Jewish Artists

by Barry Drogin

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Dear Ms. Solomon:

I am unfortunately only old enough to have been following Richard Foreman's career for about a dozen years, but I have found him to be one of the most exciting writers, directors and speakers I have ever known. His forays into Jewish symbolism and thought have represented to me great, but unacknowledged, strides forward in Jewish theatre.

I was married this summer, and managed to convince myself that my wife was finally ready for her first Foreman play; I saved your review, and we finally saw "I've Got The Shakes" last night. It is true that in the past, Foreman has sprinkled his sets with random collections of Hebrew letters, and in this play, the four major characters wear single Hebrew letters on their chests (although the photo with your review hides this). However, I am sure you will be very interested to know that in "I've Got The Shakes", the letters at left and at right that are "lined up in sequences" spell very significant words, namely:

1. At left, amidst the checkerboards and the concentric circles, are words which individually mean "nothing" or "nought" and "end", and together mean "the infinite" (literally, "never ending").

2. At right, significant words appear, twice. From Exodus III, 14, this is G-d's famous answer to Moses' repeated question to G-d, in the form of the burning bush, "Who shall I say sent me?" The answer has been translated as "I AM THAT I AM", or "I will be what I will be."

I don't speak fluent Hebrew, but I recognized that famous phrase, and the other words looked enough like real Hebrew words to merit looking them up.

It's a shame that, although Jewish artists like Richard Foreman, John Zorn, Gary Lucas, the Coen brothers (particularly, "Miller's Crossing"), and myself are interested in Jewish art, theology and tradition, our secular audiences and critics ignore this content, while "religious" audiences ignore the art altogether.

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Last Updated: August 4, 2007