Wednesday, June 10, 2009


These past Daniel-less weeks have been a whirlwind of activity - goodbye dinners, spending time with friends, writing papers, etc.
Tonight I said goodbye to some of our closest friends of our Year in Israel by going with to see a community theater production (in English) of Oklahoma. It was a pretty good show - the singing was terrific although the dancing left much to be desired. Ultimately I was left with a strong sense of pride for America, a kind of nostalgia for good-old-American patriotism as represented by Rogers and Hammerstein. Although the play did not end in the singing of Hatikvah, as did 1776 (see my post on the Zionistic ending to that play), the notes in the program answer the question "Why Oklahoma in Israel?" in an interesting way:

"It strikes me that makes the show particume that there are many similarities between the fledgling state (Oklahoma joined the Union in 1907) and our own country. Both reflect a microcosm of conflicting interests, loyalties, sectors, and traditions joining together to form a new polity. Bit it is another, subtler, common theme that makes the show particularly appropriate for the Israeli stage. Bridging the often conflcting interests of the formers and the cowmen is Oklahoma's peddler, Ali Hakim. Despite being labeled as a Syrian (in Lynn Riggs' play, Green Grow the Lilacs, which served as the basis for Oklahoma!) or Persian (as adapted by Oscar Hammerstein II), Hakim is ostensibly Jewish, as were most ofthe peddlers in the western territories at the time. In fact, the role was created by Joseph Buloff, a star of the Yiddish stage, and his Jewish inflection was the subject of considerable critical discusion at the time. Does that make Oklahoma! a Jewish play? Not really, but iot does reflect the overwhelming influence that Jewish immigrants and their descendants had on the American musical theater."

I'm not sure that the most important point is that the 'Jewish' peddler represents Jewish influence on the American stage, as the character, a hypersexualized, irresponsible, money/business focused outsider is a conglomeration of negative stereotypes, likeable though he may be as a comic character. His Jewish character, not unlike the women who are treated as objects to be bought and sold, won and owned, are the creations of the 1943 American imagination of Jews, and performing the play in Israel, with Jews performing all of the roles and sitting in the audience, truly changes the meaning of the play and places Jews as the insiders, the active characters, and the athletic, macho heroes - truly a feit suiting the Zionist spirit.

As today was my last day of Yiddish class, and as we've been reading some poetry in class lately, I decided to end this post by translating a Manni Leib poem for you:

To the Non-Jewish Poet

An heir of Shakespeare, of shepherds and knights,
So good and fine for you, non-Jewish poet!
The earth is yours, where your uncle pig trots:
She gives him feed and gives your muse sustenance.

You sit like a bird on your branch and twitter,
And all the wild space answers you:
From you see the satieatedness, the breadth of the cities,
The complete serenity of satiated spirits.

And here am I, unwanted, a poet of the Jews,
Growing with weeds upon not-our world
Of grandfathers - tired wanderers with dusty beards -

That nourish themselves from books and markets;
And melodically I sing in a strange world the tears
Of wandering in a desert under foreign stars.

And one more for good measure (sorry about my poor translation skills, but at least this gives you the rough idea, though you are missing the patterns of the sounds). Here is one by David Hofstein:

In a Winter Evening

In a winder evening in Russian fields...
Where can one be lonlier, where can one be lonlier?

An old horse, a creaking sled,
A snowcovered dirt road - and I am in the middle

Behind, in the only corner of the paleness,
Smouldering stripes of sun's light still extinguish themselves sadly.

Ahead, a white desert spreads out
And far ahead a few houses are scattered -

There sleeps a hamlet, sunk down in the snow...
A few paths lead to the Jewish home.

A house, like all the others, but with larger windows,
And among the children there I am the oldest.

And narrow is my little world, and small is my circle:
Once in two weeks I go from the hamlet to the village.

And longing in silence for fields an for the vast wideness,
For many roads and paths, covered by snowdrifts...

And I cary in my heart the hidden pain
Of seeds that wait and wait to be sewn...

In winter evenings in Russian fields...
Where can one be lonlier, where can one be lonlier?...

1 comment:

Dan Mont said...

Glad to see you enjoying your last few precious days in Israel. What a year!

And the bit about "Why Oklahoma in Israel" was really interesting.