Zohar Tirosh-Polk's The Zionists:
Understanding the Suffering of Generations
by Michael Malek Najjar
"Maybe there will be new bridges instead of walls
Maybe we'll learn to forgive
Maybe there will be no more fighting.
Maybe we'll learn to share
Maybe there will be—"
–Dory, The Zionists
Zohar Tirosh-Polk's The Zionists is an era-spanning, genre bending play that opens with Sonya, a Zionist, asking her Tateh what it means to be a Jew. In many ways, the play grapples with that question over three distinct periods—the 1930s-1940s in Poland, Palestine, and Israel; 2006 in Jerusalem; and 2007-2008 in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and New York City. Each generation has suffered in their own way—Morris, Shemel, and Sonya in the 1930s, Sheila, Avi, Asaf, and Dory in the 2000s, and Boaz, Dan, and Yoram in the late 2000s. All are haunted by the ghosts of the Holocaust, of the dead in the Arab-Israeli wars, and by the death that accompanies the occupation. A band, appropriately named "The Zionists," occasionally interjects a hard rock song insisting "I'm HERE/I'm HERE/I'm HERE."
Tirosh-Polk, who was born in Brazil to Israeli parents, and who is Israeli herself, has seen her share of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She has lived through wars, intifadas, demonstrations, peace agreements, and she was even in attendance at the rally where former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. When asked why she writes plays, she responds,
I want to pose and explore complicated questions about Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East. I try to inspire my audiences to see/think/hear/feel/experience the region and its history in more complex, multi-layered and sophisticated ways. I'm also interested in the ways the outside is a reflection of our inner lives, and if that's true, I'm curious about the "Middle Easts of our lives." How do we deal with the war-torn regions in ourselves? In our relationships.[i]
The Zionists attempts to encapsulate lives that were lived before Aliyah, or the immigration of Jews from the Diaspora to Eretz Israel, during the early years of the newly declared State of Israel, and later with the descendants of the first generation who must contend with the beauty and heartbreak of living in a country that is constantly beset by wars and uprisings. As the character Sonya says, "Life isn't honey. Let me tell you, it isn't. Even here, in the land of."[ii] The ghosts of the past are everywhere, haunting the characters; even the ghost of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism, appears by way of a posters, books, and dreams.
The play contends with the horror of those killed, crippled, and disappeared. Each generation has suffered loss—in the Warsaw Ghetto, in the valleys of Lebanon, in the cities of Palestine, and even in a bed in New York City. Tirosh-Polk is trying to understand why her people have suffered generation after generation, and what that suffering ultimately means. Sheila, an ex-teacher turned painter, reminds us that there is beauty everywhere, if only we would take the time to look for it, no matter how difficult that may be. Is this play a tragedy or a hopeful missive? I believe the final sounds heard in the play provide the answer.
[i] Mansour, Mona and Zohar Tirosh-Polk. "A Closer Look: Mona Mansour and Zohar Tirosh-Polk." The Lark. 29 April, 2016. www.larktheatre.org.
[ii] Tirosh-Polk, Zohar. The Zionists. Unpublished playscript. 45.