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An Interview With Former Theater J Artistic Director Ari Roth

Many thanks to Ari Roth for taking the time to tell me more about his recent firing from Theater J and sharing with me his deep passion for the political power of the theatre.

P. Carl: The Washington Post suggests that your firing was essentially a battle over what kinds of dialogue can be tolerated inside a Jewish organization. Were you ever considering some kind of line that couldn’t be crossed as you were programming for Theater J?

Ari Roth: There were a few lines that were sort of implicit and inferred by simply my choosing to be part of a resident company at a Jewish community center. Plays that affirmed the right of Israel to exist and that didn't advocate the dismantling of the State of Israel or that suggested that the State of Israel was an illegitimate endeavor, those were plays that would not be produced. There was a deep understanding from the time I got there eighteen years ago that we all had an attachment to Israel and that Israel was a part of our identity as American Jews and that Israel was important to the American population at large by virtue of our relationship with it. The ideal always was to engage with Israel in an honest and as mature and as nuanced a way as possible to present the humanity of the people who lived there, and who lived in the midst of and on other sides of the borders, so that's where we began. Where we evolved to was an understanding by 2011 when the JCC was forced to restate its position on Israel—that the Center or its programs did not condone, or promote boycott, divestment, or sanctions of Israel. That became a red line, and it's a long history of how that statement came to be. But I happen to oppose cultural boycotts in general and I would oppose cultural and academic boycotts on Israel, so it was easy for me to adhere to a red line that said our plays cannot promote boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS).

A man taking off his glasses
Ari Roth. Photo courtesy of Theater J.

What is the relationship between the one hot button issue that perhaps crosses the institutional line? No Palestinians on stage, that's the new JCC edict let's say, but what about all of the other races, and all of the other conversations? But if you restrict one, you are really restricting everything.

There were complications immediately when some very smart good people, non- Jews and Jews, who may have had a pro BDS position, for example Mandy Patinkin and Theodore Bikel, people who have signed on to the idea of selective economic boycotts of products from the West Bank and Israel. So the JCC also had to live with these contradictions, because we would honor Theodore Bikel on our stage in 2013. BDS was the issue and the red line. So we were living within those parameters. You might say that what’s changing the nature of discourse in the Jewish community at large these days—after the summer's war in Gaza and the deaths of dozens of Israelis and thousands of Palestinians—is the message coming out of our established Jewish community umbrella organization which has been one of extraordinary solidarity with the people of Israel, and refusing to mention any casualties, deaths, or lingering suffering of Palestinians in Gaza or in the West Bank. We began to understand that the perspective that could hold the plight of Israelis and the plight of Palestinians simultaneously was no longer welcome in our community centers, and indeed, since summer the JCC has not had one program that would present a perspective from a Palestinian point of view, even if it was presented by an Israeli artist or journalist. So things have changed in a fundamental way since the summer. 

Carl: Going a little deeper on that one, the issue of free speech around Israel is a huge global issue with life and death consequences. What role do theatre critics and artists have in this fight? It feels like to frame this moment as being about THE THEATRE in all caps is to miss the point, is this a tiny symptom around a much larger ill.

Roth: All you have to do is look at the breakdown of the Kerry-led peace talks and the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians to know the huge importance of Palestinians and Israelis, antagonists from opposite sides of the border, being able to talk to each other and being able to work on compromises to ensure a viable future. This is critically important in every strata of society—socially, economically, professionally, and of course politically. Civil society has a role to play in bringing political actors together. It is all intertwined. The work that theatre people do and the work that journalists do and people to people initiatives outside of the political sphere have in moving society forward toward reconciliation, or any type of coexistence is critical. Theatre is doing special work but it's of a piece with all of the other kinds of people to people initiatives that help transform conflict into coexistence. So I think theatre and Theater J has played a role in making a safe space and a gathering place as well as playing a symbolic role, for those who can't be in attendance, where people can look at each other, experience each other's narratives, each other's traumatic heartbreak, and go through a kind of catharsis together through drama. For many it’s transformed their perceptions of the other, their perceptions of themselves, provided deep education about the other, and a richer sense of where you come from and how your homeland came into being. Those are really important roles and that's what we were able to foster for a very long time. Do some people find that threatening, especially in a time when there isn't interest in reviving a peace process, well, yeah, you could say there is political pressure not to have those reckonings, those encounters, anymore, but just as the peace process breaks down politically there becomes an imperative to start one anew and that will happen culturally as well as politically. 

