Miami-Dade County

Politics, art clash as Miami-Dade JCC ends show fraught with controversy

A scene from Crossing Jerusalem
A scene from Crossing Jerusalem Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel

It was meant to start a conversation about a politically fraught topic — a way to “build a culture in which complicated questions are ones we can openly discuss.”

But in South Florida good intentions can veer off the tracks.

And so it was with Crossing Jerusalem, a play at the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center’s Cultural Arts Theatre in North Miami-Dade. The run, which was supposed to end Sunday, has been cut short, in deference to members of the Jewish community who felt the play, set in a time of turmoil in Israel, warped the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with anti-Jewish stereotypes and an oversimplification of the conflict’s historical roots.

“It was not an easy decision, but when you have a program that is causing pain, you just stop it before it gets worse,” Gary Bomzer, president and CEO of the JCC, said Thursday.

The decision to close the show, which focuses on 24 hours in the life of an Israeli family in 2002 during the Intifada, the bloody escalation of Palestinian resistance, has left raw feelings among those who call the cancellation a capitulation to politics and those who say the play was deeply and needlessly hurtful.

“The play is a powerful story about flawed and traumatized people living in a complex, real-life situation,” Adam Schwartzbaum, an actor in the show, wrote on Facebook. “It dramatizes the struggle and heartache that both Jews and Arabs experience in the face of war and terror.”

But those who opposed the play say the Jewish Community Center was not the appropriate showcase.

“It counters the mission of a Jewish Community Center,” said Charles Jacobs, president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance. “To express this unfair and even dangerous hate of Israel is not what a Jewish community center should be doing.”

The director of the show, Michael Andron, wrote in the playbill: “This play is designed to move the audience to discuss its subject matter when the play ends.” He added: “It may not change your mind.”

Avi Goldwasser, a member of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, said “the problem lies in the politics of the play,” which he said were one-sided in their nature.

The playwright, Julia Pascal, said in an e-mail that “the intent of the play was to show the complexity of Israeli life.”

She said she was “amazed” at the early closure, which she called “censorship.”

South Florida is a place where politics and culture have clashed before, occasionally with far less cordial consequences. In 1988, the Cuban Museum of Art and Culture in Little Havana was bombed following an auction that included works by Cuban artists, and bombed again in 1990.

South Florida is a place where politics and culture have clashed before, occasionally with far less cordial consequences.

Tensions over arts and artists from the island subsided in the latter part of the ’90s, as Cuban acts such as Isaac Delgado, and Manolin, El Medico de la Salsa played in Miami to enthusiastic crowds as well as protesters. But they flared in 1999 when a concert by famed Cuban dance band Los Van Van at the Miami Arena drew thousands of protesters, some of whom hurled batteries and rocks at concertgoers, and again in 2000, when the inaugural Latin Grammys pulled out of Miami over a Miami-Dade County rule that would have kept Cuban musicians from participating.

In 2014, the Metropolitan Opera in New York faced protests directed at The Death of Klinghoffer, an opera exploring the 1985 hijacking of a cruise liner by Palestine Liberation Front militants, who murdered and threw overboard 69-year-old Leon Klinghoffer, a disabled Jewish-American passenger.

“The First Amendment applies to everyone — on all sides of this controversy” said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Miami Herald staff writers Audra Burch and Jordan Levin contributed to this report.

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated from a previous version, which stated that “discussion sessions” with the audience after performances were “not part of the original plan.” Post-performance “talk back” sessions were promised in the playbill. Avi Goldwasser, the member of Americans for Peace and Tolerance who is quoted above, asserts that, regardless of that, there was no specific plan to discuss the “political dimension” and that he successfully sought the inclusion of an insert in the playbill with “some key historical facts that were omitted in the play.”

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