Shawn Shafner (Jake)
Franny Silverman (Rachel) Sarah Sokolic (Leah)
Chris Barba (Stage Directions)
Amichai Lau-Lavie (original concept and Co-Creator)
Annie Levy (Co-Creator/Director)
Chad Chenail (Assistant Director)
Robyn Siegel (Production Coordinator) Katie Down (Musician and Sound Design)
The Story of ‘Becoming Israel’
The Storahtelling Ritual Theater Co. has visited and revisited the story of Jacob wrestling with a mysterious angel many times through the years. It’s a good story and one that packs a punch of an “a-ha” moment, especially if you work in translation, where Jacob gets his new name, Israel, and the fact that the name Israel literally translates as “god wrestler.” The idea that this wrestle, struggle, game, was our history and our destiny was a story worth coming back to again and again. In 2008, in honor of Israel 60’s birthday, Storahtelling’s creative team, led by Amichai Lau-Lavie, Annie Levy, Franny Silverman, Shawn Shafner, Melissa Shaw and
Emily Warshaw created an original play that explored the the mythic origins of the Israeli and Jewish identity through a radical re-reading of the biblical saga in which Jacob wrestles with a stranger to be renamed “Israel” – the one who wrestles with the Divine. BECOMING ISRAEL premiered at the JCC Manhattan on May 14th 2008 to great acclaim and toured the US for three years. In the summer of 2014, following events in Israel and Gaza and the important conversations that arose from this ongoing conflict, we decided to revisit and revise the play, updating some of the narrative and coming back to the core question: how does our wrestling define our identities?
Normally when I sit down to write a director’s note, my goal is to either frame the major themes so everyone in the audience starts at the same place or propose some key question that was the driving force while working or let the audience in on some secret that was uncovered along the way. However, with BECOMING ISRAEL, every one of you sitting in the audience has probably chosen to attend because you have identified your own themes, asked your own questions or thrown up your hands at either the unsolvable nature of the crisis or the hopelessness in committing to and carrying out a solution. We can cry, blame, protest, and talk in circles about Israel and Palestine and never get any closer to a lasting peace.
So where does that leave us and how can a piece of theatre add anything to the overwhelming dialogues and diatribes already in place? As the recent conflict has already faded from the headlines, our hope is this play reminds us to do what we can do. We can keep talking. We can try to educate ourselves, consulting a diverse collection of voices and accounts of the crisis. And we can educate others too. We can show support in the ways that make sense to us (but may not make sense to someone else). We can show up. We can keep talking, we can keep wrestling, and keep becoming.