Play addresses Israel-Palestine

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is a constant in the Middle East, and plays out in less violent ways with regularity even in Ashland on the editorial pages of local newspapers and in periodic protests.

Rabbi Marc Sirinsky of the Temple Emek Shalom wants to get past the diatribes and focus on dialogue on a human level in his new play "Anxious State," being performed this weekend at the temple.

"As a rabbi the people who really hear me are members of my congregation," Sirinsky said. "What I'm really interested in is dialogue with people who are not in the congregation, but members of our community who have a different point of view."

Sirinsky has been rabbi at the Temple Emek Shalom for 16 years, but before that he worked as a writer and director for 18 years in television, film and theater. With a master's degree in theater arts, Sirinsky found stepping back into playwright's shoes was not a stretch.

Sirinsky adapted "Anxious State" from a Daniel Gordis book, "If a Place Can Make You Cry: Dispatches from an Anxious State." Sirinsky was impressed by the book, which grew from a collection of Gordis' e-mails after he and his family visited Israel and ended up immigrating there. Sirinsky's one-act play follows Gordis as his new homeland becomes more dangerous and explores his growth politically and ethically.

"It's dealing with the desire to live in peace and the challenges for those who wanted peace in that region," Sirinsky said. "The perspective is that of a father, a husband, a man on the street. It really appealed to me that he was speaking from a very human level."

Part of Sirinsky's drive to write the play came out of a series of plays put on by Oregon Stage Works, a collection spurred by a local production of "My Name is Rachel Corrie."

"Rachel Corrie" was first set to run at OSW in 2007, but was canceled after members of the Jewish community and others protested that the play was too one-sided.

The issue was only temporarily shelved, however, as OSW Artistic Director Peter Alzado brought "Rachel Corrie" back as part of a collection of plays designed to give a more balanced approach to the conflict. "Things We Do" ran in May 2009 and included "Rachel Corrie," "The Jewish Wife," "Masked" and "A Tiny Piece of Land."

Sirinsky worked with Alzado on choosing the plays, but still felt something was missing. He sees "Anxious State" as a closer parallel to "Rachel Corrie," and would like to see the two put on at the college level across the country as an educational theater experience.

Corrie was killed by Israeli Defense Forces while participating in a demonstration to stall an Israeli armored bulldozer from destroying homes of Palestinians. Her story is based on diary entries that put a human face on her experience living and working with Palestinians, while Gordis' book does the same sort of thing through his personal e-mails, Sirinsky said.

"When it comes to the Middle East, Palestinians haven't heard Israeli stories and Israelis haven't heard Palestinian stories," Sirinsky said.

A discussion will follow the Saturday performance, during which people will be able to share ideas and feelings brought up during the performance.

"We can challenge each other in our ideas but we can be friends," Sirinsky said. "It brings people together who might not otherwise come into the synagogue."

Actors Tony Heald and Holly Neimark are featured in the play, which is directed by Lenny Neimark.

"Anxious State" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Temple Emek Shalom, 1800 East Main St. Tickets can be purchased in advance at Temple Emek Shalom or at each performance. The suggested donation, to benefit Temple Emek Shalom, is $20. No one will be turned away. Call 541-488-2909 for information.

Reach reporter and editor Myles Murphy at 541-482-3456 ext. 222 or at

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