‘Ki Banu Baharta’ (‘Because It’s Us That You Have Chosen’) is the kind of a play that speaks mostly for Jewish audiences and probably only in Israel. It’s a strong drama about personal and family identity, but I doubt that it makes much sense for non-Jewish audiences and many of the situations and dilemmas are specific to life in Israel. The author is Yochi Brandes, who is at her first staged work, but has already written novels inspired by her religious background, and by the conflict between the harsh requirements of the world she left and the rules of the Jewish Halakha and the modern society.

The story goes like this. The Sassons are the typical Israeli family. The generation of the parents live a traditional life, but the children split in ways of life and political positions. The only son is gay and lives with his partner. The elder daughter is divorced, a skeptical character, but married for the second time with a more traditionalist husband. The younger daughter is religious and a right-wing activist involved with the militant settlers movement. When the mother of the family dies, a secret hidden in a forgotten paper in the drawer blows the reality up in the face of all. The mother of the family was not the Jewish descendant of Holocaust survivors, but a German gentile, and daughter of a Nazi officer. This is no simple matter for a family whose life is governed in part by the rules of the Halakha, and in a country where the orthodox establishment rules on family matters from birth to death, from the registration of the religion of the new-born child to the place of burial in the cemetery. Suddenly all the children in the family are no longer Jewish – at least formally. Or are they?

source www.habima.co.il

Unfortunately the strong starting point leads to little good theater in this recent representation of Habima (the national theater of Israel, still without a stage despite the promises that the new building will be inaugurated this year). First, the lack of experience of playwright Brandes is visible in the hanging of the action after the build-up. There is too little substance, there are too many questions which are not asked  or if asked are not answered. Why did the mother hide her secret, and who was her actually? We learned nothing of the motivations of the woman who seemed to live an exemplary Jewish life, but hid a secret she knew will blow up the universe of the whole family. While the destruction of the family fabric is understandable, there is little emotional logic beyond the getting together which is rhetoric and not credible.

Director Yitzik Weingarten tried his best with the material at hand. With too little drama and too thin dialogs to rely upon he relied more on the musical interludes – Jewish zemirot, traditional religious songs which create the atmosphere and pace the story the way the chorus works in the classical Greek tragedies. This idea worked up to a certain point, the musicians were excellent, but the overall result looks closer to an oratorio than to a theater play. The cast does a reasonably professional job with one exception – Uri Avrahami in the role of a graveyard keeper with a story of himself, the moral and traditional raisoneur of the play. If only for his performance it was worth seeing this play.