The Arty Semite

Giving History a Helping Hand

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

  • Print
  • Share Share

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Flickr/B*2

This past Sunday afternoon, the students in my Jewish Geography class got more than they bargained for when they attended a matinee performance of “Parade,” a two act musical at the historic Ford’s Theatre that centered on the sobering events that culminated in the lynching of Leo Frank of Atlanta in the 1910s.

As luck would have it, we were just about to begin our inquiry into the history of Atlanta’s Jewish community, one in which the Leo Frank case figures prominently, when, thanks to the generosity of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington and its executive director, Laura Cohen Apelbaum, we were able to deepen our engagement with this watershed moment in the American Jewish experience by attending a performance of the celebrated play.

I could be wrong, of course, but I suspect my students hadn’t given too much advance thought to what they would see on the stage — apart, that is, from casually wondering how a musical could possibly do justice to the complexities of a tragic, real life event.

But as we chatted at intermission and then again at the conclusion of the play, it became increasingly clear to all of us, myself included, that a lot more was at stake than historical characters breaking into song.

What “Parade” underscored in a most immediate and compelling way was the tension between fact and fiction, historicity and creative license. Frequently, the play departed from the historical record, either by telescoping events or, more provocatively still, by having the characters wear an article of clothing (a prayer shawl, for example) or give voice to a turn of phrase (such as the recitation of the Sh’ma) that never, ever happened.

For some, these interpolations worked; they made dramatic sense, heightening the theatricality of the moment. For others, these interpolations did not so much enhance as weaken, even cheapen, the production; instead of ringing true, they got in the way.

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between. History, I firmly believe, is so rich, so compelling and so inherently theatrical on its own terms that it doesn’t require much by way of a helping hand. But sometimes, a gentle nudge here and there doesn’t hurt.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Parade, Leo Frank, Jenna Weissman Joselit, From Under the Fig Tree, Ford's Theatre

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.