Last night at the Washington, DC Jewish Center, we saw a brilliant, provocative drama called The Whipping Man. It takes places in April 1865, the Civil War has just ended, and Lincoln has not yet gone to to Ford’s theater (he does in Act 2).
The three characters are 2 former slaves and their young former master who are hiding in the family’s now shack of a mansion in Richmond, Virginia. They are all Jews (the slave-owning family is Jewish and so are the former slaves, either by choice or assimilation). A key part of the show involves a Passover seder which the three celebrate together. Passover, of course, celebrates the Jews’ escape from slavery. The acting is better than any Broadway show I have ever seen.
The drama, which has won lots of awards, was written by a young gay man who is neither Jewish nor black, but Latino, Matthew Lopez (see this New York Times piece on why and how he wrote it). And just below is a video from one of the productions somewhere, not DC.
Anyway as we were walking out of the theater, a middle-aged couple in front of me were talking. The woman said, “I can’t believe Jews could celebrate Passover while owning slaves. Didn’t they see the awful irony.”
I got brave and interrupted: “How do we celebrate Passover while Israel is occupying the West Bank?”
The two looked at me, nodded and said, “You are absolutely right.”