Earlier this week, Israel’s national theatre, Habima, had the honour of taking to Shakespeare’s own stage to perform, in Hebrew, The Merchant of Venice. The JLC, also had the pleasure of hosting HE Daniel Taub, Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Lord and Lady Sacks, Lord Winston, Rabbi Danny Rich and other JLC members and dignitaries for Tuesday’s performance.
As part of the Cultural Olympiad, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre had invited theatre companies from around the world to perform some of Shakespeare’s best known plays in their native languages – from Dari Farsi to various Arabic dialects to Mandarin, and even Othello in Hip Hop.
The Habima Theatre Company was set up in post revolution Moscow in the early 1900s as the world’s first Hebrew language theatre company. It was one of those institutions, envisioned by Eliezer ben-Yehuda that helped transform Hebrew from an academic language of religion to a living language of a people and a culture. Habima relocated to Tel Aviv in the 1920s and was officially recognised as Israel’s national theatre company in the 1950s.
From the opening scene, the whole audience – Hebrew speakers and not – were drawn in by the fantastic and dynamic performance by Habima. It was truly a fantastic experience, especially hearing Shylock’s famous “Hath a Jew not eyes?” speech in Hebrew.
Many blogs, tweets and reviews have highlighted how great the play was, but there has also been lots of coverage of the feeble attempts to disrupt and boycott the play.
The truth is, this was a failure for the anti-Israel protesters. We sometimes forget how defensive and reactive the boycotters really are – because we only hear from them when they have something to protest against! In reality, the boycotters lost the moment Habima was invited. Their pathetic efforts were only the whining of bad losers.
A hundred years ago, a Hebrew performance of Shakespeare would have been inconceivable. This week, a Hebrew theatre troupe from a Jewish country performed at the Globe, to a sold-out house, while pro-Israel supporters greeted them outside. That should be the cause of both wonderment and celebration.