Carl: Has the response to your firing surprised you? Had you known you had such incredible support to draw from around the country…

Roth: …well, I don't know Polly Carl, can you quantify that? How much money does it amount to, all that support? I mean it's a little like drinking water from a fire hose. I'm teasing, but I don't know how on earth to harness all of this support right now. I don't have crowd-sourced funding, I don't have a website yet, I don't have a bank account yet. All of that is coming in the next days. I'm on vacation without a laptop right now, so it's been a little bit nutty! 

Carl: Here’s the entire question I was starting to ask. Has the response to your firing surprised you? Had you known you had such incredible support to draw from around the country would you have approached this situation any differently?

Roth: No! Are you kidding? No! I knew what I was doing. And I know there is a lot of support out there for what we've been doing. I've got the theatre community of Israel behind me. I know my standing and what my commitment has been to Israeli artists of all types, of all genders, of all backgrounds to offer them a forum here in Washington, DC. I know what that is. I'm confident about doing the right thing by them. I've understood that when you can engage the conflict in a nuanced way, in a respectful way, people will pay attention. I felt confident in sticking up for.... the festival [a festival scheduled for March 2015 of eleven staged readings] was cancelled by the institution. People around me said it's only one small thing of what Theater J is about. So you don't do this festival, just do a play on Israel. You can still do one thing, figure that out. Let go. I was just much much much too committed to a multi-platform festival with different plays speaking to each other, creating panels, workshops, peace cafes, and I didn't think we should let go of it, even though it would have avoided the confrontation.

Carl: Is there a fundamental rift between the nature of artistic work and the nature of institutional work? That’s what some might say, that the artist answers a different call than an institution, yet I don’t see other artistic directors in the US getting fired for their artistic choices. When you look around the country has the theatre in general become too complacent in the battle around free speech and artistic freedom and deep political engagement in general?

Roth: What an interesting question. I guess by extension we'd be asking whether touching Israel in particular is a kind of third rail for American theatre producers and American theatregoers. If you look around the country, how many plays are there on an annual basis that touch on the Middle East conflict? And then you think it's such a rich source of drama and there are so many talented people writing about it, why aren't they touching this subject? I don't think they should use my example as a cautionary tale, they should use my example as a reason to do more of it. I shouldn't be one of the only TCG theatre artists engaged in this issue. It's inexplicable to me that we don't have a dozen other theatre companies engaging in this theatre subject. It isn't the third rail, it isn't that volatile or lethal. There's not that much paranoid Jewish money that is so concerned about this issue being voiced. I think artists ask themselves how much do they know, how much more could they learn about the conflict and what's my responsibility to reflect that on our stage? A lot of people could be doing this work and should be. 

Carl: There is so much conversation flying around about your firing, I’ve even read a letter calling for your reinstatement. For those of us wanting to take action, to really do something to respond to this, where do you think we should focus our energy?

Roth: I think we should try to create a national conversation around the conflict, and we should look at the playwrights and directors who are doing work in Israel, in Palestine, in Egypt, in Syria, in Jordan and we should get the work out there. If this wants to be about me a tiny bit let me collaborate with other theatres in recommending work and in having conversations that are led by a cross-cultural panel that is smart and respectful and you can have really strong, civil dialogue about plays that address a really pressing issue. And it doesn't only have to be about Israel. I think we should be deeply engaged in the Middle East as it's changing. My commitment is something that wants to be shared with others. If not a thousand flowers blooming, let's get dozens and dozens of theatre companies doing little festivals, if not full productions, engaged in the region and bring people together. Don't be afraid of people on the far margins who threaten to boycott. My firing was not about only program choices, it's a very long, deep, political, and personal relationship with both the CEO's office and the bureaucracy of a community institution that has twenty-one different programs of which the theatre is just one. So there's jockeying for space, there's turf warfare, there's many different things, the theatre was the tail wagging the dog of the institution and they wanted to correct that as well. There were many different things going on but when you talk about flagship theatres in our country, about strong independent politically engaged theatres in our country, have them lean into this issue as well, and that's what they should take from my situation. There's a ton of interest out there. 

Carl: What hope/expectation/concern do you have at this point around Theater J itself?

