The Middle East of Our Lives
Zohar Tirosh-Polk on The Zionists
Sonya writes a goodbye letter, Morris makes one fatal decision, Sheila clings and doesn’t let go, and the band rocks on. From Poland to Palestine, to Israel, and later to the U.S., The Zionists asks: Where is home? What is home? At what price? Who is Herzl? And, most importantly, what’s in the box?
Born of first-generation Israeli parents and raised in Israel, I am a product of Zionism. I carry within me its genesis, its enormous promise, and, its current decline. The Zionists attempts to examine Zionism's vibrant, sweeping ideology, its turbulent history and current state in order to ask: how did we get here, and where are we going?
I realize that for some audience members of “Semitic Commonwealth” it would be easy to think of Zionists as evil; for others, Zionists are heroes, even martyred saints. While I am not looking to pardon anyone, you could say that trauma has played, and continues to play, a crucial role in shaping Israeli and Palestinian lives. By that I mean ongoing, haunting trauma that perpetuates itself and trickles down through generations.
I’m also not looking to anoint anyone either. As a theatremaker and not a historian (and even historians get many things wrong), I’m interested in the inner and outer forces that were and are in play, for actual individuals. What were the original Zionists truly after? Did they find it? Where do Israelis feel they have a choice these days? Do they feel trapped? Is there a way out? Or forward?
These are just some of the questions that characters in the The Zionists struggle to answer. As I see it, this is my role and my reason for writing plays: to pose and explore complicated questions about Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East. I try to inspire my audiences to see, think, hear, feel, and experience the region and its histories in complex, multi-layered, and sophisticated fashions. If everything on the outside is indeed a reflection of our inner selves, then what, I’m curious, is the “Middle East of our lives”? How do we deal with the war-torn regions within ourselves and our relationships? I think about the places where we are paralyzed, at a standstill, cruel to ourselves and to others—the “Occupied Territories” of our bodies, our hearts, and our souls, if you will. Only if we are courageous enough to look for the wounds, will we, perhaps, begin to heal them.
In 1980, Playwright Brian Friel, a Catholic, teamed up with Protestant actor Stephen Rae to start a theatre company called Field Day. Field Day would later strive to create a “Fifth Province” in Ireland, a new cultural space where dichotomies of Protestant/Catholic, Unionist/Nationalist could be renegotiated, and, perhaps, transcended. Many believe that Field Day’s cultural contribution was the first stepping-stone toward making peace in Ireland possible. The readings of The Zionists in Silk Road Rising’s “Semitic Commonwealth” series, are my prayer that we may come to approach these awfully polarized subjects anew. May we be able to see with fresh eyes and an open heart, so that we can all one day, perhaps, find our way home. Inshallah, amen, peace.