Magazine article American Theatre

Stranger on My Doorstep

Magazine article American Theatre

Stranger on My Doorstep

Article excerpt

In 1996, Israel announced a blood shortage and urged its citizens to give generously. The Falasha--Ethiopian Jews who were new immigrants and eager to embrace their spiritual homeland--turned out in record numbers. A newspaper report later revealed that all of the Ethiopian blood had been discarded, untested, because of a fear of AIDS and other diseases. The Ethiopians were humiliated, and the Israeli government, thrust into damage control, recognized that the people rescued from oppression from Northeast Africa (through airlift operations nobly named "Moses" and "Solomon") were now facing discrimination in the very state meant to be a safe harbor for all Jews.

Israel's complex relationship with the Falasha (which literally means "stranger") provides the foundation for A Jew on Ethiopia Street, Allan Havis's new play running through April 8 at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. Artistic director Jack Reuler was inspired to commission the play when he realized that several ideas were "colliding and conspiring" in his head: the example of his cousin, who smuggled Ethiopian Jews out of their intolerant homeland; the problem involving Israel's acceptance of the Falash Mura (Coptic Christian Ethiopians claiming Jewish heritage) and the growing population of Ethiopians in Mixed Blood's own West Bank neighborhood.

To reconcile the many strands of the Israeli, Falasha and Falash Mura stories, Reuler turned to Havis, a playwright knowledgeable in Israeli politics who directs the MFA playwriting program at the University of California in San Diego. …

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