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15 Linda Ben-Zvi Arthur Miller’s Israel and Israel’s Arthur Miller In September 1988, five months after Israel officially opened its fiftieth year of statehood celebrations, Ha’aretz, the Tel Aviv–based liberal daily newspaper, published “Waiting for the Teacher,” a nineteen-stanza, free verse poem written by Arthur Miller to mark the occasion.1 The text is both personal and political, brief vignettes from the writer’s experiences , described in colloquial language, interspersed among longer, lyrical passages, quasi-biblical in tone, touching on many of the themes and concerns that have been central to Miller’s theater over the same half-century span. The poem is about Israel, but it is also about Arthur Miller. It begins with Miller’s presentation of his credentials,a Jewish writer addressing a Jewish country, a partisan in its history, pain, and triumph: I quickly understand the Jewish dead, Know their shock at departing alone; See Jewish women at the blast Glancing back across the centuries As laughter of Goyim cracks the air; All this I see at the gunshot. Less automatic but also imperative is his awareness of the need to understand and acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinians, who also lay claim to the same land: I have to think about the Arab dead Before their leaving shocks me. I must Instruct my heart on how they grieve. And stare into the centuries, hearing Europe’s laughter and contempt. All this I understand when I think about it. 16 Arthur Miller’sGlobalTheater This kind of knowledge does not come easily, Miller acknowledges. It takes an act of will to put oneself in another’s place,but the effort must be made: Justice must be wanted before it comes, Invited in from the desert Where it wanders about like a prophet Despised for his peaceful intentions In a time of war. For the heart knows its own blood best. In the poem, Miller’s “own” are Israelis. For example, he describes sharing the excitement generated on a snowy night at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, when Russian Andrei Gromeko came in from the cold, bearing the gift of public recognition for the new Jewish state. Now,it seemed“everything would change.” A people who bore too long the mark of difference would be like everyone else. Miller quotes the voices dreaming of the normalcy about to happen: “Now there’ll be Jewish bus drivers, Jewish cops, street cleaners, farmers, garbage collectors, prime ministers, yes even Jewish whores. Imagine! We’ll be a normal people, an ordinary country like all the others.” To this list, Miller provides a coda,“And on these few sandy acres Justice done!” Justice,capitalized and all pervasive,is the rock upon which he assumes the new society will be built, its plan based on Mosaic models rather than narrowly prescribed religious practice. Thus constituted, Israel will be a nation “like any other and like none.” And what of the dream fifty years later? Tellingly, Miller shifts from prophet to playwright, invoking imagery of the theater: “The applause has died away / Dry coughs in the audience, / Dusty odor of polite boredom.” The plot has gone stale, done once too often,“the one where everyone is right / and all must share the wrong.” What seems to have made “the well-known loss of high expectation” more acute this time is the fact that much more had been hoped. Miller explains: For Israel was moral first and dreamed much, And now that she has merely joined the world, Arthur Miller’s Israel and Israel’s Arthur Miller 17 A nation no different than all the rest, The audience is reading its wrists, While the play’s antagonists repeat The same old equality of claims. He cites recent examples of the hatred that fanaticism has wrought, both in the Middle East and inAmerica,enveloped in the cloak of Orthodoxy: “I have been trying these eighty years / to become an atheist, and with the help / of Orthodoxy have at last come really / close to succeeding.” And yet, it is not as simple as that. “The atheist” still finds a need to “address the Jews.”The tone once more becomes personal; the pronoun of choice is first person plural. Perhaps because we invented the promise, and in the end it may happen that we alone can call it finished, if so it must be. When it becomes too easy to be a Jew it is time to ask what...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780472025060
Related ISBN
9780472115938
MARC Record
OCLC
588876105
Pages
168
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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