Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
An unshaven man stumbles onstage, clad in a raincoat covering his pajamas. He is barefoot and shuffles among the dried leaves that litter the stage area, a long rectangular set with the audience on either side. It is a most intimate performance area, uncomfortably so. He tells us he was a Red Cross representative, stationed in the Berlin suburb of Wansee, during the war, and had been sent to inspect a civilian internment camp in Nazi Germany. Now, he is guilt ridden, confused and sleepless. A tortured soul remembering what it was like to play-act to do his job, unaware he was but a manipulated audience himself. As he describes the entire visit and the episode unfolds before us. He cannot sleep.
Next, boys play with a top and quarrel, a couple argues over a gift, each actor perfecting his or her lines, cueing each other to get the dialogue right. We notice they all wear a yellow star. The young woman complains of constantly hearing trains in the night.
Finally, Gottfried is brought in and sits before the Commandant. He is a prisoner, powerless to resist the orders of his captor. He must become an actor, learn his lines and collaborate, in order to give outsiders the impression of a benign internment camp. His play-acting seeks to convince them that conditions are relatively good and, considering the war, humane. As for the ramp from the railway station to the infirmary, well, everyone just calls it the “way to heaven.” The play has begun.
The Nazi Commandant attempts to beguile us with his assurances of European civilization, the books he has in his library, how he distains war and how once it is all over, we will all speak one language and celebrate one culture. His monologue constantly slips between past and present, chilling our confidence in the distance of the past horrors. Suddenly all the lights go out and in the pitch-blackness the Nazi asserts that all of the killing camps are gone now, “There’s none of it left now, but they’re still here. All of them, every single one.” The ghosts of the murdered Jews remain because, “Every train in Europe terminates here.”
Further into the past, we are plunged into the complex and tortured relationship between Gershom Gottfried, the “mayor” of the Jews, and the Commandant who is both the author and director of the little piece of theater that will convince the Red Cross that there is no mistreatment of the prisoners. Gottfried’s role is to make sure everyone acts his or her part exactly as the script says, that they understand that their lives depend upon their performance. Gottfried says the people want to know what to expect. The Commandant answers, “Focus on one thought, Gottfried. ‘I’m not on that train. As long as I’m here, I’m not on that train.’” The play-acting becomes instantly clear; their performance is a bargain with the devil himself.
Gottfried is told that one scene is too crowded, “Cut them down to a hundred.” He is told to take them to the “infirmary,” that closed shed at the top of the long ramp, at the end of the “way to heaven.” Gottfried balks, he can’t choose which of his fellow Jews will be condemned. He rebels and spits out, “What if we refuse?…[what if] He arrives and there’s no one there Or we tell him the truth “ The Commandant calmly reminds Gottfried that the Red Cross man may not understand the gesture or the symbol. Jewish rebellion would hardly make an impact, and would only result in more death.
Sitting so close to the actors, finally understanding their dilemma, understanding that Gottfried and his Jews have no choice, understanding that no one wants to assure their own death, I still ask myself, what would I do? What would I do?
Finally Juan Mayorga’s stunning play brings it all home. Gottfried and his Jews resume practicing their parts, reassuring fellow actors, “we’ve all had to pretend some time, haven’t we?” The little girl with her doll enters and is comforted by Gottfried. “If you do it well, we’ll see Mummy again. She’ll come on one of those trains. If we do what they ask us We’ll do it as many times as we have to, until Mummy comes back.” She softly sings her haunting song again. Ani Ma’amin. Yes, I believe, I believe with a perfect faith.
Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at email@example.com.
About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Today is day six without a phone.
Besides for feeling slightly isolated, it’s not too bad.
I’ve been doing things that I know I would not be doing if my phone was sitting next to me, shiny screen beckoning.
Is anyone else alarmed by the way extended warranties are sold on just about anything and everything? It means one of two things – either someone has found a great way of getting consumers to part with more of their hard earned dollars or manufacturers have no faith in their own products. Neither of those options is particularly heartwarming.
As I described Gaon in a review in June 2001 (“In Search of Ancestors, Sculpture by Simon Gaon” at Yeshiva University Museum), his Bukharian Jewish roots are deeply embedded on both sides of his family, echoed in his early yeshiva education.
