Israel gets boost through Arab-Jewish collaboration of Good Will

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Watch out Bay Area college students, a hummus-eating contest is coming to your campus soon.

The contest, in which willing participants will stuff their faces with the ubiquitous Middle Eastern chick-pea spread, is one of the lighter moments in “Ambassadors of Very Good Will,” described as a “multimedia cabaret”-style play that will feature two Israeli actors, one Jewish, one Arab.

Actors Ibrahim Miari and Meirav Kupperberg penned the play and star in it. Speaking in a phone interview from Tel Aviv, Howard Rypp, who not only directed the play but also translated it into English for the actors, did not want to reveal too much about it.

But he emphasized their motivation. “In light of a recent survey that was done that said Israel is the greatest danger to world peace, we decided to go abroad to improve the image of Israel in the world.”

Rypp founded the Nephesh Theatre Company in his native Canada in 1978, and then moved it to Israel when he emigrated in 1983.

And the actors Miari and Kupperberg met some years ago while in a production of the Akko Theatre Company. They have since been in several productions together, and plan more. Miari and Kupperberg both were in San Francisco for a period last year to work on a play in conjunction with Traveling Jewish Theatre. The collaborative effort with TJT is still in progress, and is planned for next fall.

While writing a play can take years, Rypp said that in this case, the actors had enough personal experience to draw upon, and therefore didn’t have to do any research.

“It’s all around you, all the time. It’s happening day to day,” he said. “At the same time, we try to keep in mind that for an audience abroad, they are not so familiar with the things we take for granted.

“The play is based on actual feelings and experiences that both have had in living here.”

The play has its satiric and comedic moments, as well as cross-cultural sharing, with the Arab actor performing a Chassidic dance, and the Jewish actor performing a belly dance. But it has its share of heavier moments, too. For example, both actors reflect on how they feel after a suicide bombing happens in Israel.

“In both cases, for both the Arab and the Jew, there are a lot of different conflicts,” Rypp said. “It’s a very complex situation, and all this material is great for drama.”

Shlomi Ravid, director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Israel Center, met the two actors when they were working with TJT here, and asked if they would write another play about coexistence, specifically tailored to a college-age audience. They agreed.

Ravid led them to producer Rypp, since last year he brought “It Sounds Better in Amharic” to the Bay Area. The play featured Ethiopian emigre to Israel Yossi Vassa, ruminating in comedic fashion about his family’s adjustment to life in the Jewish state.

At first, though, Rypp was working on another production.

“But I loved the concept of multimedia cabaret and the premise was great,” he said. “I saw these two people are so talented, and I couldn’t resist working with them.”

Sponsored by the Israel Center, the play is the first in a three-part series that will bring a message of coexistence through the arts to the area’s college campuses this year.

“We felt a need to bring another aspect of Israeli society to campuses and inject a little bit of hope that some coexistence and some dialogue exists between Jews and Arabs in Israel,” said Vavi Toran, director of cultural and educational resources at Israel Center.

Play dates

“Ambassadors of Very Good Will” will be performed at 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25, at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., S.F. A reception with the artists will follow. Cost is $10. Information: [email protected] or (415) 512-6424. The play also will be performed on Monday, Jan. 26, at Sonoma State University; on Tuesday, Jan. 27, at U.C. Davis; on Wednesday, Jan. 28 at U.C. Santa Cruz; and at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29 at Wurster Hall, U.C. Berkeley. Other information and times: (415) 512-6203.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."