Another open letter protesting the firing of Theater J’s longtime artistic director, Ari Roth, is being circulated by a pair of Bay Area-based documentary film makers, Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow. Signed by 34 writers, theater artists, academics, musicians and community activists, the letter to the board of the DC Jewish Community Center characterizes Roth’s firing as an act of censorship and the circumstances surrounding it “a form of creeping McCarthyism.”
Roth was dismissed by the JCC’s chief executive, Carole Zawatsky last Thursday, the culmination of tensions in the center over Roth’s theater programming, some of it controversial for its implicit criticism of Israeli policies.
On Monday, more than 60 artistic directors of major theaters across the country sent out their own open letter, denouncing Roth’s firing. The names of more than 30 other artistic directors were added to that letter on Tuesday, pushing the total number of signatories over 90. The new names include a number of Roth’s Washington colleagues, among them Eric Schaeffer of Signature Theatre; Michael Dove of Forum Theatre; Deborah Randall of Venus Theatre; Ryan Rilette of Round House Theatre; W. Thompson Prewitt of WSC Avant Bard; Matt Ripa of Doorway Arts Ensemble; Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell of Happenstance Theatre and Thembi Duncan of African Continuum Theatre. Others joining the list also included Blake Robison of Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park; Peter DuBois of Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company and Ty Jones of the Classical Theatre of Harlem.
Among the well- known signers of Kaufman and Snitow’s letter, released on Tuesday, are actor Theodore Bikel, playwright Eve Ensler and writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin.
That letter and its signatories follow.
Dear Carole Zawatsky and Board of the DC Jewish Community Center,
We strongly protest the firing of Ari Roth. We are outraged by the continuing censorship being imposed by the current DC JCC leadership on Theater J, internationally known as one of the most important American Jewish cultural institutions of our time. It must not be tolerated.
The continuing political crisis in Israel demands an informed and engaged American Jewish community. Censoring provocative and intellectually stimulating work – much of it being produced in Israel itself – can only be seen as an act of capitulation to bullying. It is time to stand up and reject the opportunist excuses that “donors demanded it” or that “protocols were violated.” The continued imposition of protocols limiting artistic expression is a form of creeping McCarthyism. It is a shameful denial of American Jewish traditions of civil liberties and free speech.
David Biale, Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor, Director Davis Humanities Institute, University of California, Davis
Rachel Biale, Jewish community professional
Theodore Bikel, actor, singer, author
Chana Bloch, poet, translator
Sara Bolder, Jewish community professional
Lynne Belmont, Jewish community activist
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, writer
Michael Ehrenzweig, film maker, producer
Eve Ensler, playwright, activist
Nan Fink Gefen, publisher, writer
Corey Fischer, founding member, Traveling Jewish Theatre
Nancy Fishman, film distributor, former program director San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert, director, Taube Center for Jewish Studies, associate professor of Jewish Studies, Stanford University
Marcia Freedman, former Member of Israelj Knesset, founding president, Brit Tzedek
Aimee Ginsburg, journalist
Janet L. Holmgren, president emerita Mills College
Deborah Kaufman, film maker, founding director, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
Irena Klepfisz, writer, associate professor, Barnard College
Josh Kornbluth, writer, monologist
Hannah Kranzberg, community activist
David N. Myers, professor of Jewish History and chairman, UCLA History Department
Naomi Newman, founding member, Traveling Jewish Theatre
Rob Adler Peckerar, executive director, Yiddishkayt Los Angeles
Abbie Philips, board chair Yiddishkakyt, playwright and producer
Janis Plotkin, former director, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
Lilly Rivlin, film maker
John Schott, composer and musician
Naomi Seidman, Koret Professor of Jewish Culture and director, Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union
Alan Snitow, film maker
Peter Stein, arts producer/presenter and former executive director, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
Charlie Varon, playwright, artistic director, The Marsh
Diane Wolf, professor of sociology, director of Jewish Studies Program, UC Davis
Penny Wolin, visual anthropologist
Steven J. Zipperstein, Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History, Stanford University