‘What Life Wants’ Prepares for World Premiere

By: Katherine Gianni

Israeli actor Dror Keren has wowed the performing arts world for more than three decades, acting in dozens of productions in venues across Tel-Aviv, including The Cameri Theatre, Habima Theatre, and Gesher Theatre. On Saturday, March 30, Mr. Keren will trade the main stage for a director’s chair to watch the world premiere reading of his new show, “What Life Wants.”

“I hope to act in the Israeli production,” Mr. Keren said before rehearsal on Tuesday afternoon in the second-floor library of the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies. “But for right now I’m focused on working on the script to make it the best that it can be.”

Two performances are scheduled for Saturday, March 30, at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre on Commonwealth Avenue. Mr. Keren has spent just over a week crafting his script with a group of seven actors and Israeli Stage Founder and Artistic Director Guy Ben-Aharon. The residency will continue until the reading this Saturday, and was made possible by a grant from the Jewish Cultural Endowment, administered by the Elie Wiesel Center.

Mr. Keren explained that a large part of the creative process has been translating the original text from Hebrew to English to make it accessible for American audiences.

“I have Guy with me who is really such an expert in these kinds of rehearsals,” Mr. Keren said of his longtime friend. The two met in Israel over three years ago, but it wasn’t until the international premiere of Mr. Keren’s show, “On The Grill” in June 2018, that they began to discuss an Israeli Stage residency. For this show, Mr. Ben-Aharon has assisted in directing all aspects of the workshop.

“On The Grill” was written and directed by Mr. Keren. The show was awarded Best Original Play at the Israeli Theatre Awards in 2015.
“On The Grill” was written and directed by Mr. Keren. The show was awarded Best Original Play at the Israeli Theatre Awards in 2015.

“He knows Hebrew and English very well, so we had a few discussions on the right words or idioms that should be there for the English version that really say what I want to say,” Mr. Keren said.

And what is it exactly that Mr. Keren wants to say through his new play? He described that the show centers around what he perceives as his greatest personal challenge.

“Parenthood,” he said. “I think the main battles a person experiences in life are within the walls of his home.”

Mr. Keren said the group rehearses for five hours, if not longer, most afternoons—and the outpour of creativity doesn’t end after rehearsals wrap. “Usually I go to Guy’s place to continue working,” he said, smiling. “We have conclusions and things to go over that we noted to ourselves during the rehearsals.”

With one show already sold out, and a second performance filling up quickly, both Mr. Keren and Mr. Ben-Aharon are gearing up for a large audience.

“I hope they will be moved and I hope they identify with the characters,” Mr. Keren said. “I hope my play will reflect other people’s lives because that’s the main reason we’re here: to see yourself.”

Two staged readings of What Life Wants will take place on Saturday, March 30, at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA. The 8:00 pm show is currently sold out. For tickets to the 4:00 pm show time click here.

Does Love Really Conquer All? Ask The Matchmaker

By: Katherine Gianni

Matchmaking can occur in a variety of places—on a subway ride, in a crowded bar, or now most commonly, through a few clicks on the Internet. Avi Nesher’s film The Matchmaker chronicles many love connections in the city of Haifa, Israel during the summer of 1968, decades before the invention of dating apps and the phenomenon of “swiping right.” In the movie, prospective lovers rely on the expertise of matchmaker Yankele Bride (Adir Miller), to find their next romance. However, the story is not as much a quest for love as it is for acceptance, understanding, and survival.

The film was shown last Monday in BU’s College of Arts and Sciences as the third installment of The Holocaust Through Film series. Professor of Italian and director of Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Studies Nancy Harrowitz and Assistant Professor of French Jennifer Cazenave worked together to organize the series this year.

Associate Professor of Hebrew, German, and Comparative Literature Abigail Gillman provided an introduction to the film and its director. “The Israeli film industry has really taken off quite recently, starting in the 2000s,” she explained to the group of students gathered in CAS 224. “Avi Nesher has played an essential role in the entry of Israeli cinema onto the global stage.”

According to Professor Gillman, Mr. Nesher’s 2018 film, The Other Story, was the most seen movie in Israel last year. The Matchmaker was released eight years prior and also saw a large success. On-screen, audiences are introduced to many characters in the city of Haifa, which is divided between “the Carmel,” or upper echelon neighborhood, and “the low-rent district.”

Yankele resides in the low-rent district with many other Holocaust survivors. Arik Burnstein (Tuval Shafir), his teenage counterpart, comes from the Carmel. The two form an unlikely bond after Arik’s father, Yankele’s childhood friend and fellow survivor, decides his son would benefit from working for the matchmaking business for the summer. At first, Arik is suspicious of Yankele, his place of business, and those who work around him. But as the story develops, so does their friendship.

