Relatively Speaking - Ilya Melnikov - May 25, 2012
Udi and Omer Ben-Seadia. Photo by Ilya Melnikov
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Relatively speaking - May 25, 2012
Udi and Omer Ben-Seadia.

Birth:
Udi was born in 1955, in Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov Meuhad, in the Jezreel Valley; Omer was born in 1986, in Tel Aviv.

Home:
Udi lives in a detached home in Beit Dagan, near Rishon Letzion; Omer, in a rented apartment on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv.

Extended family:
Udi’s mother, Yael ‏(Charlotta‏), is 88. He has a sister, Smadar, 64, who is a kibbutz nurse, and a brother, Hovav, 54, who is a musician. His wife, Anat, 54, is an actor and publisher, and their other daughter, Adi, 18, is about to begin army service.

Zion’s little helpers:
Udi’s family on his father’s side arrived in Palestine from Yemen in 1916. His father was born in what is now Kerem Hateimanim, a Tel Aviv neighborhood, six months after the family’s arrival. The immigration of the Yemenites was initiated by members of the Second Aliyah, the wave of Jewish immigrants to Palestine from 1904-1914. “With Ben-Gurion’s blessing, Shmuel Yavnieli [Warshavsky‏] conceived the idea of bringing Jews from Yemen to this country as hewers of wood and drawers of water. He disguised himself as a Yemenite rabbi, grew a beard and side curls, and thus persuaded the Jews to settle in the Holy Land,” Udi says. “There was great hunger here at the time, as Brenner describes in his stories. They went on foot from Kerem Hateimanim to Hadera, but the farmers at Zichron Yaakov refused to let them enter, so they went back and got dehydrated in Shaarayim [a neighborhood of Yemenite immigrants in Rehovot]. My grandmother worked as a launderer for the farmers in Rehovot, and my father worked from the age of 12 for Smilansky, in his cowshed and orchard. When he was 19, my father left the neighborhood and went to Kibbutz Gesher and afterward to Ashdot Yaakov. He was a guard in the British police force. In the 1940s he was one of the 12 founders of the Arab department of the Palmach [pre-1948 commando unit] and later was the department’s deputy commander. He was with Yaakov Nimrodi in Damascus and attended the coronation of King Adbullah I in Jordan.”

Frau Charlotta:
Udi’s mother was born in Berlin and grew up in Vienna, arriving in Palestine in 1938. She met Udi’s father at Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh, near Hadera, where the Palmach’s Arab department trained. They were married and settled in Ashdot Yaakov. Udi’s father studied at Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College and taught Hebrew language and Bible; his mother was a nanny and worked in the clothing storage room.

Army:
Udi was a platoon commander at a new-recruits base in the army project for delinquent youth. Afterward he completed an infantry officers course and became a deputy company commander at a training camp. Later, he was active in Yesh Gvul, an anti-occupation group, refused to do reserve duty and was imprisoned for a month. Omer was an intelligence clerk, serving at the Kirya, defense establishment headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Too much quiet:
After a year of community service and then army service, Udi returned to the kibbutz, becoming culture coordinator. At the age of 24 he enrolled in Tel Aviv University to study directing and since then has been a writer and a theater director. His short stories have been published in literary supplements. He met his wife-to-be, Anat, in the theater department of the university. They tried to live on the kibbutz but gave up after just three months. “The quiet drove Anat crazy,” Udi says. “We left in 1983 and moved to Tel Aviv.”

Car-sized production:
Udi is a multidisciplinary artist. He writes plays, directs, had a satirical column in the newspaper Maariv and was a publicist for the now-defunct newspaper Hadashot. He lectures on cinema and, together with his wife, is a publisher of personal biographies. He appears mostly in fringe theater, notably at Tmuna, in Tel Aviv. The budgets are modest, and the sets and the lighting take up no more space than the inside of his car . “I derive a great deal of satisfaction and excitement from working in fringe,” he says.

Omer’s birth:
“It was two days before Rosh Hashanah. We were at the hospital for a checkup, but my wife’s waters broke and we had to wait. I went to Keter Hamizrah and ran into Arik Einstein and the whole gang” − referring to a veteran workers’ restaurant and the famed singer. “I was very calm, but when I got back it suddenly happened. A bit of black hair was already visible. It was thrilling.”

Omer in school:
She was very ambitious, Udi says. Omer tones down the enthusiasm: “I was an average-plus student, but the teachers liked me, so a lot of times they let me off easily. The Nature School I went to was a moment of hope − that at least someone in this family would come out normal and not theatrical, but it didn’t happen.” From the third to the fifth grades, Omer attended school in the United States, where her father was a Jewish Agency emissary.

