World Congress
of Jewish Theater


Of the Association for Jewish Theater:
„TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“
20 – 23 March, 2007, Vienna


Excerpts from the
Keynote Address by Theodore Bikel
At the Opening Ceremony of the Congress
Urania, Vienna, March 20, 2007

“I am sure most of you will appreciate the mixed feelings I have as I address you in this, the city of my birth. While I can never rid myself of those memories of my childhood that are suffused with pain and grief, I am also acutely aware of the fact that this was the place where I had my first taste of high culture and where youthful inclination turned into a lifelong passion for theater.

It was also the place where I first experienced Jewish theater, specifically Yiddish theater and where my father read Yiddish plays aloud at the table after dinner on Tuesday nights.

Since my teens I have spent my life in the theater; at first, briefly, in the Hebrew theater; and for the past 60 years on stages in the English-speaking world. In all these years, wearing other hats, I have, in addition, worked to keep Jewish culture alive in all its facets: literature, poetry, music, folklore and language. It is this double commitment to theater and to Jewish culture that brings me here to address you today.”
.   .   .

“(T)he theater we are trying to define here has several aspects that characterizes it. Firstly, it has cultural, literary, historical and contemporary indicators that describe it. I am speaking not just of a general aura of Jewishness but of aspects that have far greater specificity.

Secondly, there are the audiences we address. These are twofold. On the one hand we seek to present a picture of the Jewish world in its many facets to a general audience. But we also hold a mirror up to ourselves for Jewish audiences to see. To Jews and non-Jews in the audience we must show not just a rosy picture, glossing over blemishes, but a picture as close and sometimes as painful to the truth as we can come.

Theater in the free world is not a propaganda tool. History is background, source, raw material. What we have to avoid is to use our history to either depict Jews as victims or as the shining examples of noble traditions so that we can feel good about ourselves. History is not to be exploited – for good or ill. We owe it to our sense of intellectual honesty to discount the warnings from timid Jews who want us to show nothing unflattering about ourselves because it might be a shande far di goyim.

Yet another manifestation of timidity among some is the fear that creating anything specifically ‘Jewish’ will once again set us apart; more fuel for the accusation that we harbor dual loyalties in every country where Jews reside. That is simple-minded nonsense. Only those who believe in monochromatic culture would buy the proposition that presenting works with a specifically Jewish (or Black or Irish or Turkish or Russian) motif detracts rather than adds to the beauty of a nation.

In countries such as the United States that were created by immigrants, each cultural element enhances the flowering of the nation. To believe otherwise is to subscribe to the notion that a meadow with but one kind of flower is preferable to a profusion of flowers. Ours is the Jewish flower and we offer it for all to enjoy.

Moreover, Jews have been on a journey. To mark the intellectual, emotional, and dramatic signposts of that journey is a role the Jewish artist fulfills. It, too, is one whose usefulness the world might acknowledge.

How so? The world as we know it faces terrorism, mass murder, mayhem and possible nuclear devastation. These are threats to its very existence. Well, we Jews have been in that street before; we have faced death and devastation at so many turns of history. Yet, in the midst of chaos, we have found ways to believe in a tomorrow, to laugh, to sing to dance and to pray – even when just walking in the street meant mortal danger. I daresay that among its other qualities our theater, too, is part of our tools of survival. The world might take note.

If Jewish existence in the Diaspora has given our lives a constantly underlying – and familiar – sense of danger, that is the stuff that theater is made of. That sense of tension persists even at times when seemingly there is no danger; and it is likely to turn something that is otherwise unremarkable into something extraordinary.

The humdrum daily routine of poverty in the shtetl, the dull days spent in silence in a loft, a sexton looking for a tenth man to form a minyan – all these furnish material for Jewish theater, along with the more esoteric topics of Dybbuks, Talmudic disputations, Biblical history, holocaust and post-holocaust drama.

Today we are once again in the midst of conflict and strife. We not only live in the shadow of the holocaust, the most horrendous of all memories; but now this is also a time when Jew-hatred has once again been given license to raise its voice.”
.   .   .

“The function of the artist is not only to please, to soothe, to pacify, but also to ruffle feathers.

We must be able to present plays, films, poems or songs which are critical of society and thus point the way toward a world which is better than the world we have.

