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The return of Jews to their ancestral land can be seen as an act of imagination. A new country, citizenship, language, and institutions needed to be imagined in order to be created. The arts, too, have contributed to this act of envisioning and shaping the Jewish state. By examining artistic representations of Israel, Imagined Israel(s): Representations of the Jewish State in the Arts explores the ways in which the Israel imagined abroad and the one conjured within the country intersect, offering a space for the co-existence of sociopolitical, cultural, and ideological differences and tensions.
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This chapter discusses “Three Suggestions for Dealing with Time” (2016–2020), a folklore-inspired contemporary dance trilogy created by Mor Shani for Inbal Dance Theater. Inbal was established in 1949 by Sara Levi-Tanai as a means to express the Yemenite cultural heritage through Western theatrical and choreographic forms. Although innovative in its integration of diverse cultural and artistic influences, Inbal was labeled as being representative of Yemenite ethnicity, expressing Mizrachi exoticism that did not conform to the collective image of “Israeliness” that promoted a new Hebrew-Ashkenazi-Zionist-secular-Sabra identity or body. Consequently, the company was marginalized in the Israeli dance field, and its controversial position highlighted the ongoing artistic and social tension between Yemenite and Israeli, ethnic and national, and exotic and innovative, art and folklore. Considering Inbal’s complex history, Shani’s dance trilogy unfolds as a choreographic practice of contemporizing the Yemenite ethnicity that has defined the company from its beginning. Through it, Shani explicitly comments on Inbal’s cultural-artistic identity and marginal position throughout the years while affirming Levi-Tanai’s legacy as a source of the company’s contemporaneity. Moreover, by expanding Levi-Tanai’s unique stylistic integration, Shani resonates with her agenda of cultural pluralism, thus realizing Inbal’s potential as a third space through which the “Inbalite” language is updated and included in the choreographic present.

In: Imagined Israel(s): Representations of the Jewish State in the Arts
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This chapter interrogates the religious entanglements of Rona and Gil Yefman’s art practices, focusing on the ways in which popular religious myths and historically freighted Jewish terms and rituals become the vehicle through which to transform familial relations and sibling belonging. The chapter juxtaposes artwork in which Rona articulates her perspective on Gil’s experience of transition against Gil’s experiments with the gendered multiplicities encoded within the experience of making and viewing. Putting Sigmund Freud, Juliet Mitchell, and Jean Vaccaro in dialogue with the siblings’ work, this chapter traces these art practices’ uncanny and felt resonances, arguing that the Yefmans estrange conventional understandings of familial distinction and intimacy in search of a different ethics of reciprocity through an embrace of ambiguity.

In: Imagined Israel(s): Representations of the Jewish State in the Arts
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This chapter investigates popular textual representations of the early Israeli art canon, positing its fictional character. By a literary analysis of Karl Schwarz’s Modern Jewish Art in Eretz Yisrael (1941) through a theoretical framework derived from Hayden White and Frank Kermode, I will draw distinctions between canon as history and canon as literature. Although common perspectives on the Israeli art canon have mostly dealt with the critical deconstruction of the power regimes dominating the art field, whether professional academic university departments or national-state institutions, my research points at the literary essence of the Israeli art canon. Viewing the canon through its textual representation enables me to delve into the writing and interpretation of art history, arguing for its narrative element and the literary components used by its authors. Indeed, I do not see writers of the canon as historians, but rather as poets. This move unveils the imaginative elements of the Israeli art canon, alluding also to the understanding that the consensus around certain artworks and artists may be an imagined consensus.

In: Imagined Israel(s): Representations of the Jewish State in the Arts
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Many liberal Jewish Americans wrestle with their apparently competing value systems; without the personal experience of the Holocaust, many do not identify with the need for Israel as a refuge. This “new” Jewish American, according to Andrea Most, has adopted a liberal Protestant ethos and loosened communal bonds that tied them together with other Jews. Many young, liberal American Jews, with incomplete knowledge of the history or politics of Israel and an identity filtered through progressive American ideals, are becoming disenchanted with the Jewish state. This chapter examines contemporary plays performed on American stages and how they shape and reshape Jewish Americans’ relationships with Israel. The plays are explored through their substance and the dialogue that emerges through their performance. There is a particular focus on generational divides in attachment to Israel, such as between a father who witnessed the horrors of Dachau and a son who asserts that the Holocaust is marketed and exploited to garner support for Israel in If I Forget. It then examines how the “theater of the real” influences reality, in the case of My Name Is Rachel Corrie, and sparks significant media controversy. The controversy generated by Seven Jewish Children includes damning reviews and two complementary plays in dialogue, Seven Palestinian Children and The 8th Jewish Child. Three of the plays discussed in this chapter had canceled performances, which caused a backlash against censorship. Finally, this chapter examines how the guilt and shame of Israeli Jews are portrayed and how they deal with questions of obligation and moral perplexity.

