Ari Roth’s ouster was an overreaction


We helped gather signatures for the petition advertised on Page 3 of this week’s WJW.
What motivated us to gather names to voice public outrage over the firing of Ari Roth from Theater J was what we perceive as a return to a mentality of the divisive and irrational fears of the 1960s.

Those expressions of “if you’re not with us 100 percent, you’re against us,” or “Israel – right or wrong,” are sadly those same labels being used by some to describe protesters of Ari Roth’s dismissal.

Ari Roth’s theatrical leadership for the past 18 years at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center’s Theatre J helped define our Jewish community as open to creativity, imagination and dialogue.

It showed a willingness to tackle difficult, uncomfortable and thought-provoking issues through theatrical interpretations as well as through laughter. This action has eliminated much of the 18 years of goodwill, public acclaim and positive imagery.

While gathering the signatures, many people expressed their reasons for signing. For example, an 80+ year old neighbor of the DCJCC:

“…I saw the DCJCC, through Theatre J, as willing to explore controversial questions. I think that it is only through dialogue that we arrive at superior solutions. With your dismissal of Ari Roth, you cut off an avenue to dialogue and I am sorry about that. Ari Roth is an excellent director, a visionary and a person of courage. He lent the face of courage to the DCJCC. I’m sorry that you have chosen to back down rather than to stand up.”

And a local radio talk host and producer wrote:

“I’ve gone to Theater J for years and have seen productions on Spinoza, Zero Mostel, Sigmund Freud, Arlo Guthrie. And the list goes on. None of these plays focused on the Israeli/Palestinian problem, yet that single issue was the litmus test for Ari Roth’s viability with the JCC. I think this is
unacceptable. I am a Jew, but not affiliated, and Theater J has been one of the few connections I have had with the Jewish community.”

We understand that at times it is difficult to reconcile issues of temperament and tension between the artist and administration, but to allow 18 years of a stellar career and a positive institutional reputation to go down the drain for a questionable charge of insubordination is a shandah.

This drastic reaction might have been better handled through the traditional beit din (religious court), or mediation by intermediaries chosen by both parties. Might that be a more “menschlichkeit” and “Jewish” way to reconcile?

There is still time for shalom bayit.

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