Roth: I love the staff. This is a painful divorce process right now. The staff by huge majority are very strong mature women who are the children being torn in two by a departing artistic director and a center that is paying them a good wage and good benefits. And most importantly, we have four shows in the season left—two world premieres coming up. Even with all of my differences with the CEO I was hoping to stay through the launch of the second world premiere of Renee Calarco's G-d's Honest Truth after Aaron Posner's Life Sucks (or the Present Ridiculous). We were just in deep dramaturgical conversations on Tuesday and Wednesday and I'm fired on Thursday. It's kind of difficult for everybody. We've had very soulful meetings as an ensemble to talk about the importance of wanting to be a living legacy. What I leave behind are these new projects as well. And Shirley Serotsky, who is the acting artistic director, started as my literary director, has been a great associate artistic director. She's an incredible director, directing at Round House Theater in January so she's going to be pulled in a hundred directions. It’s a very difficult time. I only want support and love for the senior staff of Theater J. They are fantastic. And what the future holds for both companies, Mosaic Theater Company of DC (my new company) and Theater J, I'd like that there is room and audience and resources for everybody. But if not, I don't mind Mosaic becoming a big mid-sized theatre really soon and me being able to hire as many great people as possible. I'd be very happy to have that happen. 

For 18 years the DCJCC has considered Ari the right fit to run Theatre J. Then a new CEO arrived and a downward spiral started, leading to Ari being unceremoniously fired. Escorted out of the DCJCC by security, no less. That smells of disrespect, and a healthy dislike, by the CEO and the EC, not because of professional reasons.

Carl: Is there anything else you want the HowlRound readership to know?

Roth: I think it's really important to know that Theater J was a collective, it wasn't just me. Theater J was about a lot more than just Voices from a Changing Middle East—that was a festival we would do once every eighteen months. So we have a locally grown community supported arts festival where we commissioned eighteen local playwrights and produced a half dozen of them over the last four years. We were really involved in conversations on race, whether it was through Jacqueline Lawton's The Hampton Years, or David Henry Hwang's Yellow Face, or Mamet's Race. We started a conversation on race back in 1998. In canceling one small but significant part of the season (the festival) you endanger so much of the rest. The question of principle really was do I let the battle of the festival go in order to fight for and ensure the good work of all of the other things that are out there? What is the relationship between the one hot button issue that perhaps crosses the institutional line? No Palestinians on stage, that's the new JCC edict let's say, but what about all of the other races, and all of the other conversations? But if you restrict one, you are really restricting everything. 

I found that out myself in May. We were supposed to have a seven play season even though the edict was no plays on Israel, we want a quieter year, but the seventh play was a workshop of a play I was writing, the third installment of the Born Guilty cycle. Born Guilty is based on interviews of children of Nazis by Peter Sichrovsky that I adapted for Zelda Fichandler in 1991. The sequel was The Wolf in Peter, and then I was in the middle of writing a third play, Reborn in Berlin, which is exploring how a new generation, what we call the third generation of children of perpetrators—along with new Israeli expats living in Berlin, and Turkish Muslims, South Asian Muslims, all young people living in Germany today—are wrestling with questions of identity, how they recognize and honor the legacy and history, the meaning of the Holocaust in a very complicated twenty-first century. My CEO cut that play from the season, in a punitive sense, because of the success of Motti Lerner's play The Admission and our desire to see that play continue its success at Studio Theatre against the wishes of the CEO and the executive committee of the JCC. Then they turned around and would not allow Reborn in Berlin, the workshop of my new piece, to happen as part of the season. That was in May and we were announcing the season two days later. We went from a seven play season to a six play season. Because it was personal and the play was still a work in progress, I did not go public with that. I absorbed that horrible sting and that horrible act of censorship. I would be deftly bringing in the Arab/Israeli conflict in a season where the CEO did not want the Arab/Israeli conflict to be mentioned on stage. I can understand how the CEO felt that I had artistic and political agendas that were not in line with hers. So that was the bitter pill of the spring and the cancellation of that project informed the summer of trying to seek structural remediation. The situation we are in is unsustainable, how do we create a sustainable relationship? Theater J still does a lot of good for the community center. If you don't like the Arab/Israeli conflict on stage, let me do it outside, or let Theater J become a separate 501(c)(3) and then rent from the JCC as a strategic partnership—that was not allowed, a nonstarter. Letting me moonlight and produce the Voices of the Changing Middle East festival, independently build a firewall between myself and the JCC, but stay committed to all of Theater J's other great programs, they wouldn't allow that either. The third proposal, an unspoken proposal, let's all break away. We didn't all break away. There are too many interests in staying at the JCC, there is a lot of affection for the building, the center, and people have their jobs too. In the end the cancellation of the festival meant that I was going to move on. Again, I was hoping to move on in an elegant and orderly way after these world premieres were produced. There were other issues that precipitated the immediate firing, but why on earth would I have to vacate my office and remove everything and be escorted out by security guards within twenty-four hours. It was handled wrong. 

