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Khan Theater production ponders - Where is the line between fantasy and reality?

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In “Teibele and her Demon—a Song and Fiend-Filled Jewish Tale,” Teibele is a cheerful young salesclerk in a fabric store, whose husband disappears one day, leaving her a stranded agunah, unable to remarry. Alchonon, a poor melamed’s assistant, knows he stands no chance with her; posing as a demon, though, earns him some wild nights of passionate fantasy. (Photo: khan.co.il)

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Isaac Bashevis Singer was known as an American Jewish writer, winner of two National book awards and the winner of a Nobel Prize for Literature. Born in Poland to a Hasidic rabbi, he lived in Poland until he was 32 when he immigrated to New York City. He worked as a journalist and columnist for the Yiddish-language Jewish Daily Forward and wrote 18 novels, 14 children’s books, memoirs, essays and articles but is best known as a writer of short stories. 

Some of his works were adapted to films, including his story, “Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy,” adapted into a stage version and the basis for the film Yentl with Barbara Streisand. He always wrote in Yiddish. He died in 1991. 

The Theatre The Khan Theater, in Jerusalem, is the major creative repertory theater in Jerusalem. The theater maintains a permanent company of actors and is committed to produce 3-4 shows each year, in addition to its repertoire of about 10 ongoing productions. These include original Israeli plays, as well as classical and modern European and American plays. 

The Khan Theater is located in an 19th century Ottoman period inn which served travelers who arrived in Jerusalem after nightfall when the gates to the Old City were locked. It also served as a beer cellar and carpentry workshop in later years. 

At the initiative of former Jerusalem Mayor, Teddy Kollek, it was restored and opened as the theatre in 1967. The new theatre company was established in 1973. One hall seats 238 and the other seats 70. 

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Recently, the Khan Repertory Company presented Teibele and her Demon—a Song and Fiend-Filled Jewish Tale,” (originally written as a short story in 1963). Singer collaborated for the play with Eve Friedman, an English teacher and playwright, whom he met at a P.E.N. reception in New York. (It’s a worldwide association of writers, founded in London in 1921 to promote friendship and intellectual cooperation among writers everywhere.) The play premiered at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis for their 1978-79 season and appeared briefly on Broadway in 1979. Habimah presented it in Israel in 1985. In this version, songs and new characters have been added.  

The play takes place in the 1880s in a Polish Jewish village when Teibele, an attractive Jewish bride has been deserted by her closeted gay husband shortly after their wedding, leaving her an aguna who can neither divorce nor remarry until proof of the runaway husband’s death is offered. 

Her girlfriend, Gitel, shares her secret of believing in ghosts. Into the plot comes Alchonon, a teacher’s helper, and the narrator who is really the devil. The village prankster, Alchonon, one day overhears Taibele’s fascination with a story of a woman seduced by a demon, and he devises a scheme to take advantage of her beliefs. 

One night he appears in her bedroom claiming to be the demon, Hurmizah, says he knows her husband is dead, charms her with tales of the demon world, and is welcomed into her bed. Taibele gradually becomes dependent on Hurmizah’s biweekly visits. 

When winter comes, Alchonon takes ill and a funeral passing reveals he has died. Taibele then is doomed to live the rest of her life alone with the secret life she lived. 

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As one analyst* of Singer’s short stories relates, “so long as people believe in demons, their existence is real enough, but the love that results is not without its price.” That is the “untimely death of Alchonon” and “for Taibele, it is the burden of sin, mystery, and desertion.” 

*Nasrullah Mambrol, Nov.22,2019, https:///literariness.org  

The play asks us how desperate do we become when we are lonely? How are we affected by spiritual things? How do we find comfort? Where is the line between fantasy and reality? 

Another analyst has described this as a “charming and tender, albeit bizarre tale of loneliness and naiveté. It is a magical tale but one with nothing supernatural aside from an unlikely romance between two otherwise unloved and abandoned characters.” 

Go to the Khan to see a play 

For visitors to Jerusalem, a trip to the Khan is a delightful adventure. Contact [email protected] for more information about forthcoming productions and which are in English or have subtitles projected.  

Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, lecturer, food writer and author (Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Journalist in Israel), nine cookbooks (including What’s Cooking at Hadassah College.) She lived in Israel from 1970-1980; she and her late husband, Barry, came to live in Jerusalem in 2008, where she works as a foreign correspondent for North American Jewish publications, lectures to senior citizen residences, walks in English in Machaneh Yehudah, the Jewish produce market. She has been book reviewing for 40 years.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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