Thursday, March 04, 2010

Get Up, Stand Up: Storah Purim does Israel!

By Annie Lewis

“All’s fair in love and war, babe,” the King tells her.

“Would you have said that if the Jews had been killed, too?” she wonders.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

If I am only for myself, what am I?

If not now, when?

- Hillel

Down in the desert, American high schoolers fill a community room in Purim get-up, wearing animal ears and mock tattoos inspired by the cast of Jersey Shore. They have just swapped out of army uniforms, after a week of Gadna, a program designed to be a taste of life as a soldier in the IDF. This is a group of EIE (Eisendrath International Exchange) High School students in Israel, and it's Purim - Saturday Night, February 27th and we just arrived Kibbutz Sde Boker way south in the middle of the Negev desert.

We arrive from Jerusalem with an interactive translation of Megillat Esther, framed around the theme of taking action when there is personal risk involved. The story opens at the after-after-after party at the house of King Ahashverosh (Josh Weinberg) a frat-guy, waving around his Ninentendo Wii. His power-hungry party-planner Manny (Assael Romanelli), orders a shipment of refreshments on his Blue Tooth. Vashti (Anne Lewis), an aspiring professor of Gender Studies, refuses to be interrupted during her women’s study session of Judith Butler’s theory. Uncle Mordechai (Weinberg), a Jewish mother, worries about his little Esther’s trip to the big Palace to audition for the Reality TV Show “Dancing with the King.” He makes sure to send her off with plenty of Purell and kugel.

All is thrown in the air when Manny is promoted to the King’s second in command, and dubbed, “The Man.” Mordechai refuses to submit to Ha-Man’s authority and the conniving advisor to the King conjures up a plan for the end of the Jewish people. Esther goes from enjoying the luxurious lifestyle of the palace to desiring a life of meaning through connection to something beyond herself. When all is flipped on its head, and Mordechai celebrates the Jews’ violent victory over their neighbors, Esther questions the unforseen consequences of her action on behalf of her people.

“All’s fair in love and war, babe,” the King tells her.

“Would you have said that if the Jews had been killed, too?” she wonders.

In an atmosphere of levity, it was difficult to mix in discussion of the gravity and gore of the words of this seasonal scroll (read lyrically by Yosef Goldman). The EIE group laughed at the slapstick rapport between the King and the Man and rocked out to Beyonce’s Single Ladies during the search for a new queen. On the ride home, crowns and wigs aside, we reflected on the challenge of wearing the hats of educator, facilitator, performer, and character all at once. All in all, we had a freilikh evening with our audience, a group of young people who have made a big decision to step out of their usual frameworks to spend the semester in Israel. We hope we left them with something to chew on after the humantaschen were gone.

This Storahtelling Production was created and led by the Storah Israel team: Annie Lewis, Josh Weinberg, Assael Romanelli and special guest Yosef Goldman.

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