Interview with Ron Guetta

From the outset, the Israeli script writer Ron Guetta talks to us about the cultural richness of Tel Aviv. “Music, literature, theatre, dance, visual arts … are all areas that sparkle and shine here, despite the gravity of a country perpetually at war.” It is perhaps precisely to lighten that burden that weighs down on this city because art is a breath of fresh air in this place where it is the impossible that sets the tone.

Being mother, what does it evoke for you?

It makes me think of my mother, a survivor of the Holocaust. She belongs to those who never said anything, while others do not cease to speak and bear witness to what happened to them during those years. It is only since she has had grandchildren who ask her questions about it that she speaks a little.

Therefore, what have you learned that you did not know?

That she found herself single child during the war. Almost all her family disappeared. Before being deported, her parents entrusted her to a Polish family in exchange for money. She was presented as a distant cousin of the family, which allowed her to live in relatively good conditions. She was able to go out and walk around freely because she had a non-Jewish appearance. That’s what happened at the end of the war that has interested me. My mother has failed in a camp of a Zionist movement where she prepared to make an aliyah1. There, an uncle, the only other survivor of the family, came to find her, offering her to follow him to America. She declined his proposal, saying she wanted to go to Eretz Israel2 where later she met my father. So, my very existence depends on her act. “Being mother” in this case is the decision of a little girl of ten years old. Still she does not always recount much.

Why, in your opinion, is she not talking about all this?

I think it’s because she has reinvented life. She talks a lot about the period from the age of eleven to eighteen years. At that time she was already in Israel, in the boarding school where she was trained to farm work. Rather than talk about the Holocaust, my mother always talked about that time when she rebuilt herself.

But if all this was somehow repressed, I think it makes a return in the artistic creation, mine and that of other Israeli artists. For example, the piece that I wrote under the title “Second Hand”3 recounts a completely Telavivian and contemporary story. Nevertheless, it barely begins when the name “Eichmann” is uttered. This is the story of a second-hand bookseller son. It begins with the input of a controller of the municipality of Tel Aviv in his shop for him to make a report because of a prohibited sign he placed on his door. “Couldn’t you have come a little later?” the bookseller asks him, and the controller replies: “I’m just doing my job!” “This is what Eichmann said during his trial”, retorts the bookseller.

Is there a link between this play and “being mother”?

There are two poles in this play. On one side, there is the father already dead, on the other, there is the mother who still lives. The operation of the mother consists in preserving the father as a kind of unattainable ideal. It is him who created the bookshop, which has held for 34 years, etc. The son, who still lives with his mother despite his maturity, starts an investigation when a young woman comes to ask him for a book he did not have in his shop. On the occasion of this research, he discovers the elements of the story of the father which makes him fall from his pedestal.

He then confronts his mother, swinging the not-so-perfect-as-that story he has just learned. From there, he begins to free himself from his past, his father, and especially the influence of his mother. The subject is gradually emerging from the unity he formed with her. He decides to close the shop, crossing the guilt she tries to inflict him by saying: “If you close the shop, you will kill me”. It is important to emphasise that despite this story, the mother is not presented in the play in a demonised way. She rather appears in her grief as a mother.

Your play is therefore a search for what the mother did not say…

Yes. Besides, what really happened is not at all clarified in the play. There is something of a struggle, a “war” between different stories. The only thing that is clear in the end, is that at the end of this journey the protagonist breaks free from his mother, simply because a young woman came into his store.

What inspired you to write this play?

I often frequent bookshops in Tel Aviv that are also cafes. I happened to have imagined this over tea in such a place. Also, my father was a bookseller and I frequented this world a lot.

That’s the world of books, but below there is the fantasy of the script writer featuring a man who is torn from his mother by a woman…

Maybe, but I had not thought of that. The text often knows more than the author. To take another example, there is the motif of breathing that is repeated in the play. The first sentence that the bookseller told the controller is as follows: “Couldn’t you have come later? Can you not let breathe a little?” It is only at a late reading, I’ve remarked that in other passages, he said to his mother: “I cannot breathe …, I want to breathe a little …”, etc.

When we are not separate, we cannot breathe…

I insist on the fact that I had not thought about it. There are many things I program in my scripts. I graft an element here to find it elsewhere, etc. But there are things I am not conscious of. In addition, the director and actors inject their own things into the play. It’s like a war, in which they try to appropriate the text, and I defend as a mother or a female who defends her little ones. The real thing is created at the end of this dialectical path of struggles and crises. For a time, it was difficult for me to adjust to the difference between the written text and the performance of the actor playing the lead role. The director said: “Go home, let me work, and come back in a month”. When I came back a month later and I saw the job done, I immediately said: “that’s it!”

In fact, you are the mother of this text. You could say that here, “being mother” is to let the product live its own life.

This is to allow him to breathe!

Interview by Patricia Bosquin Caroz and Gil Caroz in Tel Aviv, July 20, 2014.

Translated to English by Bogdan Wolf

  1. Aliyah: name given to the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the land of Israel.
  2. Eretz Israel: The land of Israel. As usual, it is called “Palestine” or “land of Israel” when it comes to the period before the founding of the State in 1948.
  3. “Meshoumashim”.