Family & Education

Ivrit Drama Festival hopes to reel in the punters

The annual festival will feature 75 performances to mark Israel's 75th anniversay


The fifth Festival of Spoken Ivrit, which was launched last week, is aiming big this year. In celebration of Israel’s 75th anniversary, it will be staging 75 performances across the country over the next fortnight — not only in London but in Leeds, Liverpool and elsewhere and in community centres as well as schools.

“We are touring with the shows — it’s a massive operation,” said Tali Tzemach, the originator of the festival, which is being sponsored by the WZO as well as private donors.

As in previous years, it will be presenting three short plays for different age groups, performed by actors from Teatron Hasha’a in Israel, who specialise in youth theatre.

For the youngest, there’s the tale of The Fisherman and the Goldfish; then Itamar, the First Hebrew Boy, which presents the story of the son of Eliezer ben Yehuda, the pioneer of modern Hebrew: and Made in Israel, about two youngsters sent to entertain Jewish communities abroad, one a sabra who grew up on kibbutz, the other a new immigrant from Ukraine.

“Our goal is to enrich the student’s education of the Hebrew language by combining arts and entertainment to create an unforgettable, fun educational experience,” Ms Tzemach said.

The actors will often have to be in school at 8 am to set up and will be performing three or four times a day.

It is not just the show that matters but the preparatory educational programme that leads up to it. Each school receives a booklet about the play so that children in the preceding weeks can become familiar with the vocabulary and songs that feature in it.

While some audiences may be able to cope with a performance entirely in Ivrit, for others the actors will have to adapt by interspersing a few words of English to ensure they can follow the plot.

Ms Tzemach has a professional interest in promoting Hebew culture as chief executive of the UK branch of Tzemach Productions, which brings Israeli artists to Europe and vice-versa. She was the artistic director of the first Tel Aviv in London event in 2017.

But promoting Ivrit is a personal passion. She put her five children through Jewish schools in London, which may have taught children to read Hebrew “but did not teach them a love of the language”.

She decided to volunteer as a Hebrew teacher and visited various schools to assess the situation. But she was taken aback to find children who “couldn’t respond to simple questions”.

That led her to think “what can we do to make a change? I wanted to do something that would have an impact on a lot of schools.”

For the first festival, she arranged 22 shows, working with an experienced educator, Ruth Wilkinson, former deputy head of Mathilda Marks-Kennedy. “It was very difficult in the first year to get into the Jewish school system,” she said.

But she persevered and the festival has become an established fixture.

Elena Gabay, from the Future Directions Foundation, one of the main sponsors this year, said, “The Hebrew language is the key to opening so many doors of our Jewish culture, history and religion. Today there are many barriers to Israeli and Jewish identity and learning Ivrit can liberate us.

“A language that traces back 3,000 years can unite us as a people across platforms in every school, industry and every age. We are proud to support this initiative because we believe there is a future for us through a common language.”

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