V: Navigating the cultural boundaries: who are the
Before that we mostly had lots of imported Jewish culture; Isaac Bashevis Singer, Joseph Heller, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Norman Mailer, and last but not the least; Woody Allen. As you can see, not one woman!
Jewish life these days seems attractive, especially for young people. That hasn't always been the case, not for me and a large part of my generation. Together with the well-known Jewish warmth and care, we got our share of silence, guilt and fear both from Jews and non-Jews. Our parents' generation was marked by the war, regardless of class or country of origin.
Life in the community sometimes made you feel as if you lived in a ghetto, and you had to wrench and wrestle in order to get out, if you wanted to grow, as a woman and a human being. But where could you go? How should you live, if you wanted to be both Jewish and Swedish? It was difficult, not least because of the double and contradictory message from our parents: Be proud of the fact that you're Jewish, but don't talk about it among the non-Jews!
In that sense 'Chaos is the neighbour of Finkelstein' was a historical event. We wanted to explore the uniqueness of Swedish-Jewish reality and open up our living rooms to the wider audience.... The reception was incredible. For the first time the Swedish Jews could see themselves on stage as if in a mirror and the Swedish audience was amused and fascinated.
there were critical voices already then, for example among reviewers who
thought that we were cowards who didn't deal with our relationship to
Israel. And that meant of course criticizing Israel. Yes, this was indeed
before the Intifada. And this criticism, this thinking that a Jewish artist,
a Jewish intellectual has to define herself in relationship to Israel
has always been there. Today, after the second Intifada there are lots
of petitions circulating against the politics of Sharon whom they all
compare to Hitler, and I have to defend myself for not wanting to sign.
Why is it so important for the cultural elite in Sweden that Jews take
a stand on Israel and its politics? Deep down antisemitism? Perhaps. Or
a need, in the old leftist way, to take a moral stance, to look at the
world in black and white? Perhaps. A third reason could be that most Swedes
have no relationship to Jews as a minority group. What's more, they have
difficulty in comprehending the oddity of having two identities, so the
only thing they can relate to is "these strange ties to Israel".
Finally, what really threatens me the most as a playwright.
And why is that? Because such an important part of my creativity gets nurtured by this duality and wants to explore all this: the inner life of my stubborn people with such a tragic background, the contradictions in terms, the hypocrisy and dependency within this group, but foremost this twisted relationship between the Jews and the Swedes. Immigrants and Swedes. For instance, I wrote a play, which was produced last year, about a Muslim girl who gets killed by her brother. But it's very difficult to defend such plays, to get them produced by the theatrical establishment no matter how "universal" the bottom line of these dramas tend to be. One important reason for this is that minority plays, (I definitely count women-focused plays in that group) are not considered "high brow culture", which is the norm for quality theatre. Quality theatre must be created by white Anglo-Saxon males. So in this sense the difficulty has very little to do with society's relationship to Jews.
For a long time we have had a socio-democratic society and culture, which stresses equality between people rather than diversity. Swedish people are more interested in justice then complexity. Is Sweden welcoming to minority cultures? Yes and no. Yes - if you quickly adapt to the Swedish society. If you don't insist on eating kosher meat or circumcising your boy or wearing a burka. Yes - if you write or produce a film or play, which depicts a minority family in a charming way - as I did with the script for the film 'Freud moves away from home'. This movie was followed up by other minorities in Sweden, who produced their own versions of young girls breaking away from family and traditions. So, yes if you crack a few jokes or depict Jews as victims of the Holocaust. Jews as victims...people like that.
So in reply to the question: Is there an audience for Jewish plays? The answer is yes and no. No, if you want to dig deep, if you want to investigate the touchy and complex issues, if you want to be particular and not general. The cultural obstacles are simply too many.
far I have been concentrating on the non-Jewish audience… But what about
the Jewish audience? I will tell you a little bit about the reception
of my play
woman wrote: Why not just leave these people alone, haven't they suffered
enough? My response was, and still is, that I am not questioning the pain
of the victims, their suffering is immense and can hardly be described
by others. But I am dealing with how that pain has influenced their children
and their surroundings: the well-known trauma of the second generation.
My position is that even if it seems cruel on the outside criticising
a human being who has already suffered and still suffers, I am humanizing
her in that process, contributing to people's understanding by transforming
her from an icon to a human being.
to bring my remarks to an end: writing Jewish stuff is a lonely and uncomfortable
situation. So why insist on doing it? It's like a fever, a lust, an anger,
a deep longing for acceptance...within the Jewish group, outside the Jewish
group. After 'Day of Atonement' I never thought I would write a Jewish
play again... the title is 'Nights with family Cohen', it's about a Jewish
family today in Sweden and it takes place during the 70s, 80s and 90s...