Monday, September 26, 2016

This "Rose" Has Thorns

Yesterday I caught Lally Cadeau's final performance as Rose in Rose, the one-woman play written by American-British playwright Martin Sherman, and first produced in 1999 (and starred Olympia Dukakis). The Toronto show was mounted by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company, part of its 10th anniversary line up.

Going in, the only thing I knew about the play was that it was about an elderly Holocaust survivor named Rose, and that Cadeau, who was playing the role for the second time, had received rave reviews for her performance.

What I didn't know (spoiler alert) was the play's end game: to depict the state of Israel in the worst possible light; to smear it as a place where Jews, formerly the victims of Nazis, had now become the victimizers of Palestinians, who had assumed the mantle of victimhood from Jewry; to portray Israel as a land of brutes and hot heads who had turned it into a land of spoiled milk and rancid honey and who, even worse, had no legitimate claim to the land. (In one of the play's most egregious lines, Rose speaks of "ancient Palestinians," thereby implying that their peoplehood is every bit as venerable as the Jews' when in fact it pretty much dates from Yasser Arafat's arrival on the scene.)

It's utter tommyrot, of course, the same old spurious, anti-Zionist talking points spewed by the likes of Max Blumenthal and Walt & Mearshimer. The problem is that they are being voiced by a lovable Bubbie named Rose who, prior to this, has endeared herself to the audience by telling us the story of her life--the shtetl in the Ukraine! the Warsaw Ghetto! the voyage on the Exodus! a new life in America!-- in all its harrowing, horrible and occasionally humorous details.

When the play opens, Rose is sitting shiva for someone. At the outset, it's unclear who the dead person is. Cut to the chase (one more spoiler alert) and all is revealed towards the end. She is mourning the death of a nine-year-old Palestinian girl who has been shot and killed by--wait for it--Rose's grandson, one of those fanatical, peace-impeding "settlers."  Since Rose's daughter was the same age when she was murdered by Nazis, the clear implication is that these Israelis are no better than Hitler's minions.

Add a mention of Baruch Goldstein and, presto!, Israel is tarred, feathered and dispatched forthwith.

Rose's other complaints about Israel: it despises Yiddish, has no respect for the culture that was wiped away by the Holocaust, and has veered far away from the Utopian--or Jewtopian--ideals espoused by the Kibbutzim.

Poor Rose--and poor Martin Sherman. They would sooner blacken Israel's name than tell the truth about it--and about the "saintly" Palestinians it so venerates. And how sneaky--and hugely manipulative--of the playwright to give vent to his anti-Israel animus in this way.

For, were Rose, the character as well as the play, in the truth-telling and not the anti-Israel agit-prop business, it would have to acknowledge that, in our day, the Holocaust is intrinsic to the Israeli identiy. It would also have to veer from the leftist/Islamist narrative which holds Israelis to be evil interlopers who have "stolen" the land and, in a nod to even-handedness, explain that rather than being saintly victims one and all, a good portion of them hate Jews because that's what the Koran tells them to do, and because the existence of a Jewish state on land claimed in perpetuity for Allah is a rebuke to--and a big, wet raspberry blown in the direction of--Islamic doctrine. Also, that many Palestinians, like a small but statistically significant number of Muslims around the world, are actively engaged in waging jihad against the infidel, an unpleasant truth which has seen terrorist incidents which previously had only occurred within Israel now taking place in many other cities in the West. Also, that when Palestinian terrorists murder Israelis, their bloody exploits are celebrated, and streets are named for the killers. When a one-of Israeli terrorist, Baruch Goldstein, kills Arabs, it is sincerely and wholeheartedly condemned by the Jewish state. And let's not even go into Israel's manifold contributions in the areas of science, medicine and technology, and how they continue to transform the world in unquestionably positive ways.

But then, having a Rose who, say, had a grandson who worked at the Technion or who spearheaded Israeli rescue efforts following natural disasters in far-flung locales wouldn't afford the same opportunity to cast aspersions on the Jewish state and, therefore, would not have had the same anti-Zionist oomph as a Rose sitting shiva for a nine-year-old Palestinian girl offed by a Naziesque Israeli "settler."

Surely I can't be the only one in Toronto who saw the play and who found its message to be utterly contemptible.

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