Tony Award-winning playwright Steven Levenson joins Why We Theater to talk about his play If I Forget. Set in 2000, the play focuses on a Jewish family as three adult children (Holly, Michael, and Sharon) return to their parents’ house in Maryland for their father Lou’s 75th birthday. Michael is a Jewish Studies professor who recently wrote a book called “Forgetting the Holocaust” about how Judaism has become a religion haunted by death and ghosts – unified by fear and the phrase “never forget” rather than religious ideals or customs. With experts Rabbi Shuli Passow and scholar Judah Isseroff, we discuss American Jewish identity, the rise of anti-Semitism and how to combat it, Israel and Zionism, and trends of tribalism. You can watch If I Forget on BroadwayHD.
Michael’s monologue, as performed by Tony Award nominee Jeremy Shamos, appears with the permission of Roundabout Theatre Company, which premiered If I Forget Off-Broadway in 2017, and Steven Levenson.
Referred to in this episode
- “The Rise of Social Orthodoxy: A Personal Account” by Jay P. Lefkowitz
- “The Problem with ‘Social Orthodoxy’” by Joshua R. Fattal, a critical response to Lefkowitz
- “What is the Talmud? Definition and Comprehensive Guide”, Yehuda Shurpin
- Who is Theodore Herzl?
- Who is David Ben-Gurion?
- Who is Sheldon Adelson?
- Who is “Adolf Eichmann”?
- Who is Hannah Arendt
- Anti-Defamation League: Fighting Hate for Good
- What is Jerusalem Syndrome”?
Create the change
- Learn more about Judaism — knowledge facilitates compassion with “Introduction to Judaism” OR “The Basics of Judaism”
- Name anti-Semitic incidents as such, report them, and speak out against them
- Use Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide
- Learn about The New Israel Fund, which envisions a Jewish and democratic state
- Fight for justice guided by Jewish values with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ)
- Be aware of your own bias — it’s evolutionarily built in us to be tribal and we need to self-examine our thoughts and introduce dissenting viewpoints
- If you are Jewish and looking for ways to become involved:
- Choose a small tradition and incorporate that into your home, like lighting candles on Friday night for Shabat or saying the “Shema” before bed each night
- Take inspiration from B’nai Jeshurun’s The Jewish Home Project
- In COVID, many synagogues have moved services online; explore to find a place that feels right to you
Why We Theater is a product of part of the Broadway Podcast Network, edited by Derek Gunther, and produced by Alan Seales.
Our theme music is by Benjamin Velez. Hear more at BenjaminVelez.com.
Our logo is by Christina Minopoli. See more at MinopoliDesign.com.
Special thanks to Genesis Johnson, Dori Berinstein, Leigh Silverman, Patrick Taylor, Tony Montenieri, Elena Mayer, Wesley Birdsall, and Suzanne Chipkin.
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ABOUT OUR GUESTS
Steven Levenson, playwright
Steven is a Tony Award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and television writer and producer. His plays include If I Forget, Core Values, Seven Minutes In Heaven, and The Language of Trees. He wrote the book for the musical, Dear Evan Hansen, which won six Tony Awards, including Best Book and Best Musical. He co-created and executive produced the FX series Fosse/Verdon, which was nominated for seventeen Emmy Awards, including Best Limited Series and Best Writing for a Limited Series, as well as for Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Association, and Producers Guild Awards, in addition to winning the Writers Guild Award and an AFI Award for Outstanding Series. Other honors include the OBIE Award, two Outer Critics Circle Awards, and the John Gassner Memorial Playwriting Award. He served for three seasons as a writer and producer on Showtime’s Masters Of Sex. He is a graduate of Brown University.
Rabbi Shuli Passow
Shuli is a Jewish educator and communal professional with over 15 years of experience. Since July 2015, she has served as the Director of Community Engagement at B’nai Jeshurun in New York City, where she brings her background in community organizing to oversee Israel, social justice and hesed programming; build new opportunities and pipelines for lay leadership; and develop innovative structures to engage and connect synagogue members. Prior to her ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Shuli was the Director of Community Initiatives at the Jewish Funds for Justice (now Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice), where she worked with synagogues across the country to support their involvement in congregation-based community organizing. Shuli holds a B.A. in French Literature from NYU, and received a Masters in Public Administration and an M.A. in Judaic Studies from NYU where she studied as a Wexner Graduate Fellow. She lives in Manhattan with her husband Rabbi David Hoffman and their two sons.
Judah is a PhD candidate at Princeton University working on questions of antisemitism, Jewish politics, and theology. His dissertation is titled “Beyond Political Theology: Hannah Arendt’s Jewish Theology of Givenness.”
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