The eve of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) fell on a Sunday this year. Sunday evenings I have my acting classes. They are my weekly staple, my feel-good constant. True to its nature, the class, like the show, must go on. But in this part of the world – it goes on, modifying and adjusting itself, week after week, in light of the national hues that impart to it their color, their darkness and light. On Purim, appropriately, we worked with costumes and masks. But on this day, a few weeks back — on the eve of Yom Hashoah – the atmosphere that was generated in service of the work at hand was especially poignant. A series of exercises designed to guide us through an “inner journey” focused on intimacy and parting and yielded powerful emotional responses. The last hour of the class is always dedicated to improvised scenes. I paired up with my friend Romina and when I turned to my partner with my usual “so what are we gonna do? what’s our relationship? conflict? etc.” she offered, in her typically direct manner, “hey it’s yom hashoah, let’s go with it, all the way.” And so we did. Here is the story we created: We were two friends, together in the camps. The shared history that brought us together is that we were standing next to each other during the transport and watched our children ripped from us, get on the train together. My Sebastian and her Ariel were holding hands. They were laughing and singing. This was the last we saw them. We began the scene with Romina offering me a morsel of bread that she had saved for me, and announcing that she has been “selected” to go to work at the place wherefrom I knew, no one had ever returned. I could not let her go. “Maybe I’ll see them again,” she uttered longingly, as we inhabited our respective characters. “I can hear them singing…” And I rejoined, laughing, “Remember them, my Sebastian and your Ariel holding hands and singing and laughing as they got on board the transport car? Hineh ma tov u-ma-na’im, saba nafal la-mayim…” (here the classic song that begins with how sweet and pleasant it is, is rascally upended when to sit together in brotherhood is replaced with the playful kid-version rhyme grandpa fell in the water) As I hummed, in character, this amusing roguish version of the song that I had heard my real-life Sebastian sing gleefully, an impish sparkle catching his eye, just the other day, laughter turned into sobs, and in that moment, where laughter and tears mingled, I felt exposed, pure, and entirely whole. The realness of this made-up scene was extraordinary. I realized: not only does the nation wield herself upon the individual, but the individual too, can impinge on the national. Not only did yom hashoah permeate the art of acting, the art of acting also gave shape to the experience of yom hashoah.
I rode my bicycle home that night thinking: only in Israel. This deeply emotional experience could not have happened in an acting class anywhere else in the world. It is a function of being in a place where everyone shares a common sense of history and destiny. Our acting teacher encourages us to bring in stuff we’ve written to share with the group. On several occasions I have found myself engrossed by my classmates’ readings, processing the political sensibility of some of their very personal writings. National moments here are excavated through the individual lens.
Racheli once read a piece she had written on the eve of her son’s induction to the army, a visceral response to driving by a memorial site with the name Uri on it, her son’s name, and wondering how the young man with the epitaph had died. Rosie read a piece about her personal and emotional response to the evacuation of the settlements in the West Bank. The inextricable link between the private and the collective in this blistering piece of land is potent. As the nerves and the tensions are pared through the individual lens, and shared, a sense of unity and accord, of intimacy and familiarity, sets in. In these moments, this country, where there are three opinions for every two people, seems to stop, and listen — before rejoining in opposition. To me, the enthrallment is in the listening – and in the arguing. It lies in the vibrations of both behaviors, in what I believe, can be summed up in a word: אכפתיות echpatiut –– caring.