There is a reason we keep coming back to the works of William Shakespeare. Underneath the seemingly confusing language and 16th-century clothing are stories about human beings.
A new adaptation of The Merchant of Venice premiered at the Theater for a New Audience on February 5th in Brooklyn. John Douglas Thompson stars at the eponymous Shylock, a Jewish merchant, whose world is torn apart by two interwoven narratives. His daughter, Jessica (Danaya Esperanza) falls in love with and elopes with a Christian boy, Lorenzo (David Lee Hyunh). As a condition of her vows, she had to convert to Christianity.
Meanwhile, Bassanio (Sanjit De Silva) is in love with Portia (Isabella Arraiza). But he cannot marry her without money. Portia is an heiress whose potential marriage is tied to a challenge tied to her fortune by her late father. Bassanio turns to Antonio (Alfredo Narciso) for advice (and financial assistance) who turns to Shylock for a loan because of his own money problems.
I loved this play. For obvious reasons (ahem, antisemitism) this story is still too relevant. What made it unique was the multi-cultural colorblind cast and the modern clothing worn by the actors. The thing that strikes me about The Merchant of Venice is that if the word “Jew” is replaced by any other ethnicity, the impact would be the same. The hatred, the prejudice, and the accusations would be just as potent.
After watching Thompson play the role, I have a deeper understanding of his character. This is a man who has been verbally assaulted by his neighbors for years. The final nail in the coffin is the loss of his daughter, sending him over the edge and unable to hold in the anger that has been bubbling beneath the surface.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
The Merchant of Venice is playing at the Theater for a New Audience until March 6th, 2022. Check the website for ticket availability and showtimes.
These days, there is a lot of talk about diversity and learning to get along. But talk is cheap. We have to walk the walk if we want our actions to match our words.
In the wake of the hostages that were taken at the synagogue in Texas a couple of weeks ago, it would have been easy to turn to anger and despair. It is a sad fact that after 5000 years, Jews are still dealing with antisemitism and the lies that come from it.
But there is still a little bit of light in the darkness. On the 18th, the People of the Pod podcast released a special episode relating to the events of the 15th. As the news unfolded, local Jewish, Muslim, and Christian clergy waited at a nearby church, hoping and praying that the hostages would come out alive.
Listening to the interviews, I could see the light in the darkness. There are good people in this world. If only there was enough to stop hate in its tracks.
These days, depending on who you speak to, religious intermarriage is either just part of normal life or has a hand in breaking down the various faiths. But for as many opinions on this subject that exist, there is one thing that cannot be disputed: it is not a new idea.
The Convert, written by Stefan Hertmans and translated by David McKay, was published last year. In eleventh century France, an unlikely couple has fallen in love. He is David Todros, the son of a prominent Jewish Rabbi and a yeshiva student. She is Vigdis Adelaïs, the daughter of a high ranking Christian family. In spite of the obstacles of faith, family and everything around them that is telling them to back off, they decide to get married. Vigdis converts to Judaism, giving up the life she had before she met David.
She expects that she her father will do everything in his power to bring her home. What she does not expect is an anti-Semiticpogrom and a journey that will take her halfway around the world before she returns to Europe.
Based on the Cairo Genizah, a group of documents and scrolls dating back more than a thousand years, this book is part fact and part fiction. What I liked was that the format is different than other novels in this genre. As we follow the characters on their respect journey, we travel with the author as he goes on a similar journey to put the pieces of the puzzle together. He is able to walk the fine line of using the information that is known while adding historical details that make the period come alive.
What I appreciate is that Vigdis is not the helpless damsel in distress type. She has experiences that could easily kill her. But she survives and is able to make it through a world that others her as both a woman and a Jew.
In the Jewish faith, Psalm 137 has the following lines:
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget [her cunning]/ If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”
The new six part CNN miniseries, Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury premiered last night. Over the course of the six episodes Sundays, the program tells the story of the city of Jerusalem via six key battles that changed the fate of the city and the region. Combining re-enactments with interviews with historians and Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars, the viewer is given a 360 degree picture of it’s past, it’s present, and perhaps, a glimpse of its future.
The first episode focused on the glory days of King Saul, King David, and the downfall of ancient Israel after the death of King Solomon. I enjoyed the first episode. If nothing else, it proved that humanity has not changed one bit. Externally, the world may look different, but inside, it is the same as it ever was. It is also, I think a pathway to understanding what has come before us so we can create a better world for future generations.
Do I recommend it? Yes.
Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury airs on CNN on Sunday night at 10PM.
I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but there is one song that to me forever feels relevant: Carefully Taught, from the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. One of the verses is as follows:
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/You’ve got to be taught from year to year/It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear/You’ve got to be carefully taught
Mohammed Al Samawi was born in Yemen. Raised in a religious Muslim family, he was taught to believe that Judaism, Christianity and anything in general belonging to western society was inherently evil. Then, at the age of 23, he received a copy of the New Testament. This small action started him on a journey of not just acceptance of others, but ultimately forced him to leave his family and his country and make a new life in America.
This book is mind blowing. I had a number of thoughts as I read this memoir. The first thought is that we can overcome prejudice and hate, if we are willing and we have the opportunity. The second thought is that his story feels like it could belong to anyone, regardless of faith or family background. The final thought is that hating someone because they are different feels like a waste of emotions and energy. We only get one spin on this on planet, why waste it hating someone else when you could just go about your business?
In world news, Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese wife and mother who is eight months pregnant with her second child has been sentenced the death. Her crime: converting from Islam to Christianity.
Despite the fact that Sudan has secular laws that permit religious freedom, Sharia law is the law of the land. According to Sharia law, because Mrs. Ibrahim’s father is a Muslim, then she is a Muslim. By converting to Christianity, she is guilty of apostasy.
There is something wrong here. Maybe I feel so strongly about this case because I am an American, because I know what it is like to be open about my faith and pray freely. When it comes to one’s religion, whatever one may believe, I’m all for living and let living. There is more to worry about in life than another’s religious beliefs, if they have any.
But what I take offense to, is the demand that if one does not covert to or believe in another’s religious beliefs, then their life is worthless. Too many have died because they would rather remain true to their own religion, than submit to the religion of their neighbor or their government.