Return to Haifa


"Nexting" with Rich

This post is a modified version of what appeared in Tzivi’s March ’10 Spotlight in Chicago’s JUF News:

Next Theatre Company of Evanston has a daring new adaptation of Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Returning to Haifa. First published in 1968, Returning to Haifa is the story of “Safiyeh” and “Ishmail,” a Palestinian couple who flee from their home in 1948, leaving their son behind in the chaos of displacement. Twenty years later, after the Six Day War reopens previously-closed borders, they learn that two Holocaust survivors, “Sarah” and “Jakob,” have raised the child as their own.

Although he knew that adaptations of Kanafani’s novella had already been staged in Israel, Next’s Artistic Director Jason Southerland wanted a less politicized version, so he asked playwright M.E.H. Lewis to start from scratch. If anything, the result now suffers from too much “balance,” as both mothers (played by Saren Nofs-Snyder and Diana Simonzadeh) fight for the soul of young “Moishe” (Miguel Cohen) by making long, heart-rending speeches enumerating their catastrophic losses. Meanwhile both husbands are soldiers. Safiyeh is alone in 1948 because “Ishmail” (Anish Jethmalani) is off fighting the Jews; “Jakob” (Daniel Cantor) leaves Sarah for the Sinai in 1956.

Nevertheless, while clearly still “a work in progress,” Southerland and Lewis have created a compelling drama that retains its allegorical edge. Next’s production of Return to Haifa has been extended & will now run through Mar 14. For tickets, call (847) 475-1875, or visit:

Jason Southerland with M.E.H. Lewis

Editor’s Note: Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani was a member of the Marxist-Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and was assassinated in Beirut by Israel in 1972 following the Lod Airport massacre. (Kanafani had appeared in a photograph with the perpetrators.)

Tzivi (aka Jan Lisa Huttner) is Chicago YIVO’s eMaven.

Photo credit: Jan Lisa Huttner

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