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Tony Kushner – A Cause for Celebration

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May 18, 2011 by IJV

Many years ago I was given two preview tickets for the National theatre to see a play by an unknown young American playwright, Tony Kushner, ANGELS IN AMERICA.   Little did I expect it to be one of the most stunning theatrical experiences of my life, witty, political in the best way and totally original?

The play looked at the AIDS epidemic and its impact, Kushner. Is very uncloseted gay, included Roy Kohn, who played such an infamous role in the McCarthy period.   Kohn dying of AIDS, but still in total denial over his sexuality, is haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg.   Rosenberg, was  the innocent mother of two, who Kohn  helped send to her death during the McCarthy prosecutions.  How ironic that now Kushner should now be confronting a McCarthy style condemnation himself.

Recently,the Pulitzer Prize winning Kushner, was offered an honorary degree from the City University of New York .   CUNY is an institution famous for providing an education for enthusiastic immigrant groups.   This being New York, many of the alumni were Jewish and who more suitable then for an honorary recognition that a native son?   But one Jeffrey Weisenfeld, who was on the Board of CUNY, vetoed the honour.   Why?   Because Wiesenfeld perceived Kushner’s criticisms of the government of Israel as anti-Semitic. Subsequently the Board of the University, in supine fashion, withdrew the offer to Kushner.

Why is this piece called “A Cause for Celebration”?  Because the outcry over the matter has been so intense, so insistent, so widespread, that the board had no choice but to withdraw their withdrawal.   Jews and non-Jews from all over the US and beyond expressed their outrage at CUNY’s decision, in the UK; an article in the Jewish Chronicle caused a flood of protest.

It seems to me that this is yet another sign of a sea change in opinion in the place where it matters most the US – but also that with the new media springing into action, Jews worldwide could express their outrage and be heard and be effective.

Ann Jungman

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