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Habima Players Render Striking Version of Beer-hoffmann’s ‘jacob’s Dream’

There has been so much confusion and misunderstanding in the reviews of “Jacob’s Dream” as presented by the Habima that the present reviewer finds it essential to give in short the content of the drama, its origin and theme.

Richard Beer-Hoffmann’s drama belongs to that branch of the German Biblical drama of which there has been an abundance in recent years. Although one of the many dramas of Jewish and Biblical life in modern German literature, the Viennese dramatist has excelled them all in his thorough-going conception of the theme and in the high poetic value of its execution. When “Jacob’s Dream” was producted several years ago in the Deutsches Theatre in Berlin, it was acclaimed by nearly all the German critics as the best that has ever been produced on the subject of “Israel”. Some have even gone so far as to pronounce it to be a hymn to Zionism and the peak of Jewish national drama.

In the Biblical legend of the conflict between Esau and Jacob over the blessing of their father, the Patriarch Isaac, the playwright saw the fore-shadowing of the relations between Jew and Gentile, Jacob was chosen for a spiritual mission. Esau inherited the material riches of the earth. The theory of Israel’s mission, inherent in ancient literature, but accentuated by Reform Judaism, finds in Beer-Hoffmann’s play a dramatization which has no equal. Esau although master of the material riches of the world is constantly uneasy over the feared superiority of his brother Jacob. Jacob, driven by an inner force, clothed in gentleness, in understanding of suffering and aspirations to the higher unknown, recognizes Esau as his brother and strives to be at peace with him, although he is unwilling to give up his dreams and his ideals. Esau, jealous of his brother’s mission and of his “blessing” attempts to kill Jacob, but the attempt is futile. Superhuman forces save Jacob from extinction. Esau attempts then to persuade his brother to leave the country and to escape from the influence of the country’s God (an allusion to the temptation of baptism), but Jacob refuses. He assures his brother that although he has the blessing and believes in his mission his mission is not an egotistic one, it is for the benefit of his brother, too.

As a matter of fact, the motto of the drama, taken from Isaiah 49,6 in Luther’s translation: “It is easier to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel, than to be a light unto the nations and be His salvation unto the end of the earth”, expresses the trend of the author’s Klea. Israel’s mission is to be a light to the Gentiles, notwithstanding inner sufferings and external difficulties. In the encounter between Jacob and Esau, the latter urges Jacob to defend himself. Jacob refuses, but remains unharmed by Esau’s arrow. Esau makes another attempt to kill his brother,but superhuman powers intervene and Esau, frightened by the thunder, asks his brother in astonishment: “Are you alone here?”

Jacob falls asleep and in his dream he sees the angels, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael and Michael, and hears their pronouncements. in which he is prompted to assume his mission in the world. They portray to him the future glory of the Jewish race. The only dissenting voice is that of the evil spirit. Samuel, who as the spirit of doubt depicts the trials, the tribulations and persecutions of the carrier of Israel’s mission and the futility of his task. Jacob is hesitant, but then the voice of God comes through the light and urges Jacob to assume the task, making the prediction that “Merey I will deprive thee of, thou ask for rightcousness and justice.” The light disappears, the dawn comes. Jacob is still lying on the rock. The angel Gabriel makes the last pronouncement. “When you wrangle with strangers, remember that you have wrangled with God today.” and adds: “Go on see and hear. O Israel.”

The Habima production of “Jacob’s Dream” is excuted in the daring Habima style. It deviates in many details from the text. omitting a scene here and there. However, the Habima production is an earnest attempt at presenting Beer-Hoffmann’s drama in the modernistic conception. The mountain scene gives one a peculiar impression. Namn Zemach in the role of Esan is a powerful figure. L. Warsawer as Jacob is a gentle dreamer. although one finds it difficult to reconcile one’s conception of a patriarch with the figure he presents. Benjamin Zemach as Samuel gives a unique presentation of the eternal doubter. The angel scene is impressive and at times approaches the operatic. The production as a whole is beautiful and inspiring.

W. Z. S.

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