Arts journalist James Inverne was interviewing his friend, Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital for the Jewish Chronicle, when the musician stopped mid-flow. He’d thought of a story he knew Inverne would love.
The story concerned the violinist Yehudi Menuhin and musician and kibbutznik Yehuda Sharrett, brother of the former Israeli prime minister Moshe Sharrett, one of the triumvirate of the state’s founding fathers along with Ben-Gurion and Weizmann, “the one who always gets forgotten”, according to Inverne.
Avital’s story was that, after a concert by Menuhin in Palestine in 1925, he and Yehuda Sharrett walked and walked all night long, Sharrett arriving back at his kibbutz in a taxi and barefoot, the next morning.
Inverne was indeed inspired by this story, and announced on Facebook that he was going to “write a play in a night.” He wrote furiously for hours, then fell asleep. The next day he “woke up in a pile of drool,” and checked the story with a kibbutz historian. He discovered that the violinist was not Menuhin, but the equally distinguished Jascha Heifetz. Inverne’s “play in a night” needed a complete rethink. Unsurprisingly, he put it aside. Two years later, he and his Israeli wife Careen decided to live for part of the year in Israel. They arrived at their temporary home, and he looked out at the view and “somehow breathed in Israel”. At that moment, he knew he had to return to the story.
Inverne, former editor of Gramophone magazine, was fascinated by the possibilities of framing the history of the founding of the state of Israel in two conversations between Heifetz and the Sharrett brothers. “At the heart is this question: how do we relate to each other? How do we connect?”
The play, which had a rehearsed reading at Jewish Book Week, was written after research including meetings with descendants of the Sharrett brothers. Inverne learned more about their upbringing in an Arab village where they learned Arabic and Koran. “Had Moshe Sharrett been able to serve longer, there is every chance that Israel could have built different kinds of relationships. It gives me hope for now. The similarities between Jews and Arabs are still there, when you are not talking about people with radical views.”
Inverne, who grew up in Bournemouth’s famous kosher hotel, the Cumberland which was run by his father, has built his career in the arts — as a journalist, and also as a consultant who works with artists and arts organisations. Even with his many influential friends, the response to the play has been outstandingly positive. From Philip Himberg, director of the theatre programme at the Sundance Festival, the Israeli actor Yuval Boim, J K Rowling’s agent, Neil Blair, the director Benjamin Kamine, the play has attracted much talented support. The latest to get involved are actors Henry Goodman and Ed Stoppard who are taking part in the JBW reading alongside Yuval Boim.
An earlier reading in New York so moved the artist Adam Maeroff, that he went home and painted The Expressionist, inspired by play and performers . What next for A Walk with Mr Heifetz? Inverne hopes for a New York production, and then other countries, including, of course, Israel. “It is the most fulfilling creative experience of my life.”