Café Duvnov in Tel Aviv, in close proximity to some theatres and Tel Aviv Opera House, attracts some of Tel Aviv bohemians. It is secluded, yet central. In late November 2017, Hadar Galron, recovering from 45 minutes of effort to find a parking space, sat with a glass of water to chat in the open yard of the café.
Hadar Galron is a multitasking woman with oodles of energy. She writes, directs and acts. Her orthodox-Jewish background and her rebellion form the core of her outlook.
Rivka Jacobson: How do you see yourself, an actor, a comedian, director or a playwright?
Hadar Galron: Well, actually I see myself as all those things; I think these are all closely connected. It’s not as if I’m a playwright and a plumber! I’m also a songwriter for Israeli singers and a screenwriter for TV and cinema. I feel blessed that I can do what I love. I couldn’t just write – I need to work with people and I need an audience so that’s why I perform and direct.
RJ: What themes do you find challenging?
HG: I come from an orthodox world where women aren’t allowed to act or write about the subjects that I do. I grew up in Golders Green, London, until the age of 13, then we made Aliya. It was a long fight to get to the place I am today. I have much love for the world I come from, but also a lot of criticism for women’s place in the Jewish-orthodox world.
RJ: Do you practice religion?
HG: I traded my religion for belief; the less religious I am, the closer to God I feel. The path I took made me question everything. The Jewish laws I do observe are those that I have chosen as an important part of my life. For example – Shabbat -one day of rest is I think the greatest creation of God.
RJ: Your latest play is The Secrets (Hasodot הסודות). Can you tell me about it?
HG: I wrote it first as a screenplay with Avi Nesher (a well known Israeli film director). An American playwright approached him and requested to adapt it into a musical. He declined and said to me to write the play! It’s not quite a one-to-one adaption, but the film, which came out in 2007, inspires it. The basic story and themes are the same, but the plot is a bit different and I took one of the leading characters out for the play.
RJ: What is the main theme of the play?
HG: Basically, on a Universal level – the play is about choices we make and how in certain societies (especially closed communities), if one doesn’t draw line with the laws of the community – it is impossible to fulfil dreams. Naomi – the leading role- is a highly intelligent young ultra-orthodox girl who, after the death of her mother, manages to convince her father (a well-known Rabbi), that the only way she can overcome her grief is to postpone her arranged marriage so that she can study. Secretly, she wants to become the first woman- rabbi, but this she only tells the head of the girls’-yeshiva, who realises that Naomi is sparkling student- although emotionally she is very introvert. She is paired off to study with Michelle – a problematic student, who at the beginning seems to be Naomi’s “obstacle” to study – but then- the two girls fall in love. From this point – Naomi risks all she ever thought she had dreamed of -to try and fulfil her love.
We don’t always know what we are looking for until we meet it. Many women in religious society are very far from their bodies and desires because of laws of modesty. The Jewish wedding ceremony is a ceremony in which women are literally “bought”. These laws are made for men and not for the women that they govern. I mean if modesty laws were indeed for women there would be less abuse and sexual harassment in the Orthodox world – but sadly, the opposite is true.
RJ: What are the statistics?
HG: I don’t know the exact figures, but I know that in ultra-orthodox circles the problem is increasingly prevalent. Throughout history people and organisations use religion and the name of God to justify horrific actions. We need to differentiate between The God that created man – to the God that was created by man. Women need to know their rights. We are physically weaker, so we need knowledge to be stronger.
RJ: Tell me a bit about your one-woman show Passion Killer
HG: First of all it’s a satirical cabaret, which I perform both in Hebrew and English. There’s a sentence in the Bible: ‘because of righteous women, the children of Israel were saved’. I take stories of some of these righteous women – Eve, Esther, Tamar and Rachav (the harlot), and tell them from their point of view. The thing they have in common is that none of these women intended to become saviours of our nation – but ALL of them -looked their own fate in the eye – saw how bad it was – and decided – against to change their own fate. In order to do so -they had to go against the laws, against those who made the laws, against all social consensus. They risked everything to redeem themselves – and succeeded! It’s much more difficult to change yourself than to preach about it. It’s not about martyrdom, these women were not martyrs: these were brave ones who dared to challenge the law, using their bodies and their passion. They never went against God.
