“You embarrassed the Jewish people and the Holocaust,” actor Oded Leopold said from the stage of the Cameri Theater last Thursday, lashing out at hundreds of high school students after they repeatedly disrupted a play dealing with the Holocaust on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The students’ behavior, news of which only hit the Israeli media on Monday, prompted an intensive bout of national radio debate and soul-searching about indiscipline, educational failures, poor parenting and lost values among Israeli youth.
During the play “Ghetto,” which portrays the life of Jews in the Vilna Ghetto in the early 1940s at Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theatre, students in the audience made fun of the actors and shouted offensive remarks toward the stage. Some laughed and cried out encouragement during scenes depicting Jews being killed by Nazis, and when a kapo beat a Jew. Calls of “hit him harder” and “well done” were heard from the audience.
When the two-hour play ended, Leopold, who played the kapo, silenced the post-performance applause and addressed the audience. “I hope what goes on in your heart is different from what came out of your mouths,” Leopold said. “It was disgraceful behavior, embarrassing yourselves most of all. You also embarrassed the Jewish people and the Holocaust,” he said.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar on Monday condemned the students’ behavior, calling it “a disgrace that pains the heart.”
Students from four different high schools were in attendance — two from Rishon Lezion, one from Tel Aviv and one from Ramle.
Most of the actors cried when the play was over, Leopold told Maariv. “We cried because we were frustrated and offended.” When acting out scenes from the ghetto, you are “very vulnerable,” he said.
Avi Kalma, director of the Cameri’s educational department, told Maariv that it was normal for students to disrupt plays from time to time, but what happened on Thursday was different. “You would think it was a comedy” based on the students’ reactions, he said, noting that thousands of students saw the play that week and only this group acted in such a manner.
Some of the actors, including Natan Datner and Rami Baruch, said the educational staff “didn’t lift a finger” to try to stop the catcalls. You expect students to know who’s good and who’s bad, “but they didn’t,” said Baruch.
But Rinat Meron, a teacher from Rishon Lezion, wrote a letter condemning Leopold’s castigation. The actor’s reaction was extreme, she wrote to the theater’s management. “Reactions from students are not in any way a disgrace to the Jewish people.”
Other educators from the schools involved did not defend the students’ behavior.
“Four of my students were removed by the teachers from the play,” Hili Tropper, principal of Branko Weiss High School in Ramle, told Army Radio. One of the teachers is the daughter of survivors, he said. “There was a very harsh talk with everyone immediately following the event,” Tropper added, adding that there was still work to be done in addressing the episode.
The play “Ghetto,” written by Joshua Sobol, has been performed across the globe, including New York and London, winning many awards. It premiered in Hebrew in 1984 and in English in 1989.