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President of the Association for Jewish Theatre


December 19, 2014. The Association for Jewish Theatre (AJT) is saddened by the departure of Ari

Roth as the Artistic Director of Theater J in Washington, D.C. A longtime

member, Roth has actively contributed to AJT's concept, mission and


He is

responsible for a huge body of work that is and continues to be a model for Jewish

theatre around the world. Hailed by the New York Times as "the premier

theatre for premieres", under Roth’s direction, Theater J garnered 50

Helen Hayes Award nominations and prizes. A playwright himself, Roth’s work

includes "Born Guilty" directed by Zelda Fichandler and "The

Seagull on 16th Street."

AJT is

proud of Ari Roth and his tremendous achievements in the Jewish theatre world.

His accomplishments illustrate the very definition of Jewish theatre as was

strongly voiced by the participants at our recently held conference in

Washington, D.C. this December:

"Theatre fulfills a unique and immensely significant

role for the diversity of the Jewish community. It provides opportunities to

experience multiple perspectives by broadening the communities’ worldview, by

individuals uncovering and questioning their own assumptions, and by creating

pathways to understanding each other."

We look

forward with confidence to the next chapters of Ari Roth's creativity, his next

generation of work, his continued leadership, and his valuable contributions to

Jewish theatre.


Association for Jewish Theatre, a non-profit cultural/educational organization, is an alliance

of theatres, performance groups, and independent theatre-makers worldwide. As a catalyst for networking, providing showcase

opportunities, education, development, engagement, and transformation, AJT

supports Jewish theatre in all of its amazing forms.


I had a very open and inspiring conversation with Ari Roth about his vision and values (which I greatly admire). In it he explained that his commitment to bridge building through theater is based in an ethical principle: "There's an imperative to reconcile, not an imperative to exact revenge." The full conversation can be found here: http://dcmetrotheaterarts.c...

I was saddened to read about the firing of Ari Roth, a highly respected theater professional and undoubtedly an individual who has successfully nurtured the arts and programming at the DCJCC. As an artistic leader of an independent professional Jewish theater, I acknowledge the differences between a theater such as Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company and Theater J which is under the umbrella of the JCC. Certainly missions may be different, and this would have implications for programmatic decision-making. Yet, no Jewish institution should lose sight of Tikkun Olam, our responsibility as Jews to work to heal, repair and transform the world. Ari’s programming, particularly with the Festival, was bold and brave. Theater provides a wonderful opportunity for reflection and discussion, increasing tolerance and understanding. I would hope that a Jewish institution would support work that fosters personal and community growth.
Barbara Brooks

Come on, Ari, do you really believe the counter-plays you've listed present Israel and Jews in a positive and favorable light? That might have been all the DCJCC Executive Committee needed to accept your plays so critical of Israel.

A question: how many pro-Israel plays, explaining Israel's side of the Israeli/Arab conflict, did Ari present to balance the pro-Palestinian point of view that he seemed to favor? Without clear and evident balance, Theater J was becoming an artistic director's private political pulpit and not the arena for reasonable discussion that DCJCC's Executive Committee has a right to expect of its theater operation. Had he offered some clearly pro-Israel plays as well (They do exist!!!), I'm sure the Executive Committee would have had different feelings about Ari's desire to stir honest debate about the Middle East.

I'm familiar with a number of the plays (I did not see any them at Theater J, however) but a quick glance at the various seasons of the Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival will show that Theater J went to great lengths to achieve balance -- indeed, much of the festival did not directly address the Israeli/Arab conflict, but rather life within Israel.