That surely must resonate with anyone who is serious about Tikun Olam, the betterment of the world, the motto of this Congress.

To be sure, a theater that presents plays critical of the status quo presumes that artists can be at odds with the society in which they live and can put their eloquence to use in order to further the dream of a better humankind. If that is seen as criticism, then so be it; we know that we are on the right path.

Clearly, theater is not likely to stop wars or influence governments. But we know that theater does help restore to our world an atmosphere of faith, does remind us that greatness is to be measured not by economic or military might but rather by culture, by music, by poetry and drama. Because the arts may be society’s last best hope for meaningful survival.”
.   .   .

“And so we embark upon this Congress with some trepidation but also with a great deal of hope. Part of our hope is that we might draw many more artists into the ambit of Jewish Theater than can be found there at present, those at the sidelines or beyond the horizon.

It is an enigma why some Jewish artists are reluctant to identify themselves with Jewish culture or Jewish causes as if to avoid wearing a Star of David on their sleeve. When this happens in the so-called free world, one wonders why the freedom to be what we are has not eradicated the trembling fear of ‘otherness’ in some of our brethren who live in a non-Jewish world, the fear of being seen as the stranger in their midst.

Perhaps we can imbue them with a renewed sense of pride from which may flow a commitment to their own culture and to our work. It would be a travesty if Jewish artists who have done so much to raise the level of excellence in the theater of the non-Jewish world were to fail to do the same in their own, the Jewish Theater.

And it would be equally tragic if Jewish audiences who support all of the arts in society with such enthusiasm would fail to show the same devotion to theater when it bears a specific Jewish imprimatur.

But, ultimately, it is up to us to prove that we can toil with as much diligence in our own garden as we have in other peoples’, that the Jewish flowering is fresh and bright and far from withering away.

Whenever I am asked why I sing Jewish songs, I am moved to reply that I do not believe that the Jewish song is better than the song of my neighbor; I sing it because it is mine.

In the world of theater there are others who from time to time do Jewish-themed plays; they may even do it well. But this is us, our turf, our theater; we do it because it is we who were entrusted with its guardianship.”

Theodor Bikel, March 20, 2007

See also
TIKUN OLAM
FESTIVAL OF INTERNATIONAL JEWISH THEATER


SLIDESHOW RETROSPECTIVE
Performance program cover for TIKUN OLAM FESTIVAL OF INTERNATIONAL JEWISH THEATER and „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - World Congress of Jewish Theater of the Association for Jewish Theater (AJT); Graphic: L. Tarhan 2007

Mira Hirsch (Georgia), President, Association for Jewish Theater (AJT), „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater, Congress Opening under the Honorary Patronage of Heinz Fischer, Federal President of the Republic of Austria, Urania, Vienna; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Paul Chaim Eisenberg, Chief Rabbi of Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater, Congress Opening under the Honorary Patronage of Heinz Fischer, Federal President of the Republic of Austria, Urania; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007, Urania, Vienna; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Brigitte Jank, President, Vienna Chamber of Commerce, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater, Congress Opening under the Honorary Patronage of Heinz Fischer, Federal President of the Republic of Austria, Urania; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007, Urania, Vienna; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Thomas Blimlinger, President, District of Vienna Neubau, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater, Congress Opening under the Honorary Patronage of Heinz Fischer, Federal President of the Republic of Austria, Urania; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007, Urania, Vienna; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

“There is a strong Jewish presence on the cultural and intellectual scene of the Western world. This is as true of the theater as it is of most other facets within the arts. My task at the start of this Congress, the first such undertaking of its kind, is to start a conversation about what we can define as the uniquely Jewish contribution to the art form, to take stock of who we are and what audiences we aim to address.” Keynote Address by Theodore Bikel (Los Angeles), "Jewish Theater – Defining Identity Through Art", „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater, Congress Opening under the Honorary Patronage of Heinz Fischer, Federal President of the Republic of Austria, Urania; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007, Urania, Vienna; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

