Shoshana takes Jaffa: a cold Brechtian rendition of a hot rococo adventure

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Shoshana in Palestine tells the story of Shoshana Austerlitz, the pseudonym for an American Jew interloper in Palestine. You could think of her as a typical microcosm, total outlier or lavish send-off on foreign aid work, traveling through Palestine on unexamined privilege and benevolent Orientalism. This is an ostensible Jewish parody on Jewish-American megalomania, by someone who knows it best.

Scene: black box theatre

Lights down. Shoshana struts to center stage.

Shoshana: Hi, my name is Shoshana, and I’m an American. An American abroad. I just had a very Israeli experience, American reaction and Palestine-rapturous Orientalist pique. Come, let me tell you about it….

Soft pats on the hard chalky stage as Shoshana glides, like a long-dead ghost to one of many dead centers of the conflict, depending on how we are defining death: JAFFA

Shoshana: As you can see (mini-stage opens onto an ad hoc scene of little boats made of popsicle sticks gently rocking in a shallow bowl of water) I’m in Jaffa, a major Palestinian city pre-Israel and now a “mixed,” largely Palestinian Israeli city-within-a-city… it’s technically part of Tel Aviv (since 1950) with a 65/35 Jewish-to-Palestinian population. Why am I here? Well, I came to Jaffa to see what was up with Palestine in Israel/48 as opposed to the Palestine of my more semi-regular habitation: Occupied East Jerusalem on the easily crossable–esp. to the “intrepid” i.e. American–border with Israeli West Jerusalem.

Gosh, I love an intermediary place. Do you? I love crossing and homing and leaving again… But I don’t like Jaffa. In my all-consuming Palestine obsession, I find it frustratingly Israeli. I hear so much Arabic but see no Palestinian flags. It feels generalized and deracinated. Are Palestinian flags in Israel/48 still banned? (Yes, in various iterations from 1948 until 1993… ) And Why Do I Want To See Them So Bad? I go for long walks and evaporate in the sun, as perhaps all Jews in Palestine should, desperate to slake my thirst for a certain kind of interaction: Jews ’n Palestinians in Palestine, not Israel; a certain light quality…. I languish. I loll. I walk past the knafeh shop so many times because the knafeh man is beautiful though the knafeh mediocre. I attempt to speak to Palestinians in the 1 percent Arabic I know, to which they respond quizzically/unimpressed in 90 percent Hebrew and 10 percent English.

A side character, Mañana, beelines up at a hard-right angle:

Mañana: Shoshana is her own self-appointed hero. Why is she even here?

Another side character, Tirana, beelines up from the opposing angle, creating a many-angled diamantine shape, streaming onto the bare and dusty theatre stage like so many jewels

Tirana: Genres fluctuate and so do we. We have long passed the question of Shoshana’s raison d’être. Why are any of us here etc.

The three girls hold hands: Shoshana, Mañana, Tirana. Where were YOU in 1492?

Mañana: But why…?

Tirana: No!

Shoshana: Please. I must speak!

Tirana: Yes

Mañana: Go on…

The three girls huddle together. The information is sacred, or maybe the intimacy informing the information.

Shoshana: Today I was visiting an Israeli cafe in Ajami, which I naively and over-zealously thought was a purely Palestinian neighborhood. I was wrong. That movie led me astray. Ajami is now very gentrified which has many convenient and death knelling effects on many different angles but… well, I heard the coffee at this cafe was good, extra Italian etc so I thought I’d take a look. But no. Fuck that place.

A picture taken on January 15, 2014 shows the remains of an old house, in Jaffa. (Photo: Saeed Qaq/APA Images)

Scene break as a new character impersonating the Israeli cafe proprietor comes on stage to role play with Shoshana the scene at the gentrified Ajami cafe:

Paul, Israeli proprietor: No wifi! I told you

Shoshana, American desirer: It’s cool.. I’ll just use the hotspot thing

Israeli: Move! I need you to move! I need these tables! Now!