The Association for Jewish Theatre just held its conference at Theater J and we paid tribute to Ari Roth's work at our AJT Honors dinner that also honored Zelda Fichandler and Aaron Posner as our keynote. We sent a letter to the DC-JCC, the Theater J board. and the executive director, before Ari's release, in support and how the work that includes Vocies from the Middle East serves as a model for what Jewish theatre is about. Utimately it was not to be. This does not spell the end. There are Jewish theatre-makers all around the world who believe in and who create challenging, important, and artistically exciting work. Make yourself known and as Corey writes, go outside the "box" to find your voice, your support, and your home. If you so choose come to the Association for Jewish Theatre http://afjt.com As the AJT participants from all over North America and Israel who attended, wrote, "Theatre fulfills a unique and immensely significant role for the diversity of the Jewish (and all) community. It provides opportunities to experience multiple perspectives by broadening the communities’ worldview, by individuals uncovering and questioning their own assumptions, and by creating pathways to understanding each other.”

As a founding member of Traveling Jewish Theatre (1978-2012), I am all too familiar with the problematic relationship between Jewishly identified artists and American Jewish "mainstream" institutions. A big difference, in our case, was that we were not housed or administered by one of those institutions. Nevertheless, we experienced what I think is a historical distrust, within institutional Jewish life, of art and culture. (This distrust, of course, is hardly limited to the Jewish community). The great flowering of American Jewish culture since World War Two has happened in spite of (or maybe because of) the resistance of the "mainstream." At TJT, We often took courage and comfort from the rich heritage of Jewish "outsiders" – kabbalists, Yiddish poets, American Jewish writers, early cultural Zionists – those artists, mystics and visionaries who were often vilified as heretics, apostates, "not really Jewish" or, most recently, as "self-hating Jews" The troubles that Ari encountered when he dared produce work that allowed us to imagine the "other" is of a piece with the policies that the San Francisco Jewish Federation adopted in the wake of the SF Jewish FIlm Festival's programming of a panel discussion relating to the death of Rachel Corrie in Israel. As I recall, the Federation reacted to the controversy by imposing a kind of "loyalty oath" on all recipients of Federation funding, pledging their support for Israel and abjuring BDS. Though, like Ari, I don't believe cultural or intellectual boycotts, the imposition of loyalty oaths is a slippery slope that, as we now learn, can lead to censorship, intimidation and, worst of all, a great failure of imagination. By refusing to see the "stranger" or "other" as human, by refusing to "see" them at all, we turn our backs on the most important part of our Jewish heritage. BTW, Ari has chosen a name for his new endeavor (and may it prosper and thrive!) that has some institutional history of its own. Back in the late 80's, the 92nd Y in NYC, created a resident Jewish theatre company, called "Mosaic Theatre," housed in a 100 seat basement space, with Michael Posnick, a friend and colleague of TJT, as AD. It only lasted one season, with TJT's "Berlin, Jerusalem and the Moon" (which Michael directed for us) as the opening production.

Corey, you make great points about the difficulties of doing the arts in a community center setting and at a certain point, as some have been writing, people in these settings draw the line - for better or for worse. But the problem is that without Jewish institutional support money is difficult to raise year after year. So the question still remains, how can the Jewish community support theatre without imposing standards that inhibit ideas and creativity? There needs to be imagination and innovation in the funding and crowd sourcing communities as well.

MJTC was founded as an independent theater with no direct affiliation to Jewish institution so that we could avoid such conflicts. We've found that there is strong support from Jews as well as non-Jews, both individuals as well as corporate dollars. I'd like to think that other communities may have the same resources. It's finding them. Additionally, all Jewish communities' institutions are not the same. For example, there is a tremendous difference between the St. Paul and Minneapolis Federations.

As an artist who struggles all the time to try and find truth that will hopefully resonate with an audience, I am deeply saddened to read Ari's story. In my mind it is incompatible to strive for artistic excellence and simultaneously try to censor artistic freedom. I hope we hear more from Ari's success in his future endeavours.

Thank you for sharing this interview. It reaffirms my belief that Ari Roth's work is terribly important in the dialogue about our prejudices and fears. We will support him in his plans for Mosaic.