High-risk name:
“Omer Ben-Seadia” is a name with distinctive characteristics. “To this day, bank officials and secretaries in the HMO don’t believe that my name is Omer Ben-Seadia,” she says. “When I speak to them by phone, they ask for more identification. At foreign airports it’s really a story. The name doesn’t seem to go with the photograph, and I am questioned intensively.”

Fat women screaming:
When she was 15, Omer was accepted to a youth theater company in the disadvantaged Hatikva neighborhood of Tel Aviv. She took part in a community opera, “The Barber from Hatikva,” which was produced by the Israeli Opera. It turned out opera was the most exciting thing in the world for her. “Until then all I knew was that opera meant fat women standing on the stage and screaming, and mostly that it was very boring and for old people,” she admits. “We worked on the show for about half a year. It was delightful, and I cried when it was over.” From here, things developed incredibly quickly. She called the opera’s artistic coordinator, invited herself to a meeting and told him she would work for free, because the important thing was to be part of the opera. It worked. “At the age of 16 I would go there once a week, straight from school, and they let me be in charge of an opera hour for children.” For two and a half years Omer was happy and overwhelmed by working in various production positions. “The reward was that they let me sit in on rehearsals. Then someone said, ‘Take the score, and in rehearsals try to follow the notes.’ That’s how I learned how to read music.”

Opera from Mars:
Her school friends thought she had lost it when she tried to persuade them that opera was cool. “I said I had been at rehearsals for ‘Carmen’ and they looked at me as though I had just landed from Mars,” she says. “I started to take my parents to the opera. I remember one day my dad asked, ‘What’s so interesting about it?’ And I said that in opera you can do everything on a gigantic scale: a huge stage, filled with people, marvelous costumes, lighting and music. In the army I went to rehearsals during lunch breaks. I realized there was nothing else I wanted to do.” After her discharge she worked as a production manager at the Israeli Opera and studied theater at Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College. “People think that my forbears trilled arias at the opera in Vienna, but the background I come from is theater, not opera. At some point, the Israeli Opera decided I was the representative of the new generation and started sending me to schools to refute myths about fat ladies singing, etc. I also work with my dad on plays at Tmuna. I enjoy both worlds. My father says that opera lies somewhere between the sublime and the ridiculous.” Omer is now an assistant director at the Israeli Opera.

Rebel with a cause:
“Would that it were so,” Udi says. “Oddly, my generation rebelled far more than this one.” Omer begs to differ: “What, opera isn’t a rebellion?”

Nerves:
Udi doesn’t understand how it is that everything is so orderly with Omer. “All her productions are very meticulous. I am waiting for someone to screw up and for her to go wild, but she is so orderly.” Omer, as befits a responsible adult, is amused at the way her father is capable of developing philosophical theories about every subject, even without any basis whatsoever. Plus, Omer continues, “We have a huge library at home, and as a girl I always asked myself why there are bookmarks in every book. Afterward, I understood that he starts books but doesn’t finish them, because by page 20 he understands everything.”

I will never be like my father:
“My parents very much wanted me to choose my way, and I still regret that they didn’t push me more, didn’t make me play the piano or learn ballet,” Omer says. Udi translates that into an approach to life: “It’s not true that we didn’t push. When she said she wanted a grade of 90, we would say, ‘It won’t be terrible if you get 70.’ A friend of mine said that the best thing he gave his children was neglect. I tend to agree with him.”

Reflections in the mirror:
They laugh at the same things, Omer says, and both of them are directors by nature – enterprising and domineering people who love to be at the center of the action. “We are both fearful because of great responsibility and we don’t know how to relax,” Udi says. “I came from a small place. I always knew where the blue mountain is and where Lake Kinneret is, and since then I am constantly afraid of getting lost.” Omer adds, “We are both capable of standing in front of people and talking with complete confidence about something we learned 10 minutes earlier, which sounds as though it’s been inside us for generations.”

Disappointments:
Udi says he discerns that Omer is at a crossroads and thinks the time has come for decisions. She very quickly achieved positions that normally take a long time to reach. “The question is whether she will always be an assistant director or will venture into independence and consolidate a place of her own.” Omer understands what her father is talking about. “I think,” she says, “that I will disappoint him if I stay on the safe administrative side and don’t choose the artistic side.” But she too is slightly disappointed in her father. “Sometimes, when we get back from a performance in which there were five people in the audience and four of them had free tickets, I tell him, ‘It’s time you grew up. Take a serious job, get real.”

Most important thing in life:
For Udi it’s the work of creating, for Omer it’s the fulfillment of whatever it is she is doing.

Fantasy:
Udi grew up with the myth of the great Israeli warriors, such as Meir Har-Zion, and dreamed of being a fighting hero. Omer always wanted to be on the stage.