- "Rosy, White, and Clean Pages of History":Jojo Eskenazi's "Moiz Plays" and the Politics of Contemporary Jewish Theatre in Turkey
Approximately 18,000 Jews currently live in Turkey, comprising one of the largest Jewish populations living within a Muslim majority society.1 In this community, there are multiple amateur theatre groups, either housed in clubs open only to Jewish community members based in İstanbul or staging their plays under the auspices of the Jewish Community of Turkey (Türkiye Musevi Cemaati)2 and the Chief Rabbinate. Despite its popularity among members of the community, contemporary Jewish theatre in Turkey has received little attention from scholars working on theatre in Turkey or on Jewish identity in theatre in national and transnational contexts. Among the Jewish theatre groups' activities, Jojo Eskenazi's comedic "Moiz plays" stand out for their consistent performance schedule and the support they receive from Turkey's Jewish community leaders and members, particularly for their political messages and community-building function.3 These plays are centered around İstanbullu Manifaturacı Moiz (Moiz the Draper from Istanbul), played by Eskenazi himself, and Moiz's wife Kleret, played by Fani Bonofiyel. Analysis of the texts, recorded performances, playbills, and introductory remarks by the organizers before performances of these plays unravels their wider functionality within the Jewish community and the theatre scene in Turkey.4 Moiz plays staged in the last twenty years crystallize [End Page 323] how Jews of Turkey engage with international Jewish, Turkish-national, and communal identity discourses; partake in the contemporary efforts of preserving Judeo-Spanish through bilingual performances; and contribute to transnational connections among Jews of Turkey in Turkey and Israel.5 When Moiz plays are analyzed in relation to the cultural context in Turkey and not as isolated cultural products only by/about/for the Jewish community in Turkey, the contemporary Jewish amateur theatre proves to be an important part of Turkey's theatre scene, a scene which needs reframing outside mainstream institutions and practices—that is, only consisting of performances in the Turkish language or staged by state institutions.
Focusing on Jews' transition from an Ottoman millet (confession-based community) to a modern Turkish minority or their emigration to Europe, the Americas, and Israel, contemporary studies have investigated Jews' self-positioning within the modern Turkish context from a state-minority relations perspective. Jews' cultural production in Turkey has been analyzed only as those of a minority, almost completely isolated from the majority cultural context, not in relation to and as part of the context that is dominated by the Sunni-Turkish majority's cultural conventions.6 Discussing the political repercussions of studying "Arab-Jews," Shohat argues that segregating Middle Eastern Jewish cultures from their local contexts has served Eurocentric and Zionist interpretations of history, especially in the light of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East. By selectively reading Judeo-Muslim histories through a "pogromatic" discourse which only focuses on contentions and not on collaboration between Jews and Muslims, the Euro-Israeli historiography has subsumed the Jewish histories in the Muslim lands to a "universal" Jewish experience defined by the European Jews' history.7 Such discourse rejects "an Arab and Muslim context for Jewish institutions, identities, and histories."8 Instead of these deliberate distortions, Shohat argues for investigating Jewish history and culture in the Middle East in relation to their Muslim majority contexts. Such an approach based on relationality resists glorifying Judeo-Muslim history, which whitewashes Jewish-Muslim relations and is often used for nationalistic interpretations of history.9 Not dismembering Jewish culture and history from its Muslim contexts reveals this community's own positionality in Turkish culture, which needs to be analyzed apart from Eurocentric imaginations or nationalistic impulses projected onto it. [End Page 324]
In this light, contemporary Jewish theatre should be considered as part of Türkiye Tiyatrosu (Theatre of Turkey) a theatre scene which includes more than plays and performances staged only for the Turkish-speaking majority. There are multiple examples of "Theatre of Turkey" which are multilingual and multiethnic yet engaged with the mainstream Turkish theatre scene. In the late 2000s, the Istanbul cultural scene witnessed the blooming of theatre companies and performances outside the...