In: Imagined Israel(s): Representations of the Jewish State in the Arts
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In 2017, a British online magazine asked why, with regard to Israel, “British theatre can only produce shrill agitprop.” It answered that “British theatres think it is better to be self-righteous than carefully to explore both sides of complex conflicts.” In recent years, the arts in the United Kingdom have suffered from outbursts of anti-Israel action: a visit by Habima was canceled in 2012, and in 2011 a concert given in London by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was disrupted by anti-Israel protests. Over the past 20 years, there have been a number of British plays attacking Israel. This led to a headline in a Jewish magazine: “British Theatre Has an Enemy and Its Name Is Israel.” While this is exaggerated, there have been instances of anti-Israel judgment in British plays such as Perdition, My Name Is Rachel Corrie, Alive from Palestine: Stories under the Occupation, and Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza. Criticism of any national entity is legitimate if it is well reasoned. The question I ask in this chapter is whether three of these plays, My Name Is Rachel Corrie by Katharine Viner and Alan Rickman, Seven Jewish Children by Caryl Churchill, and David Hare’s Via Dolorosa present well-reasoned arguments or whether they can be classified as shrill anti-Israel agitprop. I also consider The Holy Rosenbergs, a play by the British Jewish playwright Ryan Craig, as representing a Jewish view of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

In: Imagined Israel(s): Representations of the Jewish State in the Arts
In: Imagined Israel(s): Representations of the Jewish State in the Arts
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For Benedict Anderson, the nation is a social construction, an imagined community. And this is even more in the case of the foreigner, who carries an image of the country he is visiting that is imagined. In 1970, Roland Barthes published L’Empire des signes (The Empire of Signs), where he recounts Japan through a collection of “a certain number of features” that compose “a system,” an image that the foreigner (the gai-jin) has of the “Land of the Rising Sun.” This “imagined” image, which may be formed before even visiting a place, seldom reflects the reality on the ground. In the case of Israel, the image that diaspora Jews have of it is mostly a mental construct that reveals more about themselves and their aspirations than about Israel itself. In 1973, Claude Lanzmann traveled to Israel to film the country and to answer the question: Why Israel? Lanzmann finds the legitimacy of Israel in the stories of the people whom he talks with—these stories create Lanzmann’s imaged Israel: the Holocaust, the kibbutz, the Mizrachi aliyah, the Ultra-Orthodox, the settlers in Hebron, the memory of the Spartacus League in Germany … all these fragments of life, edited together, compose the Israel of Lanzmann, which coincides with the “reappropriation of violence” by the Jews. The reality of the Yom Kippur War, which broke out soon after the completion of the film, problematized the issue of violence for the young state. Following the war, Susan Sontag, another diasporic intellectual, arrived in Israel to construct her own image of the country. The Israel of Promised Lands is still shaking from the tragedy of the war: the filmed sequences of traumatized soldiers undergoing treatment or of the burned military vehicles abandoned in the middle of the desert reflect on the high costs of the Zionist project, signaling what would become a shift in the discourse about Israel taking place in the American Jewish community. From the post-Holocaust image generated by the survivor Lanzmann to the traumatized image of Sontag up to today’s representations, Israel stands as a mirror for the diaspora with which it can see itself.

In: Imagined Israel(s): Representations of the Jewish State in the Arts
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This article analyzes how Tali Keren’s The Great Seal (2016–2018) and Un-Charting (2021) reveal “messianic affinities,” the complex and contradictory web of projections and transferences crisscrossing the Atlantic that make up the ideological basis of the close Israeli-American relationship. Taking up American revolutionary ideas positioning the United States as the “promised land,” The Great Seal explores Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson’s design for the US seal, proposed in 1776. While ultimately not adopted, the seal—which depicts Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and carries the maxim tyrannis seditio, obsequium deo (“rebellion against tyrants, obedience to God”)—represents an undercurrent in American ideology, the legacy of which remains in the dozens of New Zion towns dotting the North American landscape. Like The Great Seal, Un-Charting provides a vision of Zion refracted through the lens of prophetic Christianity and North American settler colonialism. In Un-Charting, the prophecy of a new Jerusalem as harbinger of a new world order is mapped out in painstaking detail through the eyes of Richard Brothers (1757–1824), a British naval officer who believed himself to be a prince of the Hebrews. In both exhibitions, Keren connects these histories to contemporary Israeli image-making abroad by examining how Israeli-American relations today are driven by a growing Christian Evangelical block insistent that support for the State of Israel will hasten the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

In: Imagined Israel(s): Representations of the Jewish State in the Arts
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The ever-controversial Akko Festival of Alternative Israeli Theater, known colloquially as the “Akko Fringe,” is no stranger to pushing the envelope in its productions’ depictions of Israeli characters on the Israeli stage. Through two of the plays performed at the 2013 festival, Sefer HaPanim Sheli (My Book of Faces) by Inna Eizenberg and Pffffff by Aharon Levin and Yaron Edelstein, the soldiering experience in twenty-first-century Israel is reimagined through the eyes of its late Generation X / early Millennial playwrights, ex-soldiers themselves. In My Book of Faces, several young Israeli ex-soldiers communicate with one another over social media, using the virtual platform as a multimedia megaphone, a political war zone, a playground for pseudonymity, and more. Modeled after one of Israel’s most popular social media platforms, Facebook, Eizenberg’s play gives audience members an inside look at a virtual Israel, which exhibits differences and surprising similarities to reality. In Pffffff, an unidentifiable sound emitted under the waters of the Persian Gulf is captured by an Israeli submarine. This triggers a doomsday plan to be set into motion, which causes chaos and tremors across the Middle East, all the way up to Israel’s Ministry of Defense. A postmodern game of chess where the Israeli “pawns” are tasked with making the moves while those higher in power flounder, this play examines the “what if” of a potential worst-case scenario and imagines the Israeli response from the top down and the bottom up. Through situations ranging from the deadly serious to the seriously kooky, these plays reimagine the nation and its military culture on the actual stage, showcasing the contemporary Israeli imagination while asking questions of politics, morality, and identity.

In: Imagined Israel(s): Representations of the Jewish State in the Arts