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Tikun Olam Program - March 18, 2007

Tikun Olam and the Nestroyhof

SPEAKING ALLOWED

Jedermann ist berufen, etwas in der Welt zur Vollendung zu bringen.
– Martin Buber

There’s a favorite Green Party joke about two worlds who pass each other in the universe…
“Hey World, how’s it going?”
“To be honest, things could be better.”
“What’s the matter?”
“I’ve got… Menschen.”
“Menschen! I had that! That goes away fast!”


The ancient ethical imperative, tikun olam, suggests that there is no world without humanity. If we don’t do what can be done to counter social injustice, the whole world will fall to pieces.

Following “aryanization” (Nazi confiscation of buisnesses and property) and the persecution that destroyed the lives of many of the artists of its active and international stage, the Jewish theater in the Jugendstil masterpiece known as the “Nestroyhof” had been closed since WWII and was eventually rented out to supermarket tenants. Instead of pulling down the balconies, glass roof, and sculpted reliefs, the new tenants simply installed a dark, intestinal skin to conceal the original structure from unsuspecting, cart-pushing shoppers for decades. Today, the Nestroyhof – former home of the Jüdische Künstlerspiele (1927-38) and final remnant of a once robust Viennese Jewish theater scene – remains in the hands of the same family that first took possession of the property as Nazis in 1940 in their successful campaign to build a post-war family empire, in part, on Jewish blood.

In late 2001, the Jewish Theater of Austria began its work for the reestablishment of an international Jewish theater, which, since 2003, has come to be known as the “Nestroyhof Initiative.” In 2004, one of the inheritors finally came forward to reason with me or to lay down the law: The “entertainment rooms,” he said, would be used for business and gastronomy.
“It will never be a theater and certainly not Jewish!
“What’s the problem with ‘Jewish?’” I asked.
“There is no problem with ‘Jewish’ except that we see no reason to associate our property with ‘Jewish’ any more than…‘Uzbekistan’.”
“Uzbekistan?”
He whispered shouting:
“It will never be a Jewish theater! Even if I wanted it, my family would never agree! That’s the last thing it will ever be!”

I left that fateful meeting with hope renewed: It was “the last thing” the Nestroyhof would ever be, so it would be a Jewish theater…

It is a great honor to have the confidence, solidarity, and tangible support of the long established Association for Jewish Theater behind these goals. My international colleagues are at the forefront of a rapidly growing network of artists and creative leaders who explore, among other things, the role of theater in putting the broken pieces of the world together again. They have come a long way to show their positive support for the Jewish Theater of Austria and for the future of intercultural diversity and renewal in Vienna.

I hope that the Tikun Olam Festival program may offer at least a glimpse of the vast landscape of Jewish theater from Moscow, Tel Aviv, Prague, or Strasbourg, to Johannesburg, Melbourne, New York, or São Paulo. Jewish Theater around the world is performed in all the languages spoken by the artists who stage it and is inspired by at least as many social and cultural settings. Aesthetically, thematically, and politically, artistic companies run such a gamut that it may be impossible to define one principle that is common to all. But if there is anything they do have in common, then it is probably the spirit of tikun olam.

Each of us is called upon to fix what is broken in the world and to make it whole again. The Nestroyhof Initiative has symbolic resonance for tikun olam in a city that gave rise to the world’s undoing in the 20th century and at a time when the world is at increasing risk of falling to pieces.

I am grateful to the many supporters of the work of the first Jewish Theater company in Vienna since 1938, and to its dedicated team. Most of all, I feel honored by the many colleagues who have agreed to convene to hold a World Congress of International Jewish Theater under this symbolic banner and to participate in the first International Jewish Theater Festival in Vienna.

Warren Rosenzweig
Vienna, March 2007

Copyright © 2007 Jewish Theater of Austria
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