The Jewish Theater of Austria Hosts an International Festival and World Congress under the Banner "Tikun Olam"

by Warren Rosenzweig

From March 18 to 24, 2007, the Jewish Theater of Austria produced the first International Festival of Jewish Theater in Viennese history under the title "Tikun Olam" (Repair the World). Overlapping the festival, which included performances and other events by artists from Russia, France, Czech Republic, Israel, the US, South Africa, and other countries, the Jewish Theater of Austria hosted, from March 20 to 23, the first World Congress of Jewish Theater of the Association for Jewish Theater likewise under the motto "Tikun Olam". Combined, the Festival and Congress generated great interest, support, and participation in Vienna and brought together nearly 100 international theater professionals from 17 countries around the globe who convened in Vienna to show their support for the Jewish Theater of Austria’s long-standing Nestroyhof Initiative.

The extraordinary roster of participants included the world renowned stage and film actor and musician, Theodore Bikel, who performed an unforgettable benefit concert, "Around the World with Jewish Music," for the Jewish Theater of Austria at the Bösendorfersaal on March 19, 2007. The following day, at Urania, Mr. Bikel delivered an insightful keynote address about the history of Jewish theater and its many forms and faces. Born in Vienna in 1924, Bikel was thirteen when he emigrated with his parents to Palestine and later became a US citizen in 1961. The performance groups and artists of the Festival included LaboraTORIA (Moscow), Nephesh Theater (Tel Aviv), Theatr Novogo Fronta (Prague / St. Petersburg), Lufteatr (Strasbourg), Hans Breuer (Vienna), Brenda Adelman (Sedona, AZ), Robin Hirsch (NY), Projekttheater (Vienna), and others.

The distinguished venues of the 58-part program included Volkstheater Vienna (Roter Bar), Salle de Bal (French Cultural Institute), Jewish Museum Vienna, Theater des Augenblicks, Börsendorfersaal (& Habig Foyer), Urania, Michelbeuern, WuK, Votivkirche, The Window (Jewish Theater of Austria), Austrian Theater Museum, Amtshaus Wien Neubau, Piaristenkeller, BAWAG Veranstaltungszentrum, Australian Embassy, Ragnarhof, Alef Alef, and Amerlinghaus, among others. The events took place at diverse locations in four of the five city districts with the most significant Jewish heritage, including Wien Neubau, Innenstadt, Alsergrund, and Josefstadt, as well in Wieden and Ottakring. Ironically, except for a few closed Congress events given at Hotel Stefanie, where most of the international participants stayed during their visit, Tikun Olam was not active in the Leopoldstadt, where the Nestroyhof is located and where tens of thousands of Viennese Jews lived and contributed greatly to culture (and theater) until the late 30s, when Austrian Jewry was wiped out by National Socialism.

Quite simply, the Jewish Theater of Austria was unable to secure the cooperation and support of the cultural arm of the local government of the Leopoldstadt, while the landlords of the Aryanized Nestroyhof had denied the Jewish Theater of Austria the possibility of renting the former Jewish Theater for a proposed single performance of its production about the Nestroyhof, called "Nicht mehr hier". Meanwhile, Tikun Olam enjoyed the support of numerous Embassies and international cultural institutes and of many public offices, communities, private institutions, and distinguished individuals in Austria. The Congress was opened under the honorary patronage of Dr. Heinz Fischer, President of the Republic of Austria, and the Festival under the patronage of Dr. Georg Springer, CEO of the Austrian Federal Theater Holding and Brigitte Jank, President of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce. Of the numerous media reports that appeared in print and on television or radio, only one weekly Viennese paper - the "Falter" - responded with the kind of malice and disinformation that was once so typical in Austria in the discussion of unresolved thievery and living Jewish culture.

"Tikun Olam" may sound romantic, but it can also serve as a principle for positive, practical action. This was clearly and successfully demonstrated in Vienna in March 2007, especially with the help of scores of participating artists and scholars. There is no question that the few opponents of the Jewish Theater of Austria’s initiative to reestablish an international Jewish theater in the Nestroyhof are vastly outnumbered by its proponents. The Initiative continues and it currently enjoys more international awareness and support than ever. How long now before the Polsterer family will finally renounce the gains of its Nazi past?

Warren Rosenzweig
Vienna, June 2007

Some related articles

"Kulturjournal - Jüdisches Theater Austria" Ö1 Kultur - Bühne, Jan. 03, 2007
"Experience Helps to Repair the World" Wien International, March 13, 2007
"A Window to the World" Augustin, Feb. 1, 2007
"Neue Räume und Projekte - Jüdisches Theater Austria", Jan. 20, 2007
"Tikun Olam / Jüdisches Theater Austria JTA jetzt im 7. Bezirk!" Neubauerrundschau, March 1, 2007
"Ortsbestimmungen der Heilungskunst" Der Standard, March 14, 2007
"Farce with Swastikas" Falter, March 14, 2007
"Jüdisches Theaterfest: Heilung von Zerbrochenem" Die Presse, March 15, 2007
"Fascist Farce" ("Jews in the News"), March 15, 2007
"Tikun Olam and the Nestroyhof" Tikun Olam Program, March 18, 2007
"Tikun Olam - Erstes jüdisches Theaterfestival in Wien", March 19, 2007
"Festival des jüdischen Theaters in Wien" (Audioprogramm) Ö1 Morganjournal, March 19, 2007
"Making the Broken Whole Again" Der Standard, March 20, 2007
"Gegen das Vergessen ankämpfen" Der Standard, March 27, 2007
"No Little Pigs" Falter, April 27, 2007
"Tikun Olam - Repair the World" Arts Hub, April 26, 2007(Australia)
"Jewish Theater Takes Center Stage in Vienna" Australian Jewish News, April 30, 2007
"A Typical Story" Konkret, May 1, 2007
"Tikun Olam – Repair the World" Die Gemeinde, May 1, 2007
"The Window to Revitalization" art in migration, May 1, 2007
"Jewish Theater Troupe Gathers in Vienna" Canadian Jewish News, May 1, 2007
"Letter to the Editor of Falter by Peter Droessler", May 2, 2007
"So What Is Jewish Theater?" Jewish Renaissance, July 1, 2007
"Tikun Olam?s Impact on a Conference First-Timer" AJT Newsletter, July 1, 2007
"Tikun Olam in Vienna" AJT Newsletter, July 1, 2007

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