Others from the Carmel remain wary of Yankele’s character. Meir (Dror Keren) concocts a scheme to destroy Yankele’s business and his reputation after a failed match. This, Professor Gillman said, hits upon a much larger theme within the movie.

Dror Keren plays a scorned lover in the film. He will be at Boston Playwrights' Theatre on Saturday, March 30 at 4pm for a world premiere staged reading of his new play What Life Wants.
Dror Keren plays a scorned lover in the film. He will be at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre on Saturday, March 30 at 4pm for a world premiere staged reading of his new play What Life Wants. To reserve free tickets click here.

“There’s this idea that anyone who survived the Holocaust must have done something really horrible to survive. There was this suspicion of survivors in Israel,” she said. “They were marginalized and very much living onto themselves. That was the norm.”

While Arik is successful in protecting the matchmaker from malice, he can do little to save him from a broken heart. “Towards the end you see love kind of leading to destruction in a way,” Professor Gillman said in a question and answer session following the screening.

“How true is everything that happened?” one student asked. “Is the film based off of real events?”

“It’s based on a novel by Amir Gutfreund called When Heroes Fly,” Professor Gillman said.

“And now it’s actually a series on Netflix,” another student added. “It’s really another incredible story about survival.”

The Holocaust Through Film series continues on April 1 with a screening of “1945.” This event is free and open to the public. For more information visit http://www.bu.edu/jewishstudies/calendar/events/.

Center Spotlight: Tallulah Bark-Huss

By: Katherine Gianni 

Tallulah Bark-Huss (COM ’21), hails from the windy city of Chicago, IL. As an undergraduate employee at the Elie Wiesel Center, Secretary & Social Media Manager of BU’s premiere Jewish a cappella group, Kol Echad, and VP of Social Action and Holocaust Education Chair for BU Hillel, she certainly keeps busy on campus. We found time to sit down and chat about her many involvements at BU, and her enrollment in the Jewish Studies minor program.

What has your experience been like so far at BU? What is your major/minor? Are you involved in any student organizations, on-campus clubs, or activities? 

I’m studying Film and Television in COM and minoring in Jewish Studies. On campus, I’m really involved in Hillel. I work on the student board as the Vice President of Social Action and the Holocaust Education Chair. I’ve been doing that since last year. I put on a lot of different social action events at Hillel. For example, we did an event where we made birthday cards for Holocaust survivors, and another event where we made dog and cat treats and toys and donated them to the animal rescue league in Boston. We’re also planning some trips this semester to go to a food shelter.

I am also very involved in the Kol Echad a cappella group—it’s the Jewish a cappella group here at BU. I’m the secretary and social media manager, but next year I will probably be the president, so I’m very excited about that. We practice twice a week for a total of six hours. We sing a mixture of contemporary American songs, some more prayer-like songs, and also contemporary Israeli music. It’s a big variety. I joined the group my freshman year and it’s really my passion. I’ve also done a little bit with BUTV10 on some of their shows. Hopefully I’ll work more on that in the future. And finally, I’m in Sigma Delta Tau sorority.

Tell us about your involvement with The Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies. When did you first join the team?

I started working at the Elie Wiesel Center at the beginning of this semester, in January 2019. I knew about the building and the Center from my classes as a Jewish Studies minor. I also met Connor Dedrick and Deni Budman through the Hillel board and I knew that they both worked here. Deni and are both Film and TV majors and Jewish studies minors along with working together at Hillel. So when she was preparing to go abroad she thought I would be a good fit for the Center and gave my name to Theresa, the Program Administrator here.

What is your favorite part about working with the Elie Wiesel Center team?

Everyone is so nice. Theresa and Professor Zank, the Center’s Director, have made it very clear that they want me to pursue everything that I want to pursue. If there’s a passion project of mine or something they will support it. Being involved in the meetings and seeing Professors and other adults at the Center working is really cool. It feels good to be seen and accepted and welcomed into that environment. They also really value student opinion which I feel like isn’t always necessarily the case in other places. Also a lot of free food. I love that, not going to lie.

You are one of eight students currently enrolled within the Jewish Studies minor. What has your experience been like so far? Which classes have you taken?

I didn’t know I wanted to do the Jewish Studies minor until Professor Anderson talked to me about it my first semester freshman year. I was taking her Ethics After Auschwitz writing class because my senior year of high school I took a very similar course and really enjoyed it. Professor Anderson mentioned the Jewish Studies minor so I came to the open house which was hosted at the Elie Wiesel Center and talked to other professors about it. Then I really thought to myself, yeah, this sounds fun, you know it’s what I know and I know I’m interested in it. So since then I’ve taken the Blacks and Jews writing class which was really interesting and last semester I took the Holocaust Seminar and the Holocaust Through Literature and Film course. I really loved the Holocaust Through Literature and Film, so now I’m taking the Holocaust Through Film class this semester with the same professor.

