“The Last Falafel”: Broadway in Israel 2011, Day 7

3 07 2011

Monday, June 20: When we reached Tel Aviv, our tour group was mentally and physically exhausted. We had been touring for seven days, from Jerusalem to the Golan Heights. We were out and about from 8:30am until 9pm each day, then spent more time together at the hotel bar each night. When we retired to our hotel rooms around midnight, I would stay up even later to journal – sometimes until 2am. So when we arrived in Tel Aviv, our final city of the tour, my journal entries became less detailed … more like outlines to be filled in at a later date. My attention span, especially for morning guest speakers, was shot. Several people slept in and skipped certain events. Sleep … so necessary. And yet so hard to prioritize when there was so much to do!

Tel Aviv gave us a bit of a reprieve – though not for the best of reasons. Our tour guide Ron had a detached retina! While he was whisked away to the hospital in Jerusalem, his daughter took over Monday’s scheduled events. Right after breakfast, we met with Aluf Benn, a liberal Op-Ed editor for the daily newspaper Haaretz. We next toured the Reuven Rubin Museum, a small art gallery dedicated to the 20th century Israeli artist’s work. To be totally honest, I was only half absorbing the wealth of information that morning. Sleep deprivation had really set in, and no amount of caffeine or artistic stimulation could keep me alert.

Until our visit to the Cameri Theater of Tel Aviv, that is. I think our entire tour group was reinvigorated by lunch and a tour of the largest theater in Israel. The Cameri is perhaps organizationally comparable to the National in London: a government-funded theater that produces classics and develops new Israeli plays on its five stages. With a company of 80 actors, the Cameri also tours productions across Israel and internationally. We saw a few numbers from their newest musical about a woman’s battle with cancer:

Good Ending
“To be or not to be. That is not the question. The question is how to be”. A new patient, Talia Roth, a theatre actress in her late forties, arrives at the outpatient department to begin a course of treatment aimed at prolonging her life. The encounter with the department’s longstanding women patients and the understanding of what’s in store for her, make her rethink how she would want to end her life. She reaches some surprising decisions, which rock the system that doesn’t know how to deal with her. A musical fantasy on an unmentionable subject…

In style and subject matter, Good Ending felt like a revamped Next to Normal. It is always tough to judge a theatrical experience in a different culture, though. While musical theater is an “American” art form, I don’t know that Broadway standards of absolute precision and conformity should apply here. Perhaps that is a good thing. One could see the ensemble in Good Ending as frustratingly out-of-sync – or could enjoy how each body inflects the choreography differently. Vocal production can differ so much from culture-to-culture, as well; why shouldn’t each member of the ensemble have a unique timbre? Then again, maybe I am making excuses for a production that was solidly amateur. But the Cameri consistently draws an audience. Something here is working for the Israeli theatergoing public.

After visiting a few more of their theaters and sitting in on a play rehearsal, our tour group explored the Carmel Market, then headed back to the hotel for a free afternoon. But did I sleep? Never! I took a walk along the Mediterranean with a friend; we wandered to the Train Station Complex where we had had dinner the night before. That afternoon, I caught up on writing and relaxed in my hotel room, enjoying a couple hours of peace and quiet.

Although Ron was not present, he had arranged a surprise guest for that night. At 5:30pm, our tour group reconvened to meet Avi Tabib, a security guard who protected the patrons of a local bar from a suicide bomber. On the night of April 30, 2003, a two British Muslims approached Mike’s Place, a popular bar near the American embassy in Tel Aviv. Avi saw that the two men were aggressive and uncomfortable, so he asked them not to enter. Avi did not want a brawl in the bar; he never suspected they were suicide bombers. In fact, Avi himself “looks Arab,” so he has never been one to judge based on appearances. The first suicide bomber tried to force his way in – and ultimately blew himself up at the entrance to the bar. Three people were killed and over 50 were wounded. The second man’s bomb failed to detonate. Because Avi stood directly in front of the first bomber to stop him from entering, he prevented a multitude of injuries that could have occurred if the bomb had detonated inside.

Local news stations reported Avi to be dead at first; after all, he was standing directly in front of the bomber. He sustained multiple injuries, fought for his life in the hospital, and miraculously survived. Once he had physically recovered, he even returned to his position as a security guard at Mike’s Place; he says the community of locals who returned to the bar had a smoother psychical recovery than those who shut themselves off. Someone in our tour group asked if Avi ever felt like a target after the bombing. He laughed a little, said that only Americans ask this question, and replied that the bombing made no difference … “I always feel like a target.”

After thanking Avi for sharing his story, our tour group took the bus to the Old Tel Aviv port for a fresh fish dinner on the Mediterranean – and some lighter conversation. Hours later, we walked back to the hotel via the Promenade – and passed Mike’s Place en route. I hadn’t felt very scared on the Lebanese or Syrian borders, but the story of the suicide bombing bothered me. I wasn’t too eager to go out for drinks that night. But I did stay in with a few friends in the hotel bar, drinking and chatting until about midnight.

I was surrounded by storytellers on this tour, creative and open minds, sharing new perspectives every day. And as much as I needed sleep and a vacation from this vacation, I did not want this trip to end.

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2 responses

5 07 2011
lol

Journaling til 2 am? SCANDALOUS!!!!!

10 07 2011
Melanie

Loving reading this blog! Now that I know more about your journey we can compare certain experiences the next time I see you. : )

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