The hero and his death. Hebrew theatre between national revival and voices of dissent

Article in journal
Materia Giudaica 25 (2020), ISSN: 2282-4499

Tags: Hebrew theatre | Israel studies | Theatre criticism | Theatre history


The first play staged after Israel’s Independence in May 1948, Moshe Shamir’s He walked in the fields, was regarded as a secret weapon in the ongoing war. Its hero, young kibbutznik and fighter Uri, was the embodiment of the New Israeli Jew, one of the founding myths of the nation. The birth of a Hebrew-language theatre few decades before had closely intertwined with the national and linguistic revival in the Land of Israel. Hebrew theatre and the Zionist enterprise were in a two-way relationship, advancing in parallel towards shared goals, with the political establishment supporting the arts and the arts reinforcing national ideology.
The hero created and hitherto promoted on stage found his death right on the stage after the 1967 Six-Day War. In the euphoric and triumphant national mood following the recent victory, Hanoch Levin’s satirical cabarets abruptly introduced new narratives of the war, ridiculing the sacred national values and rejecting the rhetoric of sacrifice. The shows were met with hostility by many, yet the the heroic narrative had been called into question once and for all, freeing Hebrew theatre from its role in the national enterprise and paving the way to more mature drama.

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