Dialogue is vital as a tool for resolving conflict. But it only can work when there is a sincere desire to see conflict resolved. When conflict is reduced to a zero-sum game, then "winning" supplants resolution as the over-arching objective. And when the conflict becomes a winner-takes-all contest where the loser loses everything, then there's no longer any common ground where dialogue can help to find an outcome that doesn't result in the total silencing (i.e. destruction) of one side or the other. We need to hear all voices, if for no other reason than to understand what we're (collectively) up against when we try to resolve conflicts. I look forward to the next "Voices from the Middle East" festival, wherever and whenever it finds a new home. Theater is powerful -- I did a brief gig in Syria 20 years ago; I managed to attend theater three times while I was there (even though I don't speak Arabic). That experience taught me more about Syrians, their hopes and fears, and the divisions in their society than I could ever hope to learn from the voluminous reporting that floods the international news media. I choose not to demonize "the other," but to listen and try to understand, even though it's not always easy or comfortable. Ari, thanks for giving us a forum where dialogue can happen.

Thank you, Ari and Polly, for this great interview. There are so many issues worth unpacking in this story.  First is the inabitliy to have nuanced discussion about the realities of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the inability of many on both sides to approach meaningful dialoge that isn't quickly reduced to polarizing accusations. I was recently developing a new devised work in collaboration with Israeli, Palestinian and South African artists, and found myself constantly defending the right to ask hard questions from my own so-called community of American Jews. It's fine to criticize the Palestinians, but the moment there is a whif of criticism of Israeli state policy, I get the question, "Are you saying that Israel doesn't have a right to exist?". I am astonished, as someone who was raised to believe that Jewish values include rigorous debate and compassion, how little of that is tolerated by some sectors of our community.  Even writing this small response, I worry about the ripple effects I will feel.   

I also had the priviledge of spending time with Ari in 2011, visiting with Palestinian Theater artists in Ramallah, as he eloquently argued against cultural boycott.  As he states in this wonderful interview, on that front he and the JCC were well aligned.  So his firing is laced with even more irony for me.

I was particularly struck by the comment below by a DCJCC Board Member. Clearly there was a committee of few making this decision on behalf of many. And while I'd like to think that this is an isolated case of one non-profit board and an artistic leader, I am deeply aware of the fundamental flaws in the non-profit governance model that puts volunteer boards in a position to make critical hiring and firing decisions of theater professionals.  

Perhaps the issue is the JCC should reevaluate if it should be in the business of sponsoring a theater company at all. (Let's be honest - material for any theater company is frequently political). I suspect if Catholic Charities decided to establish a theater company - and its artistic director continued to promote gay marriage - he/she would be released too. Board members are elected to make these decisions on behalf of their membership. If you are displeased with a decision you can: express your displeasure and see if they will change their position; run for election or find likeminded people as yourself to run; or start a separate organization. But, let's recognize that a board of directors is elected to make fundamental decisions regarding the organization they serve (no matter how much you may disagree with their choices).

Except the executive committee of the Board chose to fire Ari without consulting the entire Board. And as you saw in the first post from a Board member, they were blindsighted by the executive committee's actions.

This is not as clean cut as you think.

As an employee of a non-profit association, I can tell you emphatically that an EC has a wide range of responsibilities. They didn't necessarily overstep their boundaries. And, perhaps they did. I would recommend you read their bylaws and consult an attorney for clarity. However, my question for you - as I stated above - do you genuinely care whether or not one non-profit fired one person? Or, is your skin in the game - Gee, another opportunity to bash Israel? I sense it's the later.

I'm relieved to hear that your sole concern is ensuring the JCC is run by every rule of the law (forgetting for a moment that perhaps it's in their EC's jurisdiction to make personnel decisions). And, for a moment I was under the crazy assumption that it was another person who found any reason to criticize Israel. My bad.

"I'm relieved to hear that your sole concern is ensuring the JCC is run by every rule of the law (forgetting for a moment that perhaps it's in their EC's jurisdiction to make personnel decisions)"

You just can't help yourself, can you?

"And, for a moment I was under the crazy assumption that it was another person who found any reason to criticize Israel. My bad."

Ass of u and me never reflects well on anyone in a debate.

From this point on, the best course is to agree to disagree and move on.

