My first trip to Israel was in 1992. I stepped off the plane at Ben Gurion airport and the sun blinded me. I walked down the rolling staircase, got on my knees and kissed the tarmac. The asphalt burned my lips. But I thought that’s what you do when you arrive in the Holy Land.
The story of the Jewish people.
Somehow I was a part of it. But I didn’t really know how I was a part of it. My father’s Yiddish Brooklyn was long gone. I felt outside of it. So there I was, dripping with sweat under the Middle Eastern sun, and I needed to mark the moment. So I kissed the dirty ground. And all the other passengers rushed by me to get into the air-conditioned line at customs.
I took a bus to Jerusalem. There was a hostel — they let you stay for free if you were there to study Torah. That’s why I had come. Not for vacation. Not to tour the sites. I came to learn. I arrived at Jaffa Gate, the entrance to the Old City. The giant stone arch is a threshold.
I signed up for a Hebrew class. I wandered the narrow winding streets of the Jewish Quarter alone. There was something there. The light at night, reflecting off the Jerusalem stone. I met an elder who taught a small class on Kabbalah. Around a table, early in the morning, we were parsing out a mystical Hebrew text. Word by word. Ideas nested inside ideas. Laughing. We made soup. It was the festival of Sukkot. We built a sukkah on the roof, and gazed at the stars through the palm leaves; we ate dates. And we talked about being Jews. About impermanence. About wandering in the desert. About home and homeland. And there I was. In Jerusalem. Yerushalayim. The ancient seat of Judaism. The modern capital of the Jewish nation. The very center of the Jewish story.
And I’m no longer looking in from the outside. I’m inside the story now.
Malachey, El Elyon…
We sing on Shabbat as the sun falls below Mt. Zion, welcoming the Sabbath bride, and her ministering angels.
We smoke weed in the courtyards built of Jerusalem stone and study Torah.
I feel like I’ve come home.
It was 1992. I was twenty five years old. It was a time when there was great hope from Oslo, and a final settlement between Israelis and Palestinians seemed just around the corner.
This is a selection from my play WRESTLING JERUSALEM, a solo performance in which I play 17 different characters, in addition to myself, as I travel throughout Israel and the West Bank. My first trip to Israel was a breathtaking, life-changing experience. I stayed for 6 months. I didn’t want to leave. I’ve returned over and over. I’ve met the most incredible people. I’ve culled my experiences and woven a tapestry of voices into what became this play. My attempt to shine light into dark corners.
An old proverb says “an enemy is someone whose story you do not know.”
Each character is a fully realized human being with a particular point of view on the conflict. American, Israeli, Palestinian, men, women, old, young — they each have a profound stake in the situation. There are no costume changes, just vocal inflection and physicality. This is theatre. The best that I and my creative collaborators know how to make. The characters have lived in me for years now. I see through their eyes. I feel through their hearts. I speak through their mouths. I try on each perspective every night that I perform the play. I stretch myself into new areas as I attempt, with all my heart and soul, to present the nuance and complexities of these challenging times.
The play is currently touring the US and is being made into a feature film.