American: Whaaat

Israeli (tacit): This is my cafe/country

American (tacit): I fucking own your cafe/country

Israeli (tacit): But you are a Jew so it is OK

American (tacit): But I am a Jew so it is ok (… to infiltrate! to use my unearned privilege to play the game but also criticize it! I promise!)

Israeli (tacit): Tough Love/Grow Up/Man Up/Werd Erwachsen/Violence is Life/What’s Wrong With You American (tacit): I am the ocean. I am the opposite of you, better than you and I understand “you” i.e. your simple composite elements lacking a cohesive whole and you will never understand yourself the way I do because I secretly am “you” i.e. we are all potential. I was born in the pith of the world. I am the world’s unconscious. I am the ocean. You make coffee. Have you heard the thing about how Jews-as-Chosen-are-supposed-to-represent-the-world e.g. Jews, being both special and representative, if we are free, apparently the WHOLE WORLD is free? I feel the same way literally and only about myself and my future children not based on Jewishness but because my life is a blessing and I was born to rule. Fuck you and fuck your coffee.

Israeli: Jews are wonderful. L’chaim Hamdullilah etc

American: I am a god. I will drown this place.

Shoshana, the Ocean: And then he came very, very close to my face, flipped his thumb up as if to say ‘beat it!’ to which I was invigorated with amused shock and hatred, ready to fight and laugh my head off. How DARE he. Outwardly, brazenly, shamelessly cruel, as cruel as Americans are interglobally, on the world scale, but not to your face. Not because we’re deceptive but because we DON’T GET IT. We don’t know the pain our policies and privilege create! In person, we are truly lovely, open, enthusiastic and I love to meet us abroad: an instant kinship. Whereas the Israeli, insofar as I am limning him, was mean, cynical and small-minded, thinking he was in charge. Presumptuous. Plus, he bemoaned my use of English, the International Language Supreme. How DARE he. How dare anyone treat me as if they want me to LEAVE. Why? Is this not a tiny glimpse of how Palestinians are treated?

Shoshana collapses. Tirana and Mañana slowly circle around her, lifting her up by her waist and her shoulders, leading her gently off the stage.

Shoshana: God, I miss Jerusalem… .

Tirana: Shoshana, why do you like Jerusalem so much?

Mañana: Isn’t it primarily because of your own personal, social experiences with friends and lovers?

Shoshana: Yes

Tirana: I thought it was about politics

Shoshana: Everything is politics. What are politics? What is art?

Mañana: I always wanted to be named Shoshana. Were you named after your mom?

Shoshana: In the simplest sense, no. Patrilineal/matrilineal naming rituals differ from region to region and person to person…

A Passing Snail, small and gentle, oozes silently onto the stage

Passing snail: I have no desire to learn Arabic or Hebrew. I am an American Snail

Shoshana: Me too. I love English. I know I should get out of myself more, but…

Passing snail: I’m so tired

Shoshana: تعبان

Mañana and Tirana, like the Trojan horse, climb on top of the Passing Snail, pulling Shoshana up with them as they blast off happily into the cosmos–here: a dusty pile of lime and sawdust resembling ashes loosely brushed together into a simple pile at the foot of the stage

The audience applauds. The curtain falls, and with it a series of clothespins previously holding up the curtain. Achoo!

That’s the effect of the dust.

The End

A picture taken on January 15, 2014 shows a man ride his car past the mosque of sea, near the Jaffa seaport. (Photo: Saeed Qaq/APA Images)
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anticipating the next set-piece:
the persecution and excommunication of american jews as performed by the inmates of the likud asylum under the direction of political force beyond their control
– by shoshana a., the new p. weiss

“The three girls hold hands: Shoshana, Mañana, Tirana.”

And begin a lilting trio: ‘Three little maids from schul are we, filled to the brim with girlish glee…’