Getting Up Close and Personal About Israel

The New York City theater goers were milling about the lobby drinking Israeli wine, nibbling on Mediterranean junk food like Bamba, Bisli, and Elite chocolate, and talking about the show they had just seen.

“It reminded me of the Vagina Monologues,” said audience member Linda Clifford. “It had different perspectives on the same topic, all which I could relate to on a human level… It was very powerful work.”

Across the room, Susan Orr said that what had appealed to her and made her want to come to this show was that she understood “it was about life and about human experiences.” She, too, had found the play to be quite moving.

The show Clifford and Orr had just seen was the first staged reading of Love and Israel: A monologue show about people’s personal relationship with Israel. What might be somewhat surprising is that neither woman is Jewish, nor has either ever had any prior association with Israel.

Responses such as those of these theatergoers are just what show producers Ilana Lipski and Sissy Block, had in mind when they conceived of Love and Israel , an unapologetically emotional rollercoaster ride with an Israel-centric theme yet a universal message.

Love and Israel consists of 11 short monologues by different writers, men and women who have a deeply emotional connection with Israel.

“Our intention in creating this show was to reflect human relationships with Israel and show the human side of life in Israel – the side beyond the media images of war, terrorism and political unrest,” co-producer Sissy Block told ISRAEL21c

Among the subjects explored in the monologues were: coming of age in Israel; Israel as a young woman’s first love; falling in love with Israeli culture, Israeli food and even Israeli cats; a New Yorker’s experience of serving in the Israeli army; being in dialogue with Israel; separating from Israel and how to say goodbye.

“Many of the stories were quite compelling.” Orr said. “One monologue that really spoke to me was about a woman who related to Israel through music. I empathized with that because in my own life, I also have a strong emotional connection to music. Another story that actually brought tears to my eyes was one about an Israeli soldier who was assigned to guard a roadblock near Ramallah and gradually developed a warm and sincere dialogue with [Palestinian negotiator] Saeb Erekat.”

The remarkable story behind Love and Israel began over a year ago with a chance encounter of two women after a lecture, completely unrelated to Judaism or Israel.

Lipski, a writer and actor who recently graduated from William Esper Studio’s Two-Year Acting Training Program, and Block, who works in marketing and has studied scriptwriting, quickly discovered they each had lived in Israel: Lipski had lived in Jerusalem for 13 years, and Block in Tel Aviv for nine years.

They also realized a common passion – an enduring emotional attachment to Israel that continued long after each had moved to America. Seeking a creative outlet for their yearnings, they soon conceptualized Love and Israel. A call for submissions was sent out to hundreds of email addresses, and scores of people responded. From these responses, the producers culled nine monologues, to which they added two they had written themselves. Actors were auditioned and rehearsals commenced.

The producers looked to find sponsors for the production. The first two readings were sponsored by the American Zionist Movement and held a building owned by the Jewish National Fund on the Upper East Side.

The road to production has not always been smooth, the producers said. In particular, Lipski recalled a disturbing incident that occurred at a school where she taught English to foreign students this summer. She had posted a flyer advertising the Love and Israel staged reading on a community bulletin board in the teachers lounge and the school’s director had the flyer taken down, citing complaints from unidentified teachers who had termed the subject matter “offensive.”

“Anybody who read the flyer could plainly see that our show has no political agenda,” Lipski stressed. “This project is about creative, artistic and personal expression in a theatrical context. Therefore, the only answer I could come up with for this bizarre complaint was that anybody who would be offended by the concept of our show would likely be offended by the mere existence of Israel,” she reasoned. “It is precisely this sort of knee-jerk reaction that exemplifies the need for a show such as ours.”

Lipski said she felt the media uses sensationalism to reduce everything to war and politics and terrorism. In her view, Israel and Israelis have become dehumanized in the eyes of many people around the world because they only connect to Israel through the sensationalist images projected in the media.

“What our show does is bring back the humanity of Israel and people who have a connection with Israel, using the artistic vehicle of theatre and storytelling as a way for any audience member, Jewish or non-Jewish, Israeli or American, to connect to something on a personal and emotional level.” Lipski said.

Following two readings this month, Lipski and Block intend to produce a fully staged production and are looking into the possibility of taking the show on tour.

No matter what form Love and Israel will take in the future, Lipski and Block intend to stay true to their core message, that people can have a strong emotional attachment to Israel as much as anything else in this world. It’s a message that is summed up in the concluding words of Block’s monologue, words upon which the show ends:

“Maybe that’s all anyone’s looking for,” Block said, “For someone who’s willing to understand the things that are most important to them. No matter what those things are. And maybe, especially, if one of those things is Love. And the other is Israel.”

Love & Israel will be performed Monday, September 18 at 7 p.m. in the JNF Building, 42 East 69th Street, New York City.


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