Let me begin by congratulating my dear machatunim, Soraya and Jay Nimaroff, on being the recipients of the Community Service Award at the Sderot Hesder Institutions 18th annual anniversary dinner.
Think of your issues this way: due to those different backgrounds, you have a “shovel” to deal with difficulties while he has a “spoon”.
Do you remember the good old days when kids were kids and there was never anything to worry about? Those days never really existed, but today there are issues kids worry about that weren’t issues for some adults. They include fear of bullying, natural disasters, divorce, and violence.
In Part I talked about celebrating 30 years of Regesh Family and Child Services providing services to children, teens and families. I shared the agency’s origin and the many lessons I have learned through this journey. As I mentioned, it is my hope that my experiences will add to your toolbox of life skills.
Unfortunately, a map of the Middle East with no mention of Israel is nothing new… It is surprising however, that the world’s largest publisher of children’s literature, Scholastic Books, has joined in this trend.
About six months ago my parents and I started discussing ideas for a mitzvah project in honor of my bat mitzvah. I wanted to do something unique that would be meaningful to me and also do something that my friends could participate in. Immediately I thought of an organization called Sharsheret.
“I’m disappointed that the agreement reached with Iran leaves our unfulfilled our ultimate objective: a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and related activities.
Southern NCSY will be holding a leadership training Shabbaton at the Young Israel of Bal Harbour December 6 and December 7. Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, will be the special guest speaker.
Is there a beginning and an end to the universe? What role can medical breakthroughs play in conception or genetic engineering? Can science help us pinpoint the end of human life? Does the soul emanate from the brain or vice-versa?
Last month’s column sketched the myriad of social programs in which the Orthodox American communal worker and leader Adolphus S. Solomons (1826-1910) was involved. Adolphus married Rachel Seixas Phillips (1828-1881), a descendant of colonial patriot families and together they had eight daughters and a son.
The fact that the Jewish Museum’s curator Susan Tumarkin Goodman presents these issues as the inescapable core of her exhibition demonstrates the courage to challenge her audience with deeply discomforting images and concepts.
Lynda Caspe’s current exhibition at the Derfner Museum is an extraordinary event. In this show of 12 bronze relief sculptures and 14 cityscape paintings we have the opportunity to see the full scope of her last six years of work that, as least with the sculptures, marked a radical change in subject matter and technique.
The philosopher Theodor Adorno famously wrote in 1949, “cultural criticism finds itself with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” This statement posited that the Holocaust exposed the unredeemable rotten underbelly of Western culture and therefore the very notion of creating beauty and sensitivity was at an insurmountable impasse. Alas, as cultural history has shown, he was wrong. Strikingly, it might be said that one of the few ways still provocatively available to speak about the Holocaust is in fact through poetry.
“Hyman Bloom: Paintings and Drawings (1940 – 2005),” currently at White Box (the cutting edge international art space on Broome Street), is a rare opportunity to observe the creative process of one of the most important practitioners of 20th century Jewish Art in America.
The “book” is a mighty big place these days and the current exhibition at MOBIA, “As Subject and Object: Contemporary Book Artists Explore Sacred Hebrew Texts,” is no exception. Highly mobile ebooks compete with online publications and traditionally bound volumes, scrolls, accordion-style tomes and folios that present equally exciting options for contemporary artists to interact with image and text in one unifying medium.
At the Chassidic Art Institute one artist, Harry McCormick, has rather amazingly fathomed the authentic heartbeat of the individual Jewish life. This exhibition, running until July 25, shows a mere 16 paintings, but six of them reveal a deeply perceptive and sensitive chronicle of Yiddishkeit.
Judaica Auctions and the exhibition that precede them at Kestenbaum & Company are always a cornucopia of aesthetic delights. The sheer variety and overall quality of the ceremonial objects and works of art make the exhibition and catalogue a museum-like experience. The current exhibition is no exception.
Whether it is the disastrous report of the 12 spies or the furious condemnation that doomed an entire generation to die in the wilderness, the Torah narrative in Bamidbar turns terribly grim after the glorious inauguration of the Mishkan in the second year after leaving Egypt. With this in mind, just imagine my surprise at an encounter with two artists who address these (and other Biblical) themes right around the corner.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/way-to-heaven-by-juan-mayorga/2009/05/20/
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