To set a producing record straight, my Israel programming at Theater J was always a balancing act of point & counter-point. For every PANGS OF THE MESSIAH by Motti Lerner set in the West Bank home of religious settlers, there's been DAI by Iris Bahr, set in a Tel Aviv cafe before a suicide bomber cuts short the life of 14 different Israelis, each with his or her own story. For every ACCIDENT by Hillel Mitelpunkt about forgotten human collateral damage on the roadside, there's been MIKVEH by Hadar Galron, full of appreciation for the ritual and the sorority of women gathering to be spiritually and conversationally transformed. For every BOGED by Boaz Gaon adapting Henrik Ibsen charting environmental contamination in the Negev, there's been a romantically moving APPLES FROM THE DESERT by Savyon Liebrecht, bridging religious and secular worlds. And with the Cameri Theatre production of RETURN TO HAIFA that we presented in Hebrew and Arabic, we actually got to experience a Palestinian narrative that recognized the trauma of the Holocaust on Zionist immigrants, as a Palestinian man of letters (and political activist, to be sure), Ghassan Kanafani, gave voice to the wrenching heart-ache of two mothers -- one Israeli and one Palestinian who shared the same son -- one as birth mother and one as nurturer. This was moving, dual narrative stuff. And the production was mediated by the work of an Israeli adapter (Boaz Gaon, again) transforming the Palestinian prose into Israeli-produced drama for mixed audiences. To create a space where oppositional forces meet and reckon; to allow opposing narratives to intermingle -- to love Israel by celebrating its extraordinary range -- and respect the threats it is negotiating internally as well as externally -- this was our charge and our mission. That it didn't get accurately presented to some looking in from afar is a result of the mischaracterization of our work by those who wanted to distort our agenda. Our readings and workshops featured the life story of Yoni Netanyahu in TO PAY THE PRICE along with Lebanese, Egyptian and Palestinian memoirs from the likes of Leila Buck, Mona Mansour and Tarik Najjib. We brought Tovah Feldshuh in GOLDA'S BALCONY to provide balance and context to the searing exploration of an alleged 1948 atrocity in Motti Lerner's THE ADMISSION as our last Voices Festival looked more holistically at "Narratives of Nation Building." One perspective does not negate the other; the plays complement and expand the range of our collective engagement with Israel. That's what we'll continue to do as an independent company with a new version of our VOICES Festival.

My point is not about your plays. It is that organizations have the right to make personnel decisions within the context of federal, state and local laws. Did the follow the precise letter of the law? I dunno. I'm sure an attorney specializing in associations could provide an answer.

I am pretty certain that if you worked for the NRA and espoused that you had complicated feelings for guns, your employment would be terminated asap. Same as if you were employed by countless other organizations (from abortion rights groups to soda manufacturers to unions).

Genuine censorship is when the government prohibits an individual from expressing their right to speak. An organization is under no requirement to provide that forum however.

On a separate note - for what it's worth - I think the Israeli - Palestinian conversation is preposterously blown out of any reasonable proportion. There is blame to be associated with both parties. It does not require the breathless attention of millions of people who somehow never seem to develop the same ire for anywhere else in the world.

I wish just a drop in the ocean of comparable effort was applied to addressing clean water, human rights for women, poverty, violence, and (lack of) democracy impacting literally billions of people worldwide. But, I guess it's just easier for millions of people to be entirely transfixed with this one conflict.

Thank you, both, for taking the time and care to unpack this whole thing further for those of us on the sidelines. I am inspired by the deep faith you have, Ari, in the role of the artist and the theater, specifically, in large, complex, dangerous world events. I love the question of why more institutions are not taking these questions up- makes me want to dig into, and spotlight, those who are. Where are the bright spots, if any, Ari-- or are you truly standing alone in the US as a programmer here? Clearly you have a ton of support, on the personal level, but where do you draw it from on a programmatic level? In Boston we have Guy Ben-Ahron doing some of it through Israeli Stage, but are there more?

