A Yom Kippur Play in Need of Our Forgiveness

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Orly Tobaly, Yael Eitan, Evelin Hagoel and Maayan Turgeman in 'Selichot.'Credit: Maayan Kaufman

“Try me, kapara,” says Fanny (using the Mizrahi equivalent of “Darling”), the sister who was thrown out of the family home at 16 for being “a girl in a woman’s body.” Fanny is talking to her older sister, Malka, in one of their verbal clashes. (Malka is convinced that her husband cheated on her with Fanny, who was rescued from the street years before.)

Mixing cultures and styles is one of the charms – of which there are too few, I regret to say – of Hanna Azoulay Hasfari’s “Yom Kippur,” (entitled “Selichot” in Hebrew). First produced at the Beit Lessin Theater more than 10 years ago, it is now being reprised by the Be’er Sheva Theater.

Everything transpires one Yom Kippur – the Hebrew title means “forgiveness” or “atonement” in Hebrew and evokes the penitential prayers recited before the High Holy Days. On Yom Kippur eve, the mother of the Ohana sisters has disappeared from her home and her four daughters gather to try and understand what has happened. In addition to Fanny and Malka, there is Evelyn – ultra-Orthodox,pregnant, diabetic and the mother of eight daughters – and the youngest, Amira, a film student who has been flummoxed by Tel Aviv. Each of them is a complete and different world. They spar with each other and, above all, settle scores with the great mother, now vanished.

One of the words bandied about on stage repeatedly is “primitive.” When the sisters run out of more rational arguments, that’s the word they use to describe each other’s worlds, and still more the world they left – a patriarchal family in the outlying Negev town of Netivot, populated almost entirely by Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern or North African origin). Something else I can say in the play’s favor is that, for a change, Israel’s Ashkenazim are not accused, explicitly or implicitly, of being responsible for depriving the Mizrahim and creating the girls’ plight. In a sense, the play says that Mizrahi families are capable of screwing up their own lives, just like Ashkenazi families. The “primitivism” in this case resides within the family itself.

Artificial plot devices

The problem is that the play defeats itself. It presents four characters, each of whom has a story deserving more attention, but maneuvers between them arbitrarily and forces emotional conflicts to erupt using blatantly artificial plot devices, at the level of a television soap opera. Structurally, the main problem is that it becomes clear far too early that the mystery of the mother’s disappearance is also artificial. I find its solution – which I cannot reveal for spoiler reasons – absurd.

The set, by Judith Aharon, looks like anything but the public-housing apartment it’s supposed to be. That aside, the director, Kfir Azoulay, and his four actresses – Yael Eitan, Evelin Hagoel, Orly Tobaly and Maayan Turgeman – do their best. In fact, the acting in general was the most enjoyable part of the entire evening.

The next performances of “Yom Kippur” at the Be’er Sheva Theater are on October 7-8, October 10 and October 12-14.