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Seven Jewish Children
Last uploaded : Sunday 1st Mar 2009 at 02:09
Contributed by : Carol Gould


‘Seven Jewish Children’ by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Dominic Cooke
The Royal Court Theatre Downstairs
6-21 February 2009

Review by Carol Gould
11 February 2009

Caryl Churchill’s ‘Seven Jewish Children’ is described by the Royal Court Theatre as a ‘play for Gaza’ and the playwright herself has told the world, ‘"Israel has done lots of terrible things in the past, but what happened in Gaza seemed particularly extreme."

The ten-minute piece features a dining room set inhabited by a large Jewish-Israeli family agonising over the pros and cons of Zionism. Churchill uses ‘Tell her..’ as the mechanism by which the evils of the Israeli experiment are exposed to the audience.

What I found intriguing about this very short polemic was Churchill’s use of the accusations hurled most frequently at Jews around the world as Israel becomes an increasingly militaristic power in the region. (Donald Rumsfeld referred to it as a ‘dangerous neighbourhood for a tiny country you can see in its entirety from the top floor of your hotel in Tel Aviv. ‘)

The ‘top ten’ aforementioned accusations hurled at the Jews within the context of the playscript are:

1) The land of Israel was stolen from under the feet of the Arabs and ‘she doesn‘t belong here‘ because ‘everyone was driven out‘; 2) Every Israeli is living in a house that is actually the rightful property of a Palestinian; 3) Israelis routinely kill babies and children but feel nothing, only ‘I’m glad it isn’t my child!’; 4) Israelis regard Bedouin and other local residents as second class citizens; 5) If the average Israeli knew how many Arabs had been killed in the nation’s history they would leave
or not have emigrated there in the first place; (this, of course, ignores the fact that thousands of Israeli Jews, known as Sabras, have been there for centuries, for example in Piki‘in, where the synagogue dates to the time of Jesus); 6) Jews in Israel expropriate Arab water to use for swimming pools; 7) There are people out there who do love Jews and Israel did turn the desert into an orchard, BUT they also destroy olive trees, bulldoze houses, maintain brutal checkpoints, shoot little boys because ‘they are animals’ and ‘we kill far more of them;’ 8) Jerusalem is an emotive subject as it should not have any Israeli presence (Churchill does not articulate this but the sub-text for Middle East-watchers is that ‘al Quds’ should be Judenrein, or Jew-free; 9) The establishment of Israel after the Holocaust was wrongly called ‘a land without a people for a people without a land;’ in other words, the greedy Jews knew (her words): ‘great great great great lots of great grandads lived there..don’t tell her they were driven out’; 10) Jews evince a sense of entitlement, hence the tragedy of the Palestinians.

There are many who will read this and say, ‘Yes, but Israel has been less than virtuous in its recent history.’ Yes, Israel is not without fault. Agreed.

But my answer to Caryl Churchill is that every year there is a Love Parade and a Gay Pride march in Israel. Its Supreme Court judges will condemn Israeli officials for acts that infuriate its vociferous citizenry. Every national religion is represented in the Knesset and everyone in the State of Israel may worship as they please. Caryl, try taking a King James Bible into Saudi Arabia. Israel is happy for anyone to visit -- they even let in shoe-bomber Richard Reid!

Caryl Churchill seems to feel she has a special insight into the souls and minds of Jewish girls, most particularly what they are told by family about the history of Israel. I am in a unique position to provide a ‘horse’s mouth’ rendition of the ‘Tell her’ narrative of the playlet. Unlike Christian children born in the 1950s I was given a cautionary tale before venturing out into the world: a harrowing history of the religion into which I was born, starting with the Crusades, the Blood Libels, the York Massacre, the Inquisition, the Chmielnicki murders, the Jew Riots, the Dreyfus Trial and the pogroms. Then came the Holocaust. My late mother, after demob from the United States Army, processed concentration camp survivors for the ‘United Service for New Americans.’ Their stories of torture and brutality made her tremble every day at her desk. In turn she told me and Jews of my generation carry this with them every day of their lives.

It was astonishing to be at the receiving end of a comment made to me by an audience member in the bar after the performance. She wanted to know if I was, horror of horrors, ‘a Zionist.’ I told her I lived in a parallel universe, having grown up in post-war America with a fierce pride about being of the same tribe as Einstein, Arthur Miller, Jonas Salk and the plethora of Broadway musical writers. She snarled at me that the suffering of her tribe, the Scots, was just as bad throughout history as was that of the Jews, but the Scots did not set about ’establishing a military power with American money and subjugating a neighbouring populace.’ I tried to explain that comparing the Holocaust to Scottish nationalism was a calumny but I noticed that her companions were laughing at me.

This production, which features a cast with mostly Jewish-sounding names, will thrill audiences in Britain throughout its run as so many pray for the dismantling of Israel.

What is urgently needed is a play about the Muslim children of the region who are taught to hate Christians and Jews, who are indoctrinated with radical agendas before reaching puberty and whose countries haven’t a fraction of the press freedom or cultural and scientific dynamism that can be found in Israel.

‘Seven Jewish Children’ runs at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at 9PM nightly until 21 February. It is free of charge with a collection for Medical Aid for Palestinians. Box office 0207 565-5000.

Read the playscript here:

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/world/SevenJewishChildren.pdf .


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