“The function of the artist is not only to please, to soothe, to pacify but also to ruffle feathers. We must be able to present plays, films, poems or songs which are critical of society and thus point the way toward a world which is better than the world we have. That surely must resonate with anyone who is serious about Tikkun Olam, the betterment of the world, the motto of this Congress.” Keynote Address by Theodore Bikel (Los Angeles), "Jewish Theater – Defining Identity Through Art", „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater, Congress Opening under the Honorary Patronage of Heinz Fischer, Federal President of the Republic of Austria, Urania; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007, Urania, Vienna; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

"Soirée with Theodore Bikel" (Los Angeles), Habig Foyer, Bösendorfer, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

"Soirée with Theodore Bikel" (Los Angeles), Habig Foyer, Bösendorfer, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Inge Maux (Vienna), Gala Dinner with Host Martina Malyar, President, District of Vienna Alsergrund, HLMW9 Michelbeuern, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Gala Dinner with Host Martina Malyar, President, District of Vienna Alsergrund, HLMW9 Michelbeuern, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Jim Libby (Maine/Vienna) and Robert Ritter (Vienna), Reading from "Peter und der Wolf" by Ari Roth, Festsaal Vienna Neubau, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Caroline Koczan (Vienna), "Nicht mehr hier" (Not Here Anymore), Piaristenkeller, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

David Schneider (London), "Nicht mehr hier" (Not Here Anymore), Piaristenkeller, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Sanford Goldfless (Massachusettes) and Ruth Schneider (London), "The Children of the Jüdische Künstlerspiele", Piaristenkeller, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Anne Wiederhold (Frankfurt/Vienna), "International Solo Program", Piaristenkeller, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Naava Piatka, "International Solo Program", Piaristenkeller, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Howard Rypp (Tel Aviv), "International Solo Program", Piaristenkeller, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Sharon Feder (Denver), "International Solo Program", Piaristenkeller, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Congress Dinner, Piaristenkeller, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Congress Dinner, Piaristenkeller, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Congress Dinner, Piaristenkeller, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Congress Dinner, Piaristenkeller, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Congress Dinner, Piaristenkeller, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Motti Lerner (Ramat Hasharon, Israel), "The Politics of Jewish Theater", Österreichisches Theatermuseum, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Motti Lerner (Ramat Hasharon, Israel), "The Politics of Jewish Theater", Österreichisches Theatermuseum, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Left to right: Elena Lyubarskaya (Moscow), Boris Uhananov (Moscow), Deborah Leiser-Moore (Melbourne), Eva Volitzer (Sofia), Léslie Kirchhausen Marko (São Paulo), Rafael Goldwaser (Straßburg), "Contemporary Jewish Theater around the World", Panel Discussion with international artistic directors, moderated by Atay Citron (Jaffa/Haifa), Österreichisches Theatermuseum, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Deborah Leiser-Moore (Melbourne), "Contemporary Jewish Theater around the World", Österreichisches Theatermuseum, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Boris Uhananov and Elena Lyubarskaya (Moscow), "Contemporary Jewish Theater around the World", Österreichisches Theatermuseum, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Prof. Ellen Schiff, "Contemporary Jewish Theater around the World", Österreichisches Theatermuseum, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Prof. Shimon Levy (Tel Aviv), "Is the Israeli Theater Jewish?", BAWAG Veranstaltungszentrum, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Henriette Cejpek (Bremen/Vienna), "She Stoops to Conquer – Abigail’s Story", BAWAG Veranstaltungszentrum, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

"Jewish Plays", panel discussion with, from left to right, Ari Roth (Washington, D.C.), Deborah Freeman (London), Motti Lerner (Ramat Hasharon, Israel), Ellen Schiff (NYC), and Michael Posnick (Purchase, NY), BAWAG Veranstaltungszentrum, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Evelyn Orbach (Westbloomfield, MI) and Lila Miller (Evanston, IL), "International Playwrights’ Forum", moderated by Rich Orloff (NYC), Jewish Museum Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Prof. Robert Skloot (Madison, WI) and Jim Libby (Maine/Vienna), "Theater of Genocide - Concerning the contribution that theater may make in the education and struggle against genocide", Amerlinghaus, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

Deborah Leiser-Moore (Melbourne), "Tashmadada – Jewish Theater Down Under???", Australian Ambassador’s Residence, Vienna, „TIKUN OLAM – Repair the World“ - AJT World Congress of Jewish Theater; Photo: Juri Tscharyiski 2007

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