Review by Tulis McCall
4 April 2016
“It’s complicated,” Aaron Davidman tells us at the opening of Wrestling Jerusalem, now at 59E59th Street. In this brave solo show Davidman goes directly to the heart of the matter. Did the Israeli-Palestinian conflict start in 1981, 1963 or 1947? And whose fault is it anyway? Iran’s? Maybe…
Davidman does not try to answer. He tries to dig deeper into the matter. His panolpy of characters share their wildly opposing perspectives. Each of the 16 characters is a combination of interviews that Davidman conducted as well as his research. We see him as a 20 something on his first trip to Israel and then walk with him as he stands witness to a conflict that is thousands of years old. An American rabbi is horrified at the violence being done in the name of Judaism. This is not MY Judaism he tells us. There is a conversation between Aaron and Tariq – quick, conversational, philosophical challenges that end in joyful shouts. Nadav’s son was killed in a bombing two weeks after he attended a Peace camp. Build the wall and keep the Arabs over there he says. I am finished he says.
There is the story of the old man who goes through the checkpoint every day, just to remind the Israeli soldiers what insanity they are inflicting on the Palestinians. A professor laments the rise of Hezballah and tells a joke: The definition of a Zionist is a Jew who gives money to a second Jew so that a third Jew can go live in Palestine.
An Israeli, Doctor Tzipora, reminds Aaron that in 1948 the Jews brought the trauma of the Holocaust. The Palestinians were expelled from their homes. More trauma. Babies see it and feel it in the eyes of their mothers. Trauma upon trauma. War and more war. Two sides living in fear, she says.
Aaron is guided by well meaning hands on his journey. He passes a temple where Abraham and Sarah are buried – Jews and Muslims pray there every day in separate guarded areas. There is the group of Jewish and Palestinian women working to support one another. He enters into a lengthy heated debate with an American Medical student who defends Hamas as trustworthy.
Palestinians remember that when they gave up their orchards the Israelis destroyed them. Jews remember that the Romans tried to wipe them off the earth and changed the name of the country to Palestine. Some Jews question their own occupation. One Palestinian assures Aaron that they will out wait that occupation. As long as it takes.
Which brings us back to the beginning. It’s complicated. And brings to mind the unstoppable force meets immovable object theory, or as it is put in philosophical terms: Can God create a stone so heavy that even God is not strong enough to lift it? Israel is populated with people who believe they are there by divine right. Will they ever trust a God who can lift the weight of their burden?
As Davidman tells us:
The Kabbalists, the Jewish mystics, tell a story of creation. Once there were vessels of light that contained all the goodness of the universe. But the vessels burst because they were not strong enough to hold. The light shattered and is hidden in and among us. As human beings, our work is to find them, gather them and put them back together. It’s how we heal the world, they say.
Ergo, no matter how small the effort, it is worth it. By inviting us to view from others’ vantage point, Davidman is gathering those points of light and putting them back together. And to drive the point home, there is a post show conversation after each performance.
"A smartly written solo show about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,... it is intensely frustrating that Mr. Davidman and his director, Michael John Garcés, get in their own way throughout this puzzlingly paced production, whose 17 characters — Israelis, Palestinians, a sprinkling of American Jews — need far more room to breathe than they’re allowed."
Laura Collins-Hughes for New York Times
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