by Lewis Wood
In May 2021 I, a Jewish man, tweeted my thoughts about David Baddiel’s Jews Don’t Count. In response, I received a swathe of antisemitic messaging, including a direct message telling me that this person wished that the Nazis had won.
This is not a unique experience.
Jews. In Their Own Words was commissioned in the wake of the Royal Court’s antisemitism scandal, after a character in Rare Earth Mettle who represents a variety of antisemitic tropes was called out. He was named Herschel Fink, a trope in itself. Jews. In Their Own Words features seven actors recreating quotes from interviews with a series of Jewish people. It attempts to inform the audience about myths around Jewish people, therefore tackling them at the same time. These range from blood libel, to money and power, to the left’s belief they can’t be racist and the conflation of Judaism with Israel.
The coverage of these issues is interesting, and I believe there is genuine intent to inform within their discussion. Although the production seems to tackle antisemitic issues from a predominantly Ashkenazi/white-passing lens, showing the origin of some of these myths from history feels genuine in its attempt to educate.
However, there is something missing from the production. Where are the direct references to what happened with Rare Earth Mettle? Is this an apology? Is this accountability? The show continues to talk about why Jeremy Corbyn was the worst thing to happen to Jewish people, but we don’t talk about what happened in the very building in which this show was conceived. This is a problem from the very beginning when Herschel Fink himself appears, questioning his own identity after being told he’s finally reached the place he was never allowed to go – the Royal Court stage. This is clearly played for laughs. How sincere can a response to your own racism be when you open a production with a joke about it?
This highlights my overwhelming issue with the show. If you’re not Jewish, perhaps this show is powerful and educational. Perhaps you learn something about Judaism or antisemitism that you didn’t know previously. But for a Jewish man, it feels hollow. The whole thing feels like an exercise in deflection. Though show was commissioned after the theatre’s antisemitism scandal, it never directs its focus internally. There is no sense of remorse or accountability shown throughout. The only time the Herschel Fink saga is mentioned, it’s a joke.
One overwhelming thought would not leave me throughout the production. People paid for these tickets. This performance is being put on for profit. The theatre is making money from this.
Jews. In Their Own Words doesn’t just exist in the wake of The Royal Court’s antisemitism. It exists in the rising attacks on Jewish people across the UK. It exists in Kanye West, still active on Twitter, who told us of his intention to go “Death Con 3 on Jewish people”.
On a basic level, a show like this will educate people on why some of these things happen. In reality, it barely scratches the surface. I can’t help feeling disappointed in a building – that is part of the problem – producing a show that points towards the other issues without ever referencing its own place within them.
Jews. In Their Own Words runs through 22 October.
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