Sacha Reich is director of the Jewish Theatre Collaborative (www.jewishtheatrecollaborat...) doing lots of workshop presentations and productions of adapted Israeli work that's original and worthy of others paying close attention. The Noor Theatre Company, in residence at New York Theatre Workshop, supplies us with important work from, frequently, a Palestinian perspective. Silk Road Rising Theatre in Chicago obviously does both Israeli work and work from Arab, Persian, and South Asian countries and is a vital source of new work. Aaron Davidman, former TJT AD and Corey proteges, is his own one-man-band fount of cross-cultural dialogue with his "Wrestling Jerusalem" and beyond. In the commercial world, I'm particularly interested in Orin Wolf Production's collaboration with Hal Prince, Itamar Moses, and the Atlantic Theatre Company adapting the great Israel film about Egyptian musicians stranded in the Negev desert, "The Band's Visit." There's work flowering in many spaces and places but we need more and more venues and producers committed to professional presentation and the facilitation of just-as-critical dialogue coming out of these shows. Let's not forget Ilan Hatzor's "Masked" directed by Ami Dayan at the DR2 after a launch in Denver (where producer Diane Gilboa is continuing to work on Israeli-born work). In short, there's still a lot going on - as Guy Ben Aharon in Boston gets set to go from accomplished staged reading presentation to his first production, Gilad Evron's awesome "Ulysses on Bottles" which should be a warning shot across the bow for some who have helped support his company's successful visits to college campuses with lighter Israeli fare. We'll support him if and when he's under fire which, make my words, he might be when that brave play goes all the way to a full production. Yes, David Dower, there's more and more. But let's up the ante and get LORT Theatres involved here. Let's get flagship New York theaters Off-Broadway involved (great to see Neil Pepe at Atlantic getting skin in the game). I think there's traction on this issues -- which is to say audience interest and engagement. Playwrights and actors will be playing to a charged audience -- it's the best way to perform!

As a DCJCC Board member, it is just nuts that we are learning about the firing on the internet, in the Washington Post, the NY Times, the Washingtonian. Apparently the Executive Committee (half of the board) was consulted but the rest of the Board was blindsided. Many on the Board are deeply saddened and disagree with what has happened and how it has been handled. Two Board members have already resigned in protest to the cancellation of the festival and the dismissal of Ari Roth.

This is not censorship. That occurs when the government prohibits someone from exercising their first amendment rights. This is a case of a privately funded organization that decides to no longer employ someone.

A private organization has ZERO obligation to employ someone it feels who does not agree with its mission. If a pro-choice organization decided to start up a theater company, and its artistic director continuously produced plays showing how awful the procedure was, he would be fired asap. No one is preventing Mr. Roth from producing plays. He just won't have the financial support of the JCC.

I disagree with your accusation of censorship. The JCC is not lobbying politicians to never prevent Mr. Roth from directing a play. Nor, are they chasing him out of town with pitchforks. Rather decision makers - and as a non-profit professional, trust me the EC is entrusted as the most critical decision making body of any organization -have come to the conclusion that he is not the right fit for the organization.

I wonder why people are insisting that the JCC a non-profit organization employ - at their expense of course - this particular individual? Would you be as vociferous in your defense if the JCC released a pre-school teacher who taught its students that evolution is a myth?

Or, perhaps because it is another person berating Israel for defending its country? If you care so much about, perhaps you can employ him for zombies whose only concern is castigating Israel for defending itself.

And here I thought we were having a mature debate until you wrote your last paragraph, then you reduced yourself to an ad hominem attack. I, however, won't lower myself to your level.

For 18 years the DCJCC has considered Ari the right fit to run Theatre J. Then a new CEO arrived and a downward spiral started, leading to Ari being unceremoniously fired. Escorted out of the DCJCC by security, no less. That smells of disrespect, and a healthy dislike, by the CEO and the EC, not because of professional reasons.

As I said in an earlier post, this goes much deeper than what you say, and it definitely smacks of censorship. So be it. The deed has been done.

The other person I'm concerned about is an old friend, and former student, Shirley Serotsky, who's taking over the AD position. She must tread, carefully, lest the CEO and the EC jack her up as they did Ari and unceremoniously fire her, too.

What precisely is your point? They don't have the right to fire a staff person? Have you read this organization's bylaws and articles of incorporation? Are you also intending to engage yourself with thousands of personnel decisions made by other numerous non-profit organizations? Or, do you somehow feel the JCC has a distinct obligation to retain a specific employee.

IMHO - This is a completely disingenuous conversation. Instead, it is about defending another critic of Israel. As I said before, Mr. Roth is completely capable of establishing an organization to produce plays. The JCC is not obligated to retain him anymore than they are a preschool teacher who decides to teach students that Jesus is the Messiah.

What a lovely straw person you have created! Or maybe there is, in fact, a secret plot afoot by evangelical Christians to infiltrate Jewish preschools and steal the minds and hearts of Jewish children. That threat is about as real as the non-reasons given by the JCC for the firing of Ari Roth.

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