RJ: Can you elaborate about what passion means?
HG: The first passion in the Bible was given to a woman, which is when God talks to Eve. When you look at what men have done with their passion and lust… In Hebrew there’s a saying “Who is a hero? He who conquers his desire “.
Who are our heroes? King David? I think he conquered just about everything BESIDES his desire! When he saw Bat-sheva on the roof -his mind didn’t wander – it completely left! Its place was taken over by an historical and hysterical lust that led David to a series of sins- including murder! God wants us to use passion to MAKE life -not to TAKE life…
RJ: Why is the woman a central topic in your plays?
HG: Because I am a woman. My writing is my soul. My first play- ‘Mikve’ almost “wrote itself”. Mikveh is the Jewish ritual bath. According to Jewish religion, a woman cannot touch her husband from the minute she gets her period. After she finishes her period, she must count seven clean days and then bathe until she can come back into contact with him. Some might say more than touch: she cannot give him his plate of food or laugh with him. This blood could have been life if she had got pregnant, so it signifies death and they call it the ‘impurity of death’. Nowadays, everyone is impure because there is no Temple and no way to purify ourselves, but this law sustains a hierarchy. I wanted to show the ignorance that people have about this inequality.
A few years ago there was a case about ‘The Bride Rapist’. It concerns a man who would call up young ultra-orthodox women, soon after their marriage, and asked if they would like to have sons (as opposed to daughters). He would declare that he had insert special stuff into their bodies (guess how??) that could ensure they bear sons. He said he had the Rabbi’s approval and would ask these women to wait inside their homes with towels on their head, naked, under a sheet -with the door slightly open. He would make sure the husbands were at yeshiva and would enter the homes and rape these women. He did this five times and even raped one woman twice (stating he had inserted the wrong stuff beforehand!). The fact that he is a pervert – doesn’t worry me – there are perverts everywhere – but the women who were so “disconnected” from their bodies and their souls – and it took them time to realize they had been raped (!) -that is an educational problem that must be solved. The character of the bride in Mikve, who doesn’t know anything before her wedding, is part of the indoctrination. Women are told to be modest until the age of 18 -there are hundreds of laws to ensure this: you mustn’t look, or expose your womanliness -above all you must not DESIRE! Then suddenly, overnight, these girls are expected to go “all the way”. Become passionate and attractive … some experience their wedding night as “rape”. I’ve heard about girls that faint. When I try to figure out why the system does not change -there is only one conclusion – it’s a method of control. Know who your Master is and what your place is. In the times of the bible, the only way for a woman who has been raped to keep her dignity is by … marrying the rapist (story of Amnon and Tamar).
RJ: Do you find a lot of evidence of injustice in the Bible?
HG: I think the bible is amazing because it does not try to beautify the facts. It tells the whole truth – people are complex. Not all who seem righteous are actually so. Look how many Rabbis in Israel have been jailed just in the last two years because of sexual harassment.
RJ: How do you see yourself in the next five years?
HG: The same – just maybe on a larger scale. I do quite a lot of international work now. I work for the International Shalom Festival in Edinburgh, as Artistic Director.
RJ: What is the Shalom Festival?
HG: Well, it began when a Scotsman, Nigel Goodrich, decided to bring Israeli performers back to the Edinburgh Fringe festival, after an Israeli production had been shouted down by the BDS. I came first as a performer, and then Nigel asked me to be the Artistic director. We bring different aspects of Israeli culture not necessarily Jewish, using art as a bridge for open dialogue and a way to look beyond our shadows. I believe if we can change our NARRATIVE – we can begin to believe in Peace.
I shall be also directing The Secrets this year in the Czech Republic in a place near Prague. Mikve was staged in nine or ten countries. This year it will be in Toronto and I am hoping it will soon be performed in London. A comedy on modern motherhood will be premiered this year in the Municipal theatre in Prague.
Hadar, it is a sheer pleasure meeting you. We look forward to seeing your plays performed in London.