Much talk about conflicts these days is about collateral damage. Let’s talk about collateral benefits for a change.

Brazilian theater master Augusto Boal taught me how theater can be rehearsals for better life.

I started up a conversation with a white-haired and mustached burly fellow standing by his pick-up truck on my street this morning. My intention was to elicit his desire to attend the performance of a play that the Israeli-Palestinian YTheater Project I co-direct is putting on stage. After my first sentence, he begins to explain how the second intifada closed the topic for him. If people strap on explosives and board our buses to kill women, children, and men, then its over for me. We will have to wait for another generation, he says. Enough lefty theater and mushy sympathizers. I am a landscape architect. No Arabs work for me.

sepia hairwashingI reply that my partner, Kadar Herini and I agree about almost nothing. Not only do we disagree about politics and religion. We also have no common cultural language. Our narratives conflict. Our ears hear differently. Our eyes see differently. Our memory is different. Furthermore, my children serve in the army, in combat units, as commander and officer. This is not a mushy lefty project.

He perked up.

This is a rare collaboration between a religious Zionist and a Palestinian nationalist. Very near the beginning, nearly 5 years ago, we gave up trying to persuade each other. We want to build Palestinian and Israeli civil society. Not because we agree, but because we want to learn to live here without killing each other. Even learn to care.

postcard May 2013 sidebysideHe takes the card from my hand and asks me when we are performing.

Twice on Wednesday May 29th, 6 pm and 8:30 pm.

He slips his iphone out of his jeans pocket and fingers his calendar. Nope, not then. Another time? Was he brushing me off?

In Tel Aviv next Sunday May 26. 8 pm, I answer. That might work. Hey, he says, good luck.

At the opening festivities of the newly-renovated Jerusalem train station, Kadar and I spoke about the play with a woman and her daughter. In Arabic. She was born and grew up in Syria, among Jews and Arabs who lived and worked side-by-side. She wishes Jerusalem could be more like that. Now she mourns for the Syrians. Yes, I will come, she says, I want to feel inspired, if that’s possible.

Overhearing our conversation, a middle-aged fellow pipes in, we don’t need this, thank you very much. In Haifa we all live together happily. We don’t even distinguish between Jew and Arab.

Sivan & FidaaNo problems?, no tensions?, queries the Syrian woman who launches into a series of anecdotes. We could all learn to live together better.

Earlier in the day, the printer who also speaks a fluent Arabic says, I can work with them. Her parents came from Baghdad. I love them as individuals; they work for me loyally. But their leaders are bad. They will mince us up like salad if we turn our backs, chopping with her hand on the counter-top. I have the information about the play, she says, pushing at me two heavy packages containing the cards we had printed. Not sure if I’ll come.

Her mother is sitting at a low table preparing grape leaves for stuffing, smoothing the wrinkles with her worn hands and cutting away the stems with her scissors,

The last war, she says, will be the one we lose.

I invite them both to come to our theater workshop, to share stories and views. Yes, the mother says, I will come if they will listen. I assure her that we really listen to each other. If you’re going, I’ll go with you, says the daughter.

On my way home from a run on the promenade that traces the line of the ridge past east Talpiot toward Jabel Mukaber, I deal cards to Arab gardeners gathered under an olive tree laden with tiny flowers and invite them to the play. Will there be food, biscuits? Is it a movie? TV? On a screen? Theater, I say, live. Jews and Muslims, a Druze actor too. From Where? Beit Jan, I say. Together? In Arabic? And Hebrew, I say. Beyond words. Women? Yes, I say, on stage, working through the conflict. Maybe, they say, huddling together to wrap their heads around our conversation, Take Away cards in hand.

sepia RRH storyImmersed in Jerusalem, we encounter the other. In the turbulent laboratory of YTheater Project, we struggle with our impasses through unmediated theater engagement among Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze, and international performers. Through rebuffs of normalization, people pushed out of the project by their families and communities, through threats and blacklisting, we rehearse.

We don’t whitewash or run away from disagreement. Precisely from within the anguish of conflict we grope, experiment, imagine, and create together. Our performance reveals a process that aspires to life beyond conflict. Without naïveté. We hold fast to the stage where our hearts and minds run free.

For the past two years, YTheater has been digging into how we trash one another and our world. At the core of the Middle-East conflict, our comic-tragedy, Take Away, works with brokenness, apathy, greed and betrayal. In a dump, on a sacred hill, garbage harvesters struggle together with love and loss. Intimate exploitations escalate into international violations. Amidst satire, humor and self-reflection, destruction and remorse, we aspire to respect and collaboration among us and with our world.

I invite you to learn more, to view video clips, and to reserve tickets on the YTheater Project site.

We would be delighted for your support and to have you in our audience.

Take Away will be on-stage at Tzavta in Tel Aviv on May 26th at 8 pm and twice on May 29th at the Khan Theater, at 6 pm and at 8:30 pm.