The Arty Semite

Genocide Remembrance From New York to Rwanda

By Simi Horwitz

  • Print
  • Share Share

To commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the genocide of the Tutsi people in Rwanda, the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust will present a staged reading of actor-writer Jay O. Sanders’ play “Unexplored Interior” on May 11.

It promises to be a striking event in several ways, not least as a creative and technological partnership between the theater world, the museum, and Google + Hangout On Air (a live video conference call) that will make it possible for an audience in Rwanda to watch the play on a giant screen at their newly constructed amphitheater at Kigali Genocide Memorial Center. They will be viewing the New York-based production as it is performed in real time.

Following the two-and-a-half-hour performance featuring 15 actors, the audiences at each location will have a face-to-face discussion about the play, while other global viewers, who can also view the performance — and the audience response in Rwanda — live-streamed on their computers, will also be able to participate in the conversation, using Hangout On Air’s Q & A app. The live audience in New York, including invited guests who have studied, witnessed, and survived genocidal attacks, will participate in the post performance question and answer session.

It’s been a long journey for “Unexplored Interior,” and especially for Sander, who has been working on the play for close to a decade. The son of Quaker social activists, Sander describes a confluence of events that led to his involvement with the crisis in Rwanda, not least seeing the horrifying events unfolding on television in 1994, no one fully explaining it and, worse, nobody responding to it in any meaningful way. “The newscasters kept saying it was complex and tribal and completely beyond our understanding,” he recalls. “And I just didn’t buy it.”

The events in Rwanda never fully left Sander’s consciousness, and on the 10th anniversary of the genocide, “It struck me, I had done nothing about it and I wondered how I can look my son in the eye?” he asked. To educate himself more fully — and commemorate that anniversary — he flew to Africa and began to immerse himself in culture and history. He was determined to expose what had happened and, though he had only written one other play, dramatizing the events was clearly his vehicle.

“Unexplored Interior” started as a one man show, told from the perspective of a peacekeeper, but a few years, much research, and many workshops later at The Public Theater and The Flea, it evolved into its current incarnation. Now the play has 26 characters, including an old Tutsi story-teller serving as an audience guide; a murderous Hutu government official who falls in love with a Tutsi woman; a U.N. peacekeeper haunted by the hundreds of thousands of people he couldn’t save; and a native film student, searching for his lost family and hell-bent on bringing his country’s story to the world.

Each of the characters has a clearly defined view of the events, but the play is not biased, Sander asserts. “The truth may be harsh by it’s never biased.” Last year the play had its first staged reading at the museum on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Sander continues to believe that the atrocities were preventable. “The New York City police force could have gone in and stopped it,” he said. “Most of the killing was not the result of guns, but farm implements. We did not get involved because the people were black, tribal, and viewed as ‘the other.’”

Daniel Neiden, the play’s producer, agrees that if the people of Rwanda “had looked like us, we would have intervened. Encouraging NATO to take action in Kosovo is a perfect example. And if they [the people of Rwanda] had offered us some political or economic advantage, we would have jumped on it, in our own self-interest — if there had been oil involved, the color would most likely not have mattered.”

From the museum’s perspective, presenting Sander’s play is a no-brainer. In addition to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, its mission is to use the Holocaust as a teaching tool and in so doing recognizing and fighting contemporary instances of injustice, oppression and, of course, genocide. “The Holocaust is unique, but that doesn’t make it a sealed book,” said museum director David G. Marwell. “For history to have any meaning there are things people can learn from it or, more to the point, not learn from it.”

“Wherever there are atrocities, we must speak up,” added Holocaust survivor and memoirst Luna Kaufman. “We know what it means to be silent.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print

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 am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • 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.