Last semester really showed me that I’m really passionate about Holocaust education, which I didn’t really realize so much when I first thought about doing Jewish Studies. That definitely has impacted other aspects of my college experience, like now I’m Holocaust Education Chair for Hillel, and my grandparents are Holocaust survivors. I also think it’s really interesting being in Jewish Studies classes with people who aren’t Jewish, because all my life the majority of people I was in school with were Jewish. I knew that my friend for example knew the same amount of Jewish history as I did so I could say something and immediately know they would understand what I was talking about. But now I have to modify how I go into class discussion, which is ultimately beneficial because I know not everyone in the world comes from the same background.

What does the Jewish community at BU mean to you?

I went to Jewish day schools my whole life so this is my first time in “the secular world” I guess you could say. Also the community I lived in growing up is very heavily Orthodox Jewish. It was definitely a big transition to come to BU in a sense, and I sought out a Jewish community because it does feel like home. It’s nice to meet people that you have so much in common with. Also Jewish geography you probably know their cousin or something, or their friend from camp so that’s always fun. But you know, Purim is this week and all of my friends are celebrating, so it’s nice to have people that understand and share in your culture. It totally makes a big community feel smaller.

Center Spotlight: Connor Dedrick

By: Katherine Gianni

Meet Connor Dedrick (QST ’21) a Princeton, NJ native who works as an undergraduate employee at The Elie Wiesel Center. We sat down with him to talk about the Jewish community at Boston University, his involvement at the Center, and his new role as President of BU Hillel.

Tell us a bit about your experience so far at BU. What is your major/minor? Are you involved in any student organizations, sports teams, community service work, etc.?

My major is business administration and I have a minor in religion. Everything has been so fantastic—I love my business courses, but I find that the religion classes that I’ve taken have been the ones that really provoke some deep thought and some personal growth. Outside of the curriculum, I work at the Elie Wiesel Center, which is a great thing. I love talking to Theresa, our Program Administrator and Professor Zank, our Director because they’re such insightful and smart people. I’m also president of Hillel. I love being able to build on our Jewish community on campus. For most other college campuses it’s hard to come by such a large and close-knit Jewish community.

You began your tenure as the president of BU Hillel in January, 2019. How did you come into that position? What does that role entail?

I went to Hillel the first Shabbat of my freshman year. I met the then president, Zoe, and just kept talking with her and then eventually when elections came around she convinced me to run for Director of Fundraising. As it turns out, no one actually ran for treasurer so she convinced me to run up. I was elected treasurer and then I thought, you know, president is next. My position entails planning a lot of the larger events—things like Latkepalooza, our Chinese buffet event, therapy dogs, the name readings. The building of overall the Hillel community is what my job is focused on.

Tell us about your involvement with The Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies. When did you first join the team? What are some of your day-to-day responsibilities?

I was really good friends with Deni Budman, another EWCJS student employee, through Hillel. When two of the former student employees had graduated she put in a good word with Theresa to help get me here. Day-to-day a lot of what I do is distributing flyers and our other promotional materials to co-sponsors and departments that may be interested in our events. I also compile mailing lists, contact lists, create some of the course materials—like the Fall 2019 flyer I was just working on.

What do you enjoy the most about working with the Elie Wiesel Center team?

I think, for me, it’s carrying on the legacy of Holocaust education through Elie Wiesel. When my mom went to BU she took a class that Elie Wiesel taught and so I think to work here is a very nice continuation of his work overall. Outside of the work aspect, I also enjoy just talking to Theresa and Professor Zank. As I said, they’re such insightful people who have really great things to say about the world, Judaism, and everything like that.

What does the Jewish community at BU mean to you? Do you feel as though you’ve grown in your faith/identity since beginning school here?

Yes. Absolutely. So where I’m from, Princeton, New Jersey, it’s a very big conservative Jewish community. For most of my life that was really the only kind of Jew that I had been introduced to. When I got to BU, and all of a sudden there are 4,000 Jews, you know, secular, reform, conservative, Orthodox. I felt like I got so lost. I had no idea what to call myself because I was still raised conservative, but there were things about Orthodox that I liked, there were things about reform that I liked. By learning through Hillel with the Rabbis I was able to grow my identity to a much more abstract level and not feel like I have to put myself into a denominational box.

How would you encourage others to get involved with the BU Jewish community?

I think the best way is to show up. Just go to things! That’s how I became so involved…I just showed up. I showed up to Shabbat and people welcomed me and I felt like that was my place. You have to put yourself in places where things can happen to you. Opportunities aren’t always just going to throw themselves before you, you have to put yourself out there, you have to go out to events that may interest you, or they may not. But if you don’t, you won’t find the community for you. I think that another thing is don’t be afraid to do things alone. I think what holds a lot of people back from going to a lot of really interesting academic lectures and things like that is because their friends aren’t going. But I think that if people overcame that they would really find a love of learning and really stoke some intense passions.

