerned about,” said Rabbi Anna Boswell-Levy.
The performance by Getz, who is also a photojournalist, actor, and activist, is supported in part by an Israel Cultural Grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Boswell-Levy said she hopes his play represents “a really creative way to approach difficult issues,” and a way that congregants can “feel safe opening up a conversation at Kol Emet that encompasses diverse views.”
“The Forbidden Conversation” grew out of a conversation that Getz had with his father a few years ago.
His father had represented the Labor Party on the Beersheva City Council in the 1990s, and father and son had always talked about politics — until the period of high tension that led to the 2014 Gaza War, when, Getz said, “we reached a point where we couldn’t talk about it anymore.”
He realized that “this exact thing had happened in many Jewish-American families and many Jewish communities — that they stopped talking about Israel.” So he wrote a play that explores the point in the father-son conversation that “ended our ability to talk about an issue we both care about and had had conversations about all our lives.”
Writing the play was an opportunity for him to revisit Israeli politics from the 1990s (he was born in Israel in 1974 and grew up in Beersheva’s Russian community) and engage in an effort “to understand the political difficulties and political divides within the Jewish-American community.”
His exploration into his past involved looking at pictures he had taken as a military photographer, including those at military checkpoints and after suicide bombings. “When I was looking through the camera, I could look at everything and not feel anything,” he said. “Looking through a lens, you feel free to just document whatever is in front of you but not be paralyzed by it, not feel it.” Only later, looking at the images, would he allow himself “to feel things” as if he were “seeing the conflict face to face for the first time.”
Getz, who graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, developed his play while he was a fellow at LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture in Manhattan in 2014-15.
The play premiered in the spring of 2016 at the Center for Jewish History in New York City; he has been touring the country with it ever since.
As he has performed at synagogues, Hillels, and JCCs, he has found that the conversations it inspires are less political than he expected. Because feelings about Israel are “so personal and emotional, and I reveal so much about my own struggle and my family, people [are] more inclined to talk — not to debate, but to say where they are on this and how they feel — especially the youth,” who he said are living in a time when talking about Israel is toxic.
“But if they are given a safe space to talk about and understand their feelings about Israel, they will come out of it in any way they come out of it — they will join the IDF or protest the occupation or anything in between — and it’s all good,” said Getz.
As long as such explorations are “rooted in the well-being of the Jewish-American community and based on real concern for Israelis and Palestinians, then it’s a good, real connection. The alternative is walking away.”
If you go
Who: Gili Getz
What: “The Forbidden Conversation”
Where: Congregation Kol Emet, Yardley, Pa.
When: Sunday, Feb. 17, 10 a.m.-noon
Tickets: $10, free for members
RSVP: 215-493-8522 or firstname.lastname@example.org