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March 15, 2007 - Image 30

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2007-03-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

World

Play

To Remember

Akiva embraces 60th anniversary of a ship that changed Jewish history.

Rafael Medoff
Special to the Jewish News

Washington

M fiddle-school curricula often
include a sampling of classic
dramas, whether Shakespeare
or more modern works by the likes of
Tennessee Williams. It's not often that
sixth-graders study a controversial Zionist
play that was part of the fight over Israel's
creation.
But that's what sixth-graders at Yeshivat
Akiva in Southfield began doing last week
thanks to the initiative of Elaine Kahn, a
parent who persuaded the Akiva faculty
to incorporate A Flag is Born into the
English language arts curriculum.
"I wanted to find a way for the students
to learn about Zionist history through
innovative and creative ways," says Kahn.
"Ben Hecht's A Flag is Born is an inspir-
ing combination of theatrical drama and
Zionist pride."
A Flag is Born, which debuted in
September 1946, was sponsored by the
Jewish activists known as the Bergson
Group. Flag featured Yiddish theater star
Paul Muni and young Marlon Brando in
the lead roles (performing for the Actors
Guild minimum wage as a gesture of soli-
darity).
In the play, Muni and his wife, elderly
Holocaust refugees, are making their way
across the ruins of postwar Europe. In a
cemetery, they encounter Brando, a pas-
sionate young Zionist. In a series of emo-
tional conversations, they dramatize the
case for Jewish statehood — much to the
dismay of British reviewers, who called
it "the most virulent anti-British play
ever staged in the United States." (Hecht's
reply: "Britain may be able to patrol the
Mediterranean, but she cannot patrol
Broadway.")
After 12 weeks on Broadway, Flag hit
the road and was performed in Boston,
Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and
Baltimore.
Belinda Salzberg remembers seeing
Flag when it was performed at Detroit's
Masonic Temple in early 1947."It was
extremely moving — and even though I
was only 8 years old, I still remember it
vividly," she says.
The Baltimore performance ended up

30

March 15 • 2007

PNESENT S

FREE PALESTINE
BEN NECtli
is BORN