When An Identity Is A Work Of Art

By: Katherine Gianni

Shakespeare asked the question, “what’s in a name?” To some, perhaps very little. To others, like the parents of actor and playwright Ibrahim Miari, a name defines an identity. They addressed their son by more than one throughout his childhood. This is where Mr. Miari’s reckoning with his identity begins.

On Monday, March 4, Mr. Miari returned to his alma mater to perform In Between, a one-man show he produced in 2009 as his thesis project for BU’s MFA in Theatre Education program. Monday evening’s performance was co-sponsored by the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies.

“I always wanted to come back to the question, what would it be like to just accept who we are?” Mr. Miari said during Q&A, following his show. “What would it be like to just be me, and to be content with that?”

The performance chronicles Mr. Miari’s own life. Born to a Jewish mother and an Arab father, Miari tells his audience that if not for his mother’s conversion to Islam, his parents would not have been able to stay together. Growing up in the Israeli city of Akko, he attended a Jewish school where he was known as Abraham, and an Arab school where he went by Ibrahim, his birth name. His identity is composed of multiple cultures, traditions, and religions–a richness that he grapples with as a both a gift and a burden.

The show also reflects on his relationship with his fiancé, Sarah Goldberg, an American Jew, and the complications they encountered when planning their wedding.

The performance opened with Mr. Miari, clad in a white button down and gray khakis, spinning around and around to pulsing music. The dance itself is known as Sufi whirling, a form of physically active meditation that Mr. Miari said he’s been practicing for more than a decade.

 Mid-spin, a blaring intercom interjected.

“Attention! Paging passenger Ibrahim Miari….please report to El Al Security,” the voice droned. Mr. Miari continued his dance, unbothered by the request. The voice grew louder and more frequent, until Mr. Miari had no choice but to acknowledge its presence.

In a flash, his demeanor shifted, a smile spreading across his face–one that bore an eerie similarity to Heath Ledger’s Joker. Slowly, he slipped a blue latex glove over his right hand, proceeding to mime the act of an airport security frisk. In a delicate balance, he played both the guard and his subject, his facial expressions continually shifting between a look of contempt and a look of fear.

Character splits continued throughout the show as Mr. Miari personified many individuals from his own life. With an exuberant laugh he became his Jewish mother in-law, talking excitedly about grandchildren and pleading that Mr. Miari have his wedding officiated by a Jewish rabbi. Moments later, Mr. Miari’s attitude hardened to reflect the sternness of his Arab father, who voiced he would not attend his son’s wedding unless it was a traditional Islamic ceremony.

Mr. Miari personifies many individuals from his own life throughout the show. (Photo courtesy of BU Today.)
Mr. Miari personifies many individuals from his own life throughout the show. (Photo courtesy of BU Today.)

Like the Sufi dance moves, these impersonations swirled around and around, voicing opinions, biases, and concerns for his life weighing heavily on his shoulders. How would he raise his children? Which traditions did he intend to keep? In which direction did his moral compass point?

“Not Jewish enough, not Israeli enough, not Arab enough, not Palestinian enough…” he said in one scene, his voice trailing off. This struggle to define his identity is the crux of Mr. Miari’s show–one that doesn’t necessarily leave audiences with a definitive answer. Instead of choosing one particular facet of his identity to latch onto, he is always left somewhere in between.

Audience members connected with this message and voiced their own questions and perspectives in their responses post-performance.

“Your show resonated with me in a lot of ways,” one man said. “As a Latino American and growing up in my community, there is the way that Americans view Latinos and the way that Latinos view Americans. I see a lot of parallels between your experience and mine.”  

Another man asked if the intense security checkpoint scene was based on personal experience.

“What do you think?” Mr. Miari countered. “Next question.”

Towards the end of the conversation, one woman raised her hand, asking if Mr. Miari could speak to the notion of identity politics being at the forefront of a broader, national conversation.

“My job is not to fix the world–my job is not to try to understand it, even,” he said. “We all have stories to tell and we all try to express ourselves in one way or another. What we need to do, is learn how to enjoy it.”

Black/s And Jew/s Then And Now

On Wednesday, January 27, The Elie Wiesel Center welcomed Ambassador Andrew Young, Yavilah McCoy, and Dr. Susannah Heschel for a public conversation on black-jewish identity, relations, and the realities of racism in the US today.

The discussion was moderated by Fresh Air contributor Sonari Glinton (CAS ’96). Special thank you to Dave Green for these beautiful images capturing the evening. To see additional photographs from the event, please visit our Facebook page.  To watch a full video click here.