foolsFURY on diaspora

Deborah Eliezer wrote and performed (dis)Place[d] as a reflection about the complexities of identity as a creation of foolsFURY Theater Company. Here's a snipped of her words to contextualize this video: Who has the right to tell stories? In 2008, my father was invited to give his oral history to the National Holocaust Organization. There are two hours of video of my father’s story, one he never spoke about with us kids. It took me 8 years to finally sit down and watch it, because some part of me understood that once I heard the stories, I would be responsible for asking more questions. (dis)Place[d] is my way of grappling with those questions about my own identity through an artistic conversation with my (recently deceased) father.

I grew up thinking I would never be allowed to visit the place my father’s birthplace. Aba never taught me Arabic, and we didn’t speak Hebrew together until I went to live in Israel during college. When he finally sent me a letter while I was on kibbutz in answer to some questions about his kibbutz life, he wrote it in Hebrew which my Hebrew teacher translated for me.

What is the price of forgetting? The Jewish people and the land of Iraq no longer exist, save in the hearts of the diaspora. What was once a thriving culture within a culture is now no longer. We can say that of many peoples. When you displace a people from a place, the voices vanish, too. Iraqi Jews spoke their own Arabic dialect that included Iraqi Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Persian, and Turkish words. They had their own style of liturgical chanting—a beautiful, soulful style which was passed on from one generation to another.

Today, one language dies every 14 days. By the next century nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear. Yet many peoples continue to survive without living on the land that binds their identity. The diasporic heart is united by memory, ideas, food, stories and history, the aspirations of our ancestors. The present, while recognized or not, is moving forward only in reference to it. And the land keeps calling.

Iraq was home to the largest and oldest Jewish diaspora, dating back 2500 years. Jews were highly educated, and integrated in Iraqi society. In the early 20th century, 130,000 Jews lived in Iraq, 50% of them in Baghdad. Most left for Israel in a mass exodus forced by the Iraqi government and largely motivated by growing growing anti-semitism in WWII, and the mounting support for the creation of the state of Israel, which came into being in 1948. My father fled Baghdad in 1949, was caught on the Iran-Iraq border and lived in a concentration camp for 2 years, before finally reaching Israel. Today there are fewer than 10 Jews that now live in Iraq.

What are the politics of language and place? A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, right? The predominant perception of Jews in America is that they are from Eastern Europe however there are actually 3 major diasporas (or “dispersions”) of Jews that left ancient Israel based on their migratory tie to the land: Ashkenazis in Eastern Europe who speak a mix of Hebrew and German called Yiddish, Sephardis in Spain and North Africa who speak a mix of Hebrew and Spanish called Ladino, and Mizrahi (or Middle Eastern,) who speak Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi and many other Jewish dialects specific to each country. Iraqi Jews spoke a dialect that was written in Hebrew but spoken Arabic.

What do I claim? This play is a reflection of the complexity of identity in today’s world. It is a journey of map-finding, heart searching and claiming both the light and shadow of who I am.

It is my hope that this play will spark conversations and inspire others to share their stories. I welcome hearing about what you received from the piece and what it sparked in you.

written and performed by Deborah Eliezer

directed by Ben Yalom

camera: Rachel Marks and Jacob Marks