AJT Newsletter - June 30, 2007

Tikun Olam’s Impact on a Conference First-Timer

By Anne Sarzin
Sidney, Australia

Vienna was magical, the scholarship enlightening and the post-congress nostalgia intense—it was truly a special time for nurturing an international spectrum of ideas and friendships around the globe.

As a first-timer, I felt instantly connected to a warm and welcoming group, part of an interactive, caring and sharing community that focused on the life of the mind and the concerns of the heart.

At times it was uplifting, at others searing, but always stimulating an in-depth examination of personal perspectives, and provoking a potential revision of preconceived constructs and outworn definitions.

But, above all, it was the exposure to powerful personalities and their ideas that generated both excitement and gratitude. Who can forget the dynamic Warren Rosenzweig, whose public profile, diplomacy and vision ensured the program’s success? Who can forget the punch and pertinence of Motti Lerner’s address? Who can forget the gut-wrenching pain of Brenda Adelman’s one-woman show? Who can forget Atay Citron’s belief that theater creates islands of sanity? Who can forget the rich and resonant voice of Theodore Bikel, for whom every song is a play?

We all have our special congress memories seared into our individual consciousness, recollections that will inspire us to pursue our creative dreams. For me, for example, the reality of seeing a scene from my play performed, in Vienna’s Jewish Museum—by seasoned and gifted actors Herb Isaacs, Janet Arnold and Brenda Adelman, against a backdrop of antique Jewish ceremonial objects—was a highlight and a valuable learning experience that will motivate me in the months ahead to polish and perfect my script, which I now see in a completely different light.

We all evaluate in different ways the range of contributions, the depth of knowledge and the giving of wisdom. But I know that what I consider my highlights might, at times, coincide with yours, too. In that spirit, I offer the following memorable quotations, admittedly an incomplete and eclectic selection from the rich resource of words and ideas that leapt out at me over the course of an unforgettable week:

• Arnold Mittelman: “Playwrights and the theater are our rabbis, the last best hope for mankind.”

• Ari Roth: We’re compelled to write about people because they left a memory with us, and we want to contribute to the collective memory.”

• Motti Lerner: “I would encourage Jewish theater to be deeper, let’s strengthen our identity. Theater should be more cruel, a theater that explores without fear and bias our pains and mistakes, our moral and collective personal choices. When you have a deep significant play, you have an audience.”

• Theodore Bikel: “You can’t forget and wipe the slate clean, it’s unfair. You have to brood and go forward.”

• Deborah Leiser-Moore: “The tyranny of distance gives us freedom to be unconventional, and to explore as Jewish artists our identity in contemporary Australian life.”

• Shimon Levy: “Israelis call theater a secular synagogue.”

• Israel’s Ambassador to Austria, Dan Ashbel: When you come to Vienna, you come to a place that until 70 years ago was a centre of Jewish theater, but the new centre of Jewish culture is developing in Israel. The mix of heritages meeting here, however, is repairing the evils of the past and I wish that what Warren has begun here will continue to develop.”

• Daniel Kahn: “In the democracy of the Jewish theater, I have found the openness that was lacking in the Judaism I knew as a child.”

• Moti Sandak: “My father’s advice to me was: always follow your dreams, listen carefully to people, and try to be a mensch.”

• Michael Posnick: “Let’s sing together.”

• Herb Isaacs (singing words written by a teenager in Terezin): “Make something of your memories/Grow flowers with your tears/Make something of the years.”

Warren Rosenzweig (from his play The Judenstadt): “Why do I bring you a ladder if you’re not going to climb?”

• Gaby Aldor: “You have to give social and human rights to the stranger; Jewish theater opens borders, accepts the other, talks to minorities, and accepts them.”

• Eva Brenner: “There is a sense of structural anti-Semitism in Vienna, I know this sentiment, and we need to face it.”

Something special has emerged from the Tikun Olam congress. The day after the official closure of congress, Leslie Marko Kirchhausen and I traveled together to Salzburg. Our discussions and shared hours on the train gave me a reassuring sense of continuity and strengthened the belief that the camaraderie of the congress would last.

At the official opening, Mira Hirsch spoke eloquently of the enriching experience of meeting old friends and making new ones. In Vienna, I discovered the truth of that for myself and life will really never be the same again.

Copyright © 2007 Association for Jewish Theatre