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A 1990s Israeli play is the feminist production NY needs right now



(New York Jewish Week) — When Anat Gov’s play “HaChaverot Hachi Tovot” (“Best Friends”) premiered in 1999, it was an anomaly among Israeli works of theater. In fact, Gov wrote it with anomalous intentions: In an interview before it opened, she called the piece a form of “compensation for the fact that there are no good roles for women.”

To remedy this, Gov wrote a play with no male roles — a 100-minute romp down memory lane which calls into question the very nature of friendship and whether or not the love between BFFs can stand the test of time.

At the time, the play was a smash, winning the  Israel National Theater Award for best comedy of the year, and playing over 700 times during its initial run at the acclaimed Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv. “Best Friends” was then rewritten as a TV miniseries for HOT, a popular Israeli TV network, and re-staged in 2013, after Gov’s death the previous year.

Today, the play is enjoying a new imagining here in New York: Through April 2, it’s being performed at the Rattlestick Theater in Manhattan, in alternating performances in both Hebrew and English, by the team at the Israeli Artists Project, a non-profit that presents Israeli theater, music and art in the greater New York area.

“Best Friends” is ostensibly about friendship but touches on broad themes of jealousy, fertility struggles, betrayal and much more. And yet, intentionally or not, its deep dive into the force and fury of the female experience comes at a time when the cause of women’s rights is seeing setbacks in Israel and the United States.

“There are so many facets to our work,” says Yoni Venridger, founder and producing artistic director of IAP. “But to put it simply, we want to be a home where people of any affiliation can come together, enjoy our common culture, and put politics aside. In a way, everything we do is inherently political. We are, after all, representing a country. That said, we’re interested in doing Israeli things, being Israeli people, without automatically politicizing our events.”

The play, which is both hilarious and heartbreaking, centers on three women — Leli, Sophie and Tirtza — who are at a breaking point in their lifelong friendship. In the opening scene, Leli calls her two ex-besties to gather; it’s a matter of life or death, she says, refusing to say which one it is. Despite an extended period of silence between the three and heightened tensions between Sophie and Tirtza, in particular, they come together, and begin to unpack every single piece of emotional baggage they have.

As is the case in actual lifelong friendships, there’s a lot to unpack here: high school crushes, first loves, heartbreak, professional successes and woes, births, marriages — no stone is left unturned. Shouting ensues, and laughter, and some awkward silences.

“We need more plays that give central roles to women,” said Vendriger. “It’s not necessarily about writing plays without any male roles, either. What’s critical is writing more lead roles for women, more well-rounded, rich roles for women.”

“Best Friends” is an extreme version of this, of course, by omitting all men from the cast, and it easily passes the Bechdel Test — that is to say, it includes at least two named female characters who discuss something other than a man — with flying colors. Leli, Sophie and Tirtza certainly talk about men, love and heartbreak, but the primary focus is on how they’ve let themselves, and each other, down.

One of the most effective choices Gov made was to have the drama play out in two decades simultaneously. There are two casts: a young version of the women, in the 1960s, and a middle-aged version, in the 1990s. Beyond the illustrative power of showing friendship instead of telling about it, Gov creates a fascinating dynamic between the two sets of women. At times, the two casts interact, holding one another, reminding one another of their various strengths and shortcomings. Who among us hasn’t wished to warn or encourage our younger selves, or that our younger selves could remind us of who we once were?

This revisited version of Gov’s classic was slated to run in New York in May 2020 — but the pandemic, of course, made that impossible. Instead, it arrives in time for Women’s History Month 2023. “The timing kind of just worked out for us,” explained Vendriger.

From left, Maia Karo, Adi Kozlovsky and Karin Hershkovitz Kochavi play a trio of BFFs in “Best Friends.” (Courtesy)

In Israel, a right-wing government is under siege by rivers of enraged citizens — primarily because of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul, now on pause. But there is pushback among liberal Israelis for other reasons as well. Recently, Betzalel Smotrich, a far-right member of Knesset and the current minister of finance, made sure that Israel would not sign the UN’s International Violence Against Women Act. Prior to this, Smotrich had called himself a “proud homophobe;” he organized a “bestiality parade” as a counter-parade to the Jerusalem Pride march in 2006.

In the United States, women’s rights are also threatened — including by the dismantling of Roe v. Wade, ensuring their right to an abortion.

Against this backdrop, the 1990s of “Best Friends” look downright progressive. To Vendriger, however, this play is about the timeless nature of friendship.

“Gov managed to write in a way that makes her work continuously relevant, regardless of the passage of time,” he said. “It’s the humanity of it. There are connections, power struggles, interpersonal attractions — that stuff  will never change. Despite the fact that it’s originally from the ’90s, the meditation on the power and fragility of friendship, on the fact that we need to maintain and work on friendships, it all feels immediate and very appropriate for the present day.”

In fact, the IAP team made no changes to the original text.

The play works today, in 2023, because it leans on universal, wide-reaching themes. At the same time, there is a palpable Israeliness to the whole thing, whether it’s the prickly slang or the fact that one character, whose son is serving in the first Lebanon War, is jealous that her friend’s son has asthma, and therefore gets to stay home.

“‘Best Friends’ integrates the complexity of humanity, friendship and Israeli society, and brings them into the realm of humor,” said director Hamutal Posklinsky-Shehory. “It’s funny, but it’s also dramatic and very witty. [In this iteration] the whole staff is female. All the actresses are — six onstage and two understudies — plus the assistant director, play manager, lighting designer, and costume designer. I feel this is very appropriate for the age that we’re living in and really underlines the space we need to give for female identifying artists.”

When Posklinsky-Shehory isn’t directing, she’s a drama therapist at NYC Peace of Mind, a group psychotherapy practice that brings together drama therapists to support and enrich one another’s creative treatment approaches. Her work, she said, informed her directorial choices. “The relationships presented between the three friends are not the healthiest ones,” she said, “and we went through a process, truly trying to figure out and understand the motivations and [emotional landscapes] of the characters.”

To this end, the cast used therapeutic techniques alongside theatrical practices in order to deepen their connections and understanding. “We incorporated some writing activities, with the actors writing to their characters. Another time, we sought connections and differences between our actors and the characters that they play, as a group. In this way, we developed trust and deepened our bond with one another,” she said.

This is, in a sense, the bottom line of the play: the bonds that tie, and how they can unravel under the strains of a lifetime. “As humans, we’re complex,” said Posklinsky-Shehory. “Even in a play that’s all fantastic and sweet and nostalgic, there’s still the complexity and darkness [of life]. I’d like people to leave with an understanding that what we feel is perfect and complex, and that’s OK. We need to accept those parts of ourselves and our society.”

The post A 1990s Israeli play is the feminist production NY needs right now appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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