This weekend I am attending the Film Series, Voices of a Changing Middle East. The event is being hosted by the OU Helmerich School of Drama and presented by the Mosaic Theater Company from Washington DC. The company focuses on producing socially relevant works that address and challenge the major conflicts of our modern world.
Voices of a Changing Middle East focuses on the conflict in Israel, Jerusalem, and the surrounding areas. This past evening, I saw the first installation, Wrestling Jerusalem. This one was show was written and performed by Aaron Davidman, a Jewish man who traveled to places throughout the Middle East, speaking with over 30 Jewish, Islamic, and Christian people, Israelis and Palestinians alike. The show was recorded and screened for students and faculty in Meacham auditorium.
This was one of the most powerful pieces of art I have ever seen. Each new character that Aaron created showcased a new and different perspective. The depth of the problems and points of view really illuminated how complicated the issue over there is. Many people are filled with stubborn pride for their people or resentment for those who have hurt them or their families. These two things are the primary reason that peace has been so incredibly difficult to achieve. All sides have committed atrocities against the others and exhibited oppressive behavior. All sides have significant religious ties to the area. Some citizens are striving for peace and acceptance of all nations. Some soldiers have been ingrained with the idea that the other side is inhuman and evil. Some citizens don’t care, they just want to feed their families. Many people have different definitions of what it means to be a Jew or a Muslim.
Aaron skillfully combined all of these different stories and personas into a beautiful and compelling climactic structure. Each new character had a different demeanor, a different carriage, accent, and speech pattern. And each of them had a history. He layered so many different arguments and points of view on top of each other until you couldn’t tell what was right and wrong anymore. He challenged every preconceived notion of the conflict in the middle east and made it human. He made it human. Accessible to people who have only heard about it in political settings in the news.
The climactic moment was told from the perspective of a Jewish speaking about what God means to him. He spoke about how God is a spirit inside everyone, connecting all living things. His God is a God of love and inclusion. There is no hate. All things are connected in these spirit of the world, in this loving life and energy. His God is not there for the destruction of peoples of nations or segregation and oppression. His God, His Judaism is about a resilient people who believe in their God and seek to learn and teach and grow with all of humanity.
I was incredibly moved and I immediately shared the experience and the stories with everyone I knew. It was so great to see and feel the impact that art can have on other people. The audience was asking questions and was compelled to take action for the promotion of peace in the area. A dialogue was started. More people have awareness of the intimate lives of people across the sea. This valuable production really gave insight into the issues underlying the Israel conflict and highlighted the depth and humanity of the people living in the region. I am looking forward to the next installments in the series.