In 1933 Nazi Germany, thousands of Jewish performers — having been evicted from their positions with the country’s theaters and orchestras, losing their freedom and wages — created the Jewish Kulturbund. Sanctioned by the Nazis for the sake of propaganda, the artists worked under immense restrictions. At first they were only allowed to perform for Jewish audiences. Then they were barred from performing works created by German artists, and eventually they were only allowed to produce plays and perform music written by Jewish artists. And it goes without saying, of course, that they were never permitted to stage anything even remotely controversial or threatening. They made beautiful things under desperate and harsh conditions, and then, as we all know, those who could not escape simply perished.
Granted, conditions are not the same here in D.C. 80 years later, but the members of COPMA seem to want to place similar restrictions on Theater J (“Controversy at Theater J,” WJW, Nov. 21). They would prefer that Ari Roth only program plays that do not in any way raise questions about beliefs they hold dear. Questions, however, are one of the primary reasons we make and engage with art in the first place, so if the members of COPMA aren’t willing to interrogate their beliefs now and then, they aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities as audience members. They ought to stay home, really — if the things they believe are so delicate that they must not be challenged — and just keep re-reading whatever limited canon of plays they’ve decided is acceptable.
As a Jewish playwright, I commend Ari and his staff for continuing to make art in the face of such intense, misguided, and small-minded criticism from COPMA. I trust they will persevere, too, as so many of our fellow Jewish artists have before them, no matter how difficult things get.
Ask important questions
In their “Expanding support for Israel on campus” (WJW, Dec. 5), the authors show Hillel’s approach to working on campuses. Their goal is to garner support for Israel, not to judge Israel. In contrast, an article by Matt Gang (“Israel’s security:strategic approach to peace,” WJW, Nov. 21), a GWU freshman, shows a far different approach by J Street.
While Hillel educates, J Street indoctrinates. While Hillel promotes the positive and the Israel narrative, J Street defames Israel and promotes the Palestinian perspective. Young Mr. Gang believes he has enough knowledge, experience and insight to lecture Israelis from his safe campus, 6,000 miles from Israel. Talk about chutzpah.
Gang looks at the Arab peace Initiative through the eyes of a child. His premise is that if Israel withdraws and provides a “just settlement” for Palestinian refugees, Arab countries will consider the conflict ended and “provide security for all states in the region.”
The Arab war with Israel predates settlements and refugees as they attacked Israel in 1948, when neither existed. Why should Israel provide a settlement for refugees Arabs created by a war Arabs started? What of Jewish refugees from Arab countries? As for providing security, the Arabs cannot provide security for themselves or their people, particularly their own minorities. Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza and part of Judea and Samaria, did that bring peace?
To write as he does, Gang only shows how poorly informed he is about the conflict and the world. He shows how naive and simplistic J Street approaches the conflict. He never asks important questions — adult questions. What if I’m wrong? Who am I to judge? Who will stop Hamas? Why was there no peace in 1948 and the years since?
Grow up Matt. Go beyond the J Street
The article on the protests against the detention of Alan Gross (“ ‘Bring Alan home,’ ” WJW, Dec. 5) seems to proceed on the assumption that this detention is partly the fault of members of Congress who oppose the dictatorship of the Cuban regime (which is also a state sponsor of terrorism). This is a dubious assumption given that the regime detains over 5,000 new people each year (it releases a similar number so the detainee population remains at between 50,000 and 80,000).
Furthermore, it was shortly after President Obama relaxed sanctions in 2009 that Mr. Gross was detained. Rather than blame anti-regime members of the Congress, it might be better to ask pro-regime members such as Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Sam Farr (D-Calif.) to intervene with the regime to use their influence to obtain the release of Mr. Gross.