'The King and I' in Jerusalem - superb theatre and something more
'The King and I' in Jerusalem - superb theatre and something more

The feeling that it "is a puzzlement" (to quote from "The King and I") is part of the lives of adult Anglos who move to Israel and go through a very different  version of culture clash than the West-Far East clash in Rogers and Hammerstein's above-named classic play– but a culture clash it is.  Learning to manage in the Jewish land you love, want to spend your life in and moved to for ideological reasons is just as hard as it is if you moved to Israel to escape anti-Semitism.

There are countless things to learn (like how to get basic things done without spending your entire life on them), a good many you don't want your children to learn (like Israeli driving), concern (dear G-d, let it be quiet on the northern front, near Gaza and in Judea and Samaria), shared grief (who here doesn't feel for the loss of loved ones) and a good many decisions to make.  

Yes, you have come home and Israel has a rich culture of its own, but there is a price to be paid. Still, many of the things you miss can be found in your new home, leading most Anglos look for ways to attempt to preserve or reconstruct what they enjoyed in the land of their birth. For Americans, it can be bagels, apple pie, creating baseball teams and watching football games – whatever you don't want to give up, even joining a synagogue with a majority of English speakers so you can socialize or attend lectures in your mother tongue. I, for one, brought tens of classic English children's books with me, tried (rather idiotically) to read Shakespeare to my children when they reached high school, continued Thanksgiving dinner for years etc.etc. etc. (more shades of the King of Siam).

You really can have many of the things you loved in the English speaking countries you left– and it seems that one of them is producing and acting in classic plays and musicals as do the crew who gave us "The King and I." They must love rehearsals, most of them working at other jobs and finding time for this special extra avocation.  

At the same time, it provides audiences with the type of cultural entertainment with which they grew up and want to pass on to their offspring.  Thanks to  Encore! Educational Theatre Company, directed by Robert Binder, talented thespians can be part of the theatre upon moving to Israel where accent and grasp of language might put Hebrew drama out of reach– and Anglos who want their families to experience the level of theatre they left behind can have the time of their lives.

In that show-them-Anglo-culture vein,  I took 5 grandchildren and my daughter and daughters in law to see Encore's wonderful production of the beloved musical "The King and I" in Jerusalem last week.  The acting, singing and musical accompaniment were first class, costumes and atmosphere top notch, the Siamese version of Uncle Tom's Cabin fantastic – as in any good play, all were drawn into the atmosphere of a riveting story that entertains while raising questions about education, love, freedom and the price of that freedom.

It was like being back in New York, except for the Hebrew translation shown above the stage.  Even the fact that no tickets were to be had if you didn't order way in advance. Encore has been presenting excellent English language productions to sold out audiences for years, but this was in another category altogether.

Many years have passed since I first saw "The King and I," one of the first plays I ever attended on Broadway. Though a child, I remember the pageantry and drama, perhaps because it was so different from any other productions I had seen, since Siam was an exotic unknown to us at the time (this is way before Thailand became a vacation spot). Anna's fabulously bouffant gowns were like something from a  fairy tale and the music had us all singing "Getting to know you" and "Whenever I feel afraid"  for weeks. Later, older, when I saw the film with friends, it was "Hello young lovers" that made us cry while the march of the children charmed us and the story itself left us wondering and arguing about the meeting of culture clashes, accommodation and government.

The youngsters with me, all Sabras, loved it for the same reasons, as did the rest of us, and it set me thinking about what else the experience might have meant.

Perhaps in addition to the show itself, it helped the youngsters understand a bit more what their grandparents left to move here, perhaps that their Hebrew-and-Israeli accent-challenged forebears have a rich cultural past that they still feel part of, but that it does not trump living in Eretz Yisrael. That can only do them good.

Selected photos (by Brian Negin) from the Encore! Educational Theatre Company production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I". Stage direction by Robert Binder. Musical direction by Paul Salter. Choreography by Yaeli Greenblatt. Scenic design by Roxane Goodkin-Levy. 

Aviella Trapido, outstanding soprano, plays Anna, while Michael Sacofsky is a good substitute for Yul Brynner as king. Also featured in the outstanding cast of this production are Cindy Saunders as Lady Thiang, the king’s head wife, Dan Marriott as the Kralahome, Ariel Libson as Crown Prince Chulalongkorn, Robin Stamler as Sir Edward Ramsay, newcomers Emmanuelle Speaker and Kevin McKenzie as the Burmese lovers, Tuptim and Lun Tha, and an excellent chorus of 26 children..