Stopping the inferno: Why this artist supports Israel

An image from the set of "Just Tell No One." (Courtesy Arlekin Players Theatre zero-G Lab)
An image from the set of "Just Tell No One." (Courtesy Arlekin Players Theatre zero-G Lab)

My theater company in Needham was created by Jewish immigrants and refugees from Eastern Europe. As a company, we stand with Israel. As an artist and a human being, I stand with Israel. (Are we alone?)

Last Friday, Oct. 6, was our opening night for Arlekin’s production of "Just Tell No One." Written by Natal’ya Vorozhbit and Oksana Savchenko of the Worldwide Ukrainian Play Readings, it premiered at Lincoln Center last year with Bill Irwin and Jessica Hecht, as well as David Krumholtz and Tedra Millan of Broadway’s "Leopoldstadt." "Just Tell No One" is a play about the human consequences of war in Ukraine, my homeland (is it?), which I fled as a Jewish refugee with my family when I was 11, seeking refuge in the U.S. where we thought we’d be safe. Jewish relatives and friends from that part of the world also fled, and many of them are now your neighbors in the U.S.; a few even became a theater company. Others escaped to Israel, a new homeland (is it?) for them, where they thought they would be safe.

We are not safe. Again.

"You know, just don't tell anyone. And I won't tell them. They killed us.
Just don't tell anyone, and I won't tell you we're alive."
— "Just Tell No One" from the full-length play "Night Devours Morning" by Oksana Savchenko, translated by John Freedman

Gene Ravvin as He in "Just Tell No One." (Courtesy Arlekin Players Theatre zero-G Lab)
Gene Ravvin as He in "Just Tell No One." (Courtesy Arlekin Players Theatre zero-G Lab)

Our production of "Just Tell No One" features many Arlekin company members, immigrants and Jewish refugees. On opening night, following the performance, we toasted to celebrate the importance of this work and our hopes for other projects this season. This includes the New York City premiere of "Our Class" by Tadeusz Słobodzianek, which we will present at Brooklyn Academy of Music in January — the controversial story of a pogrom in Poland during the Holocaust, where 1,600 Jews died at the hands of Polish classmates and neighbors. At our premiere, I shared some stories from our creative team’s summer visit to Poland for research, and my own journey trying to understand how this kind of evil can happen, and continues to happen; how people can slide into hatred again and again, and how to live a full life and enjoy the time and family we have. We raised a glass to the power of theater, the work of our company and its relevance in our world right now.

The next morning I awoke to the news of the unprecedented, unexpected savage attacks by Hamas on civilians in Israel. My inbox blew up as our community reeled in shock and fear. Again. Arlekin swiftly posted our solidarity with Israel, as our company members tried to reach loved ones in Israel to see if they were alive and checked on the wellness of our Jewish friends here. We prayed as relatives and their children were called up to service in the Israeli military. The theme of my inbox and social media threads from Jews around the world was, “Here it comes again. Another wave. Protect your family. We aren’t safe anywhere.” After Saturday night’s performance, rather than a celebratory toast, we held a moment of silence. We stood together. Because we can’t believe it. And we can.

We are grieving and bewildered at the silence of our non-Jewish friends, members of the theater community and neighbors. Where are the #WeStandWithIsrael posts? Where are the #IStandWithIsrael graphics? My neighbors here in the West, I don’t think you understand. For centuries, the Jewish people have been exterminated, hated, killed, displaced, driven out of their homes, separated from their families and attacked. Everywhere. In every century. Here in the U.S., this year and every year. And this weekend, brutally and without warning, in Israel.

Friends, here is why I stand with Israel. The decline of the Roman Empire can be attributed, in part, to a sense of complacency that crept in as the empire prospered. The Romans became comfortable and, in many ways, unconcerned in the face of looming threats, including barbarian invasions. Israel, in its modern context, does not stand down because it cannot. History has proven what happens when Jewish people stand down. Israel cannot be complacent or become a civilization that vanishes, so it confronts aggression and evil with unwavering determination.

Today, the Western world champions principles like individual liberty, human rights and the rule of law. Israel tries to act as a resilient defender of the values and way of life cherished by the Western world. In stark contrast, Hamas stops at nothing, resorting to such tactics as torture, kidnapping and the deliberate killing of innocent victims — including children — not for strategic victory, but in a macabre display of power. This form of malevolence, exemplified by figures like Osama bin Laden, who sought to gain notoriety through his attacks rather than to win a war, underscores the urgency of countering such twisted ambitions.

This kind of brutal and senseless killing is a continuation of the Holocaust. Never again is now. The massacre by Hamas in Israel today is happening not because of land or jurisdiction, but because the killers want to eradicate the Jewish people. It is a solemn imperative to halt these atrocities and protect the innocent from the grasp of those who use violence to seek status. Israel’s steadfastness in the face of these actions exemplifies the importance of resolute action in safeguarding the principles that underpin our civilization.

We can make plays about antisemitism and open all the Holocaust museums we want. We can make speeches about freedom and inclusivity. We can tell our young people to be upstanders and take action, but all of this is meaningless if we don’t actually stand up, take action and stop the inferno. So, I stand with Israel.

We can tell our young people to be upstanders and take action, but all of this is meaningless if we don’t actually stand up, take action and stop the inferno.

I am a compassionate, empathetic, discerning person. I recognize that the history of the Middle East and the actions of the Israeli government are fraught and complicated. I try to understand the complexity and pain of the long-term conflict. I weep over the violence, the civilian Palestinians killed and children lost. I grieve for the Palestinian victims who are voting, democratic, Israeli citizens. It is all horrifying.

But my friends in America, my theater friends, hear me. Jewish people are and have been hated, tortured, killed, persecuted and oppressed, just because we are Jews. And nothing stops it. I don’t know if I am an American, or a Ukrainian, or if I am somehow an Israeli, but I know that I am a Jew. My father told me this in the USSR when I was 10. He was shaving. The more we are hated, the more I feel I am a Jew. I feel it every day, no matter where I am, as my people have felt it everywhere throughout history. So, I stand with Israel.

I ask for your compassion, your understanding, and if not your complete solidarity, your empathy, a willingness to see another point of view and an openness to dialogue with those who support Israel. At Arlekin, we make plays about these pain points, these complexities and these human experiences. We try to untangle our history and our incomprehensible behavior as humans. I invite you to talk with us, to reach out to your Jewish and immigrant neighbors during this terrible time of war, and to think about what life is like for us as we ask where we might go next, whether our children are safe, whether we dare go to synagogue this weekend, why we don’t really have the freedom America promises, and whether we can openly say who we are. I invite you to come see Arlekin’s plays this year and be in dialogue with others around them.

I am a Jew. I am an artist. And I stand with Israel.

Igor Golyak is the founding artistic director of Arlekin Players Theatre & (zero-G) Virtual Theater Lab.


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