An Israeli Woman in a Man's War

New play 'Ella Grossman' tells the tale of a female journalist in Israel of 1967-1995, a time when the IDF determined what truth we were permitted to know.

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Hila Feldman (right) and Gaia Be'er-Gorovich in 'Ella Grossman.'
Hila Feldman (right) and Gaia Be'er-Gorovich in 'Ella Grossman.'Credit: Daniel Kaminski
Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts

The title character of the new play “Ella Grossman” certainly has a talent to infuriate. A girl who came of age during the Eichmann trial in 1961, enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces in 1967, became a journalist during the War of Attrition, was scarred like the rest of us by the Yom Kippur War, and forged an independent path in a man’s world, while paying a heavy personal price as far back as the middle of the First Lebanon War and right up until 1995 (and we all know what else happened that year and who did who in – a film about it was not screened officially as part of the current Jerusalem Film Festival).

It’s the story of an Israeli woman in a man’s world, an Israel that is fast becoming a place where it’s forbidden to make anyone angry, especially those in power – who shall decide what angers them.

“A talent to infuriate” is also quite a crucial trait for theater that doesn’t wish to suffice with providing mere “bread and circuses.” It’s not a particularly feminine quality, although Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev certainly has it in abundance.

Since she is the one who now determines what is infuriating, I hasten to say there are many elements in this play that could anger both her and her minions: Characters in uniform, including an IDF spokesperson [one of Regev’s former roles], who are presented in an unflattering light.

The play focuses also on the period between 1967-1973, a time when the IDF determined what truth we were permitted to know. Today, it’s clear that what happened to us at that time happened because we were lied to, and also because we lied to ourselves. On the other hand, the play also savages the press for its unsavory ways, so there is a balance. However, there is nothing in this play that harms the image of the state – and I am prepared to say that in court.

The play is drawn from several real-life incidents (including a story about an IDF officer whose promotion is blocked due to sexual harassment complaints against him, just as in today’s papers). Mainly, though, it’s the story of an independent woman who’s easy to identify with, being a flesh-and-blood heroine who is both credible and relatable. This is due to Dafna Engel Mehrez’s writing and the acting abilities of Hila Feldman, the redhead who seizes the audience’s attention and emotions.

The major Israeli events of the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s – a formative period for most theatergoers – serve as the backdrop to the personal story, and this is the play’s strength, despite the schematic aspects of using such a framework.

Eran Atzmon’s set design and Yoav Cohen’s video work are an essential and superb part of this theatrical experience. The acting by all the cast members is convincing, especially Yaniv Levi in the role of Mickey; Shlomi Tapiero as Yair; and Avraham Selektar as the father, in some very poignant scenes. The overall experience is positive. The talent doesn’t go to waste. Elements of truth are revealed in the agreed-upon lie that is theater.

Because of that, I’ll try to overlook the fact that the field of journalism, which I know personally, is presented in ways that anyone familiar with it will find slightly laughable. Some of that comes down to the misuse of basic terminology. So yes, I too have a talent to infuriate. Still, anger won’t kill anyone, especially the kind that’s presented on stage, which isn’t reality but rather a fleeting illusion. It’s just letting off steam.

Beit Lessin Theater presents “Ella Grossman.” Written by Dafna Engel Mehrez; Directed by Tzipi Pines. Next performances will be Sunday-Wednesday at 20.30 at Beit Hahayal in Tel Aviv.