Thursday, May 27, 2010

Performance at Solomon Schechter Day School on May 5th, 2010
By Daliya Karnofsky

I re-visited this play, Becoming Israel, after about two years away. It was amazing how far I've come.

When last I performed, I had been to Israel twice, both because of a relationship. As we performed Becoming Israel, that relationship was coming to an end, and so was my relationship to the country. I wanted to create as much distance as possible between myself and the memories I associated with that country. It was difficult to perform the show. Playing Rachel, a young Holocaust survivor on her way to what was then Palestine to start her life over again on her own, requires a huge emotional commitment.

Ironically, Rachel too ties her feelings towards Israel up in a romantic relationship for a long time. She is going in the hopes of finding the man she loved before the war broke out. She is convinced she will find him despite all evidence to the contrary, and this causes her to cross the ocean alone to go to a strange land full of strangers, rather than to America where her remaining family awaits. It is a difficult decision. The land of Israel has always had this power over me and many others, a heightened sense of romance, a natural pull. Rachel feels it, and I felt it. But this meant that playing her the first time was incredibly painful, and the only way I knew to deal with it was to cut myself off. I went through the motions, and only once during a reading allowed myself to feel what she was feeling. On top of her broken heart, she is escaping from the war and leaving behind all of her lost family members and former life.

I could hardly scratch the surface of the romantic feelings, let alone pretend to understand her devastating circumstances. I knew the show held a connection for me, but I wasn't willing or able to explore it.

Two and a half years later, I felt that change exponentially. I had gained some much needed distance from my failed relationship, and even more importantly, I had returned to Israel on my own. Free of romantic obligation. There only to see what I would see, explore my history, learn to love the land for itself. I felt it deeply this time around. And in performing the part of Rachel again, this time I allowed myself to feel the vulnerability. I didn't have the same anger or pain or self-created distance from performances past. Thanks to the guiding hand of the director, stage manager, and my fellow actors, I felt safe to explore Rachel's journey emotionally. When I resisted at first, concentrating only on recalling blocking and lines and recreating the steps of the first performance, the director sat us down and had us write out a step by step emotional journey of each of our characters. Rachel's journey was permeated by sadness, loss, anger, fear, and finally resolute bravery and strength. I had to find where each of these came in and wove together with one another. What a roller coaster ride such a journey would have been, and even now I am only scratching the surface. But this time I went at it on my own terms, with a renewed desire to do so.

I was nervous to perform at Solomon Schechter Day School. I wanted to do the play justice in a way I hadn't before. I wanted to do everything in my power to serve the story, and I knew I had to go there emotionally in order to do so.

The audience of adolescents and parents was incredibly receptive. In those first few moments, their energy fed us and it was clear they understood the gravity of what we were unraveling. We as a cast caught one another's energy and we were off and running telling the story with a passion and energy and real need I had never experienced performing this show before. I felt supported and safe, and this made it my duty to risk. I owed it to them, to the audience, to myself, and to the memories of all of these people in real life, who went through this and who are now a very small percentage of our population.

I felt good about the performance. I was proud of my castmates. We had a small talkback afterwards, and the audience was curious to how performing Becoming Israel had affected our relationship to the country. I was asked if I wanted to talk about my particular experience with my first few times over there, and I surprised myself by declining. Usually one to share everything, I had shared a lot that night, and there were some things I wanted to keep close. But I was grateful for the question because it allowed me to pose it to myself. I realized how far I'd come in making the country and the story my own. And how much further I have to go. I hope sincerely to have the opportunity to explore it once again. I can only imagine how much more it will change. As an actor and performer it is a real gift of an opportunity; as a storyteller it is essential to telling the story. To continue to grow, "to wrestle, to fight, you know, with G-d, with Israel", as one of the characters states in Becoming Israel.

I continue to hear the lines running through my head as the performance gets further behind me. The greater the distance, the closer I feel.

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