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A family-friendly Jewish play explores themes of forgiveness with puppets, music and more

(New York Jewish Week) — Just in time for the High Holidays, a new, family-friendly Jewish play will make its Off-Broadway debut on Sunday, Sept. 10. 

“Out of the Apple Orchard” is based on the first book of Yvonne David’s acclaimed “Apple Tree” series. The two-book series — a third is forthcoming — follows the Jewish Bieman family as they immigrate from a shtetl in Lithuania, first to New York City and then to the Catskill Mountains. Adam Bieman, the boy whose family life is chronicled in the series, is inspired by the author’s own son, who was coming of age when she began writing the books.

Premiering at Actors’ Temple Theater (339 West 47th St.) on Sunday, just days before Rosh Hashanah, “Out of the Apple Orchard” explores themes of forgiveness and reconciliation — perfectly timed for Judaism’s annual season of self-reflection. During the Jewish months of Elul and Tishrei, which fall in the late summer/early fall, Jews are encouraged to look within, connect to who they’ve been and who they want to be. “Out of the Apple Orchard” follows a Jewish family at the turn of the last century that is doing just that — and in doing so provides audiences with an opportunity for both fun and introspection.

“This play has so many layers,” director Nicole Raphael told the New York Jewish Week. “It’s all about unfolding the story and its complexities. We really see things from the children’s points of view. They see the sentimentality for the Old Country, but also the harsh reality of pogroms and Cossacks; the love that permeates family life, but also the very real mistakes both adults and children make.” 

“The play really asks how to handle mistakes, how to mend your ways,” she added. “To me, this is such an important theme — and especially during Rosh Hashanah.”

The “Out of the Apple Orchard” script was crafted by Ellen W. Kaplan, professor emerita of acting and directing at Smith College, who worked closely with David and Raphael to create a staged version that would bring the philosophy behind the story to the fore. 

The play opens with Adam Bieman dreaming that he and his Bubbe are in a sepia-toned photograph. The picture comes alive as the family matriarch relates tales of the shtetl — setting the scene for what is to come. When the play premiered in Orlando in 2016, the staging of this scene was reminiscent of the nightmare sequence from “Fiddler on the Roof.” In the New York production, however, the ancestors aren’t warning of changes to come. Instead, Bubbe is detailing the brutality of the pogroms and the importance of leaving Lithuania for a new life. 

The year is 1910, and the Bieman family leave Europe to find their fortunes in America. After a time on the Lower East Side of New York City, though, Adam’s father becomes ill. The Biemans are advised to head to the Catskills, with the idea that mountain air will do Papa a world of good. So they head north.

But the Catskills are as harsh as the city or the shtetl, albeit in different ways. Poverty persists. Papa is still ill. The family is hungry. Adam, tempted by ripe red apples in a nearby orchard, shoves some pieces of fruit under his hand-me-down cap. Later, riddled with guilt, he becomes haunted by his thievery. Through this and other travails, Adam and his family are faced with a central question: How can they retain their moral understanding of the world when hardship abounds?

“The story is almost a continuation of ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” Raphael said. “Imagine what would happen when Tevye arrived on the Lower East Side — you know, so many immigrants got sick at the turn of the last century. Adam’s Papa was a brilliant tailor, but now he’s sick. Still, he brought his family to America, did everything so they could to thrive. We want the audience to fall in love with Papa, to appreciate him for how he tries to support his family.” 

And, indeed, Adam’s Papa cares deeply about his family. He worries about not being able to care for them, conceding eventually that they should help him sew the suits he was once famous for making. “With my family helping me finish the suits, we will not starve,” he says in his central scene. “My heart is kvelling and swelling with love.”

Throughout the play, a fiddler, portrayed by Victoria Chaieb (who both performs and wrote the violin music), follows Adam across the stage, emphasizing his internal process. Ben Rauch composed and orchestrated an original score inspired by traditional Yiddish and Jewish melodies and, to a lesser extent, vaudeville-inspired songs. 

Extensive puppetry adds an otherworldly — even mystical — air to the staging, too. For example, as the young protagonist descends into a spiral of guilt over his thievery, a large red bird flutters around him. In the book, Adam simply glimpses a red bird as he dwells on his moral dilemma while at school. “It’s visually thrilling,” author David told the New York Jewish Week. “It represents Adam’s conscience.”

In addition to directing the play, Raphael has created an accompanying curriculum in partnership with Park Avenue Synagogue, where she’s a second-grade Hebrew school teacher. The lessons include themes of teshuva, or repentance, Yiddish culture and the Jewish history of the Catskill Mountains. Eventually, she envisions the play and the curriculum being distributed across the country and used in classrooms everywhere. “I see this as the continuation of our oral history, both for our communities and everyone else in the modern day,” she said. “I’ve been an educator in Manhattan for 15 years at different synagogues; I really feel that directing the play and developing the companion curriculum is like everything I’ve worked on all coming together.”

While the themes of the play are rooted in Jewish culture and history, Raphael and David both told New York Jewish Week they see the play’s overarching theme as a universal one.

“There’s so much upsetting divisiveness in this country,” David said. “I think we need to come together. We’re squandering our lives on anger and discrimination. In the end, we’re all in this world together and it’s up to us to make the best of everything, not the worst.”

“Out of the Apple Orchard” is playing at Actors’ Temple Theater (339 West 47th Street) from Sunday, Sept. 10 through Thursday, Sept. 14. Tickets and info here. 

The post A family-friendly Jewish play explores themes of forgiveness with puppets, music and more appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Biden Administration Urges Israel to Tone Down Response to Hezbollah Aggression in Bid to Avert Wider Conflict

Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of Wissam Tawil, a commander of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan forces who according to Lebanese security sources was killed during an Israeli strike on south Lebanon, in Khirbet Selm, Lebanon, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

The Biden administration has been pushing the Israeli government to de-escalate hostilities with Hezbollah to prevent a full-scale war from breaking out along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where the powerful Iran-backed terrorist group wields significant political and military influence.

In Israel’s north, Hezbollah terrorists have been firing rockets at Israel daily from southern Lebanon since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre, leading Israeli forces to strike back. Tensions have been escalating between both sides, fueling concerns that the conflict in Gaza — the Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas, another Iran-backed Islamist terrorist group, to Israel’s south — could escalate into a regional conflict.

More than 80,000 Israelis evacuated Israel’s north in October and have since been unable to return to their homes. The majority of those spent the past eight months residing in hotels in safer areas of the country. The mass displacement has ramped up pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a swift resolution to the situation.

The ongoing conflict between both sides escalated on Tuesday when senior Hezbollah commander Taleb Sami Abdullah was killed in an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by launching over 200 missiles into northern Israel. 

During Abdullah’s funeral, senior Hezbollah official Hachem Saffieddine vowed that the terrorist group would intensify its strikes on Israel. 

“Our response after the martyrdom of Abu Taleb will be to intensify our operations in severity, strength, quantity and quality,” Saffieddine said. “Let the enemy wait for us in the battlefield.”

In Israel, meanwhile, officials have said they prefer a diplomatic solution to the current crisis but are prepared to escalate military action to push Hezbollah back from the border in order to allow internally displaced Israelis to return home. Polling has shown that the majority of the Israeli public wants the military to engage in expanded actions against the Lebanese terrorist group, which is committed to Israel’s destruction.

The Biden administration has been advising Netanyahu against pursuing the idea of a “limited war” against Hezbollah, arguing that it could spark a regional war throughout the Middle East. According to multiple reports, US officials have warned Israel that Iran could dispatch militants from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen into Lebanon to bolster Hezbollah’s effort.

The White House has also expressed concern  that Israeli officials do not have a clear strategy on how to keep the war contained to solely Lebanon. Fear of a broader regional war has intensified the Biden administration’s urgency to finalize a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, which launched the ongoing war in Gaza by slaughtering over 1,200 people throughout southern Israel and kidnapping more than 250 others on Oct. 7.

“We are concerned about an increase in activity in the north. We don’t want this to escalate to a broad regional conflict and we urge de-escalation,” a Pentagon spokesperson told reporters this week.

The Pentagon also released a statement saying that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin discussed efforts to “de-escalate tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border in the wake of Lebanese Hezbollah’s increased aggression.”

According to multiple reports, Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden for energy and investment, will head to Israel on Monday in an effort to temper tensions between the Jewish state and Hezbollah. Hochstein will meet with Netanyahu and Gallant with the goal of swaying them against green-lighting a “limited ground invasion” in Lebanon. Hochstein will reportedly also journey to Beirut to conduct discussions with Lebanese officials.

“There was a lot of work, diplomatic work done behind the scenes by several folks in the US administration, working with regional powers and our allies to try and tamp this down,” Hochstein has said regarding the prospect of a regional war erupting in the Middle East.

Hochstein argued that preventing a large-scale war between Israel and Lebanon requires “active engagement” with both parties and for the public of both countries to “understand the risks” of further escalation. He added that “despite the bravado talk” coming from government officials, Lebanese people do not to go to war with Israel.

“The bottom line is a lot of civilians will die,” Hochstein said.

Despite chest-thumping by Hezbollah leaders, experts believe that the elimination of Abdullah might cause Hezbollah to exercise caution in engaging further with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

The powerful elimination worries Hezbollah members. They now understand that the IDF knows much more about them than we do,” Professor Amatzia Baram told The Jerusalem Post. “Additionally, the operation indicates that Hezbollah’s field security is not airtight and that the organization’s intelligence system has been penetrated to such an extent that we were able to eliminate such an important sector commander. The IDF managed to infiltrate their networks and systems and identify the right people for elimination.”

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Iranian Court Sentences Woman to 18 Years in Prison for Supporting Israel

Iranian protesters carry a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a Yemeni flag as they burn an Israeli flag during an anti-US and anti-British protest in front of the British embassy in downtown Tehran, Iran, Jan. 12, 2024. Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Reuters Connect

Fatemeh Sepehri, a prominent Iranian dissident and political prisoner, has been sentenced to an additional 18 and a half years in prison after she publicly expressed support for Israel.

The harsh prison sentence appeared to be at least partly in response to a video clip released on Oct. 16 from Ghaem Hospital in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad in which Sepehri, who suffers from a heart ailment, condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. Hamas is backed by the Iranian regime, which provides the Palestinian terror group in Gaza with funding, weapons, and training.

“I emphatically declare that the Iranian nation stands in solidarity with the people of Israel,” she said. “I hope [Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks] closes the Islamic Republic’s chapter in history.”


For 45 years, Iranian women have tirelessly battled for their rights, freedom, and advancement. Among them, Fatemeh Sepehri has boldly challenged the ideals of the Islamic Republic. NUFDI proudly awards her the 2024 Humanitarian Award.

— سه خط طلا (@misanthropgirl) March 19, 2024

Although Fatimeh’s court records are unavailable to the public, her brother Asghar Sepehri tweeted details about the sentence. According to her sibling, Fatimeh was sentenced earlier this month by a judge of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Mashhad to seven years for supporting Israel, another seven years for conspiring against internal security, three years for insulting Iran’s so-called “supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and one year and six months for propaganda against the Islamist regime.

Iran’s rulers regularly call for the destruction of Israel, often referring to the Jewish state as a “cancerous tumor” or “the Zionist entity.”

Sepehri was originally arrested in Sept. 2022 following the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young woman whose death at the hands of Iran’s morality police sparked nationwide protests against the ruling Islamist regime on an unprecedented scale.

Sepehri’s pro-Israel video was posted after she was temporary released from prison to undergo open-heart surgery. According to her family, Sepehri has been subjected to intense “psychological torture” while in prison. Her brothers, Mohammad-Hossein and Hossein, have also received severe sentences for similar charges: eight years and two years and 11 months, respectively.

In the past, Sepehri has been an outspoken critic of Khamenei and the Islamic Republic more broadly. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported in 2021 that Sepehri said on video that she hoped to see the day when Khamenei would be dragged through the streets and killed like Libya’s late ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Days after Sepehri received her sentence, Iran released political prisoner Louis Arnaud, a French citizen, on Thursday. Arnaud was arrested in Sept. 2022 as anti-government protests were erupting across Iran. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted shortly after Arnaud’s release, “Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran.”

Louis Arnaut is greeted by Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné at Paris’ Le Bourget Airport following his release from Iran. Photo: Screenshot

Three French nationals remain imprisoned in Iran as political prisoners. French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné posted on social media that securing their release remains a top priority.

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Former ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Star Patricia Heaton: Every Human Being Should Be Against Antisemitism

One of the billboards erected in partnership between JewBelong and O7C. Photo: Instagram

Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton said this week that following the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, it should be a “natural” reaction among all humans to want to combat antisemitism, as well as support the Jewish people and Israel’s right to exist.

The “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle” star, who is a devout Catholic, made the comments during her guest appearance on the NewsNation show “CUOMO,” where she also advocated for Christians to voice solidarity with Jews and Israel after Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 people and took 250 hostages during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Heaton began by telling host Chris Cuomo that after the Oct. 7 atrocities, she was “confused by the lack of outcry from the churches.”

“I even posted on Instagram, ‘Did you ever have that thought that if you were in Germany during World War II, you hoped that you would be that good German that helped to hide your Jewish neighbors? Well, today you have that opportunity,’” she added.

Following the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton founded a nonprofit called the Oct. 7 Coalition (O7C) to urge Christians to be visibly outspoken against antisemitism, and in support of Jews and Israel’s right to exist. Heaton’s O7C has since teamed up with the nonprofit JewBelong to launch a nationwide billboard campaign to raise awareness about antisemitism in the US.

Talking about why she wanted to get involved in rallying support for Israel and Jewish communities facing a rise in antisemitism in the US since the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton said, “I think if you’re a human being, that should be your natural response to what we saw.” When asked about how people in the entertainment industry have reacted to her avid pro-Israel stance, she said Jewish friends in the business have called her “brave and courageous.”

“[But] I just think this is just a normal human reaction,” she said. “I have heard ‘We have projects we have to promote. We don’t want to bring politics into it.’ I guess if someone spent 50 or 100 million on a movie, they don’t want to introduce this subject matter and I guess you can understand that. But generally speaking I think Hollywood could do more to support our Jewish community.”

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