Meeting Prejudice with Pride

In times of great prejudice, a bit of pride can go a long way.

It is always a challenge to do something that you love. So when one is involved with doing two things that one loves simultaneously, suffice it to say it one should be prepared to face a myriad of challenges. Some perhaps, even existential.

Living in Israel is something that I love. Each day, I am faced with challenges with regard to living here. Whether it is the high cost of living (Israel was ranked as the 16th most expensive place to live in the world), the current ongoing wave of terror attacks and violence, the media, or the fact that even many Jewish people in Europe, and North America look down on Israel for political reasons, Israel is my home. And I love it here. But loving it, doesn’t make it less difficult to live here.

AACI's J-Town Playhouse Production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice - Running from Dec. 3rd - 23rd (Credit: Ita Arbit)
AACI’s J-Town Playhouse Production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – Running from Dec. 3rd – 23rd (Ita Arbit)

It is next to impossible to maintain a non-prejudiced view of Israel in the current state of world affairs. With media bias being slanted one way or another, the impartiality of opinion regarding Israel can only be maintained by the completely uninformed. But bias and prejudice can be countermanded by a healthy dose of pride.

While vanity is a weakness, and too much pride can also lead one down a lonely path, a healthy balanced dose of pride can alleviate a lot of prejudice, and bring people to a true dialogue.

Jane Austen writes in her book-that-has-been-turned-into-a-play, Pride and Prejudice, the following statement: “Pride — where there is a real superiority of the mind — Pride will be always under good regulation.” And so it should be, under regulation. But it should not be negated altogether.

So what is the proper response for a country that is attacked on all sides in the world media and by individuals as well as governments and international organizations, regardless of their actions.

Well, we need to do what is right and what is correct in our own eyes, and take pride in ourselves for doing it. And if doing what is right and what is correct in our own eyes will only bring more scorn, then so be it. For as History and modern international sentiment, for the most part,in Europe, has shown us,the scorn would have come anyway.

Recently, in England, things have become so bad with regard to Israel, that the Union of Jewish Students silenced a world renowned rabbi from discussing Israel maintaining that the policy of the USJ is not to discuss Israel at their meetings, and only talk about things that are Jewish. The rabbi asked, what is more Jewish than Israel?

So that is one thing I love. Another thing I love poses its own challenges, and that is theater. Theater involves a lot of teamwork, long nights away from home at work, and all of the trials and tribulations that artists face while trying to create. For those of you who are artistic by nature, you know that there are many — one of the biggest of them being, when do I find the time to devote to something that I love.

I am lucky, I have actually managed to create somewhat of a profession out of the love I have for theater. Something that many people never succeed at doing. And I will be forever grateful to the people who help make that happen, especially those at Merkaz Hamagshimim (alav hashalom), and those at AACI. However, even with that being the case, there are still many moments when the challenges that arise, both personal and professional, become so daunting that I consider hanging it all up. Just as I’m sure that there are many out there, Israeli and Olim alike, who have considered for a moment here or there, to leave Israel, and just hang up their love for this country for a time, or perhaps for all time. And they may be very well justified in doing so.

But then I reflect on the other side of Austen’s book, Pride.

I take pride in what I do at the theater, and in knowing that hand in hand, what I do, creating within the realm of performing arts, helps makes my small corner of Israel a better  place to live. In its own small way, it helps answer the calls of the BDS movement, of Israel-haters around the world by making a statement that I am here. I chose to be here. And nothing that you can say will stop me from trying to make this country, my country, the most beautiful place that I can make it. Because that is the right thing, the correct thing to do.

I reflect on the feeling that I get, that the audience gets, and that the actors get, when a group of people, almost none of them possessing professional theater backgrounds, succeed in creating an incredibly moving theatrical piece, such as was done recently in our production of “Next to Normal,” and I smile. Knowing that I have touched the hearts and minds of the near thousand people who came to see the performances, I recognize that this is what I was meant to do, at least for now. And that this is where I am meant to do it.

Characters of Henry and Natalie portray young love and hope in 'Next to Normal' (Credit: Ita Arbit)
Characters of Henry and Natalie portray young love and hope in ‘Next to Normal’ (Ita Arbit)

I cannot rightly say that every other artist in the performing arts or otherwise feels the same pride and conviction that I felt when I was watching those performances and other that have come before. Knowing that what I helped to create was something wonderful, something that helped people enjoy the beauty, and yes even sometimes the tragedy that is life. But I certainly can hope that they do.

I hope that they too can take pride in their work, and in their decision to work where ever they do, to make their homes, the communities, and their countries a better place. To make their loves deeper and richer and more fulfilling. I take pride in it. And I hope that everyone who chooses to stay and live here in Israel, realizes that they are all fighting the same fight, whether consciously or subconsciously. And I hope that they all take pride in knowing that by making our home a better place, little by little, everyday, we are winning the war. I am not saying that it is easy. Nor am I casting any blame or judging those who try and fail. But try we must.

So go out and create.Whether it is in the realm of art, or of standing up for Israel on campus, or simply just doing one’s daily routine in the face of terror. Bring whatever beauty you have within you, out into the open. Don’t be sad or shy or scared of it. Let it out. And let it out with pride! Whatever you have to give, we’ll take it. We need it. It will make us all a bit better.

In the words of another theatrical Jew, one who is far more famous than I, and who fought his own fight, “The opposite of war isn’t peace. It’s creation!” (Jonathan Larson)

Darcy and Elizabeth - from Pride and Prejudice at the AACI (Credit: Ita Arbit)
Darcy and Elizabeth – from Pride and Prejudice at the AACI (Ita Arbit)

As a postscript, for those of you who are still reading and interested, the next creation that I am working on, together with a terrific cast and crew as well as directorial team, begins on Thursday night at AACI’s J-Town Playhouse Theater Project, where we will begin performing, (you guessed it), Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”.

Performances will take place on December 3rd, 8th, 9th, 10th 13th, 17th, 22nd and 23rd at 8pm

And there will be two Motzei Shabbat performances on December 5th and 19th at 8:30 pm.

Come on out and see what I, as well as everyone else who has worked on the show so wonderfully take so much pride in!

About the Author
Raphael Poch is a Canadian-Israeli playwright, producer, director, actor and journalist. He is the International Media Spokesperson for United Hatzalah and runs the First City Improv Troupe.