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Wordplay

Together again, Etgar Keret and Shuli Rand entertain onstage

Israeli writer, actor reprise their writers’ festival event for another Jerusalem audience

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Etgar Keret, right, and Shuli Rand, center, in their initial Writers Festival appearance in Jerusalem that was reprised June 14, 2021 (Courtesy Mishkenot Shaananim)
Etgar Keret, right, and Shuli Rand, center, in their initial Writers Festival appearance in Jerusalem that was reprised June 14, 2021 (Courtesy Mishkenot Shaananim)

As writer Etgar Keret and actor Shuli Rand met on the Mishkenot Sha’ananim stage Monday night, it felt like they’d done this before.

They had, in fact — weeks earlier during the Writers’ Festival, at the same venue.

Their storytelling and singing was so popular that they reprised the act twice on Monday night and may take this warm, homespun hour-plus show on the road.

“It’s like ‘Kochav Haba,’ but retro,” said Keret, referring to the reality TV show that chooses Israel’s singer for the Eurovision Song Contest.

Accompanied by a pianist and violinist, Keret and Rand (known for his many film roles and his most recent television role in the third season of “Shtisel”), bantered, chatted, read and told stories and sang to the audience.

Actor Shuli Rand who appeared with writer Etgar Keret at Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim on June 14, 2021 (Courtesy Ilan Besor)

Rand, who grew up in a religious family, left Jewish practice in his 20s and then returned to it 25 years ago as a Breslov Hasid, brought his own brand of spiritual tunes to the evening, singing a song by Meir Ariel, a niggun (wordless melody), and his take on Shalom Hanoch’s 2009 song, “Waiting for the Messiah.”

The two spoke about their first meeting over coffee some 25 years ago, around the time when Rand, now 59, returned to a religious lifestyle and when Keret was becoming better known for his spare, clever writing.

Keret, as he often does, told anecdotes about his family — his wife, Shira Geffen, and their 16-year-old son, Lev, as well as his older brother and his ultra-Orthodox sister, who has 11 children and dozens of grandchildren and lives in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood.

There were Keret-style vignettes as well, including one that preceded his short story, “Guava,” conceived during a flight when a stranger fell asleep and drooled on his shoulder, or his decision not to attend the Technion due to a significant lack of members of the opposite sex at the university known for churning out engineers and scientists.

Funny and personal with the audience and with each other, Keret and Rand were good foils for one another, sharing tidbits of information interspersed with the short stories and songs.

There was the moment when Rand took a sip of water, preceded by a blessing, and was greeted with “Amen!” from members of the audience.

“When the hall is dark and I take a drink, those amens are how I know where people are sitting,” Rand told Keret.

They both spoke of their army experiences. Rand served in a combat unit, and called it a “gift” because the army set him straight and taught him strength of will and how to survive. Meanwhile, Keret credited the army with making him into a writer, having written his first story, “Pipelines,” in the computer room at his army base.

The writer and actor were at their best when speaking about personal, random moments in life.

As Keret was telling Rand about an Education Ministry official who called him at home, Rand told Keret, “Whenever someone calls me at home and calls me Shalom (his formal name), it’s never a good sign.”

Writer Etgar Keret who appeared with actor Shuli Rand at Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim on June 14, 2021 (Courtesy Yanai Yehiel)

The education bureaucrat was calling to ask Keret to change the title of his children’s book, “Breaking the Pig,” to “Breaking the Cow,” as they were considering using it in the religious school system where people could be offended by the mention of a non-kosher animal.

When Keret refused, the official asked him, “Do you hate religious people so much?”

Not at all, Keret told the official, it’s just that it’s a story about a piggy bank.

In the end, said Keret, they kept the title and ordered the book.

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