Israeli Theatre

A culmination of foreign and native influences.

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Other plays pitted two emerging identities against each other--that of the native Israeli against the Holocaust survivor. Leah Goldberg’s The Lady of the Castle (1955) avoided a direct depiction of Holocaust atrocities and instead reflected upon the cultural brinkmanship of Holocaust survivors. In this play, a Polish man gives the young Jewish protagonist, Lena, a place to hide from the Nazis in his castle. When representatives from the Jewish Agency arrive in Poland looking for survivors after the war, the play centers around Lena's decision: Should she go with them to Israel or stay with her savior?

Ben Zion Tomer, in his play The Children of the Shadow (1962), described a meeting between Yoram, a young Israeli army officer, with his relative, a former Capo in a concentration camp. Yoram is forced to cope with his own past as a refugee, and re-integrate his oppressed Holocaust childhood into his new, macho Israeli identity.

Modern classics played almost as crucial a rolein Israeli theatre during this time. Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot was frequently staged in Israel, once even as a metaphor for the Palestinians' endless wait for liberation from the Israeli occupation. Imported drama, which always has a somewhat alienating effect, enabled Israelis to reflect on their own image and achieve some distance from the socio-artistic mirror of original Hebrew theatre.

Beginning in the 1960s, Hanoch Levin began his illustrious writing career. He wrote 56 plays and political satires, providing a major contribution to Israeli theatre including Hefez and The Patriot. Levin usually directed his plays himself and aroused both public scorn and, mostly, critical acclaim for the quality of his plays, many of which traveled abroad.

In 1969 A.B. Yehoshua, primarily a writer of fiction, wrote A Night in May. This play examined Israel's precarious societal situation in the late 1960s. The plot is located in a small underground Jerusalem apartment, where members of one family display their neuroticism as the Six Day War is about to break out. This piece presented the delicate balance that Israeli theatre maintained between specific local issues and universal human struggles.

Modern Approaches

During the 1970s Israeli theatre became more critical and tried to portray reality in theatrically more forceful and direct ways. In Around and Around (1970), a "Herzl" and a "Kafka" are locked in an asylum together. The playwright, Yossef Mundi, set this scene to compare two extreme images of Israeli identity: the sadistic muscleman ("Herzl") and the passive, masochistic, and spiritual Jew ("Kafka"). Hillel Mittelpunkt, also in the 1970s, began writing social plays about the down-and-out characters of society.

In the 1980s, Yehoshua Sobol used the stage as a venue for exploring Israeli-Jewish identity issues. In Soul of a Jew (1982), he focused on the self-hatred of Otto Weininger, a turn-of-the-century philosopher who converted from Judaism to Christianity; and in Ghetto (1984) he depicted the Holocaust not just as exclusively Jewish suffering. This play suggested that people must identify their own "Hitler" within, in order to rid themselves of evil.

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Shimon Levy

Dr. Shimon Levy is full professor at the Tel Aviv University Theater Department. His publications include three books on Samuel Beckett's drama, as well as The Bible as Theatre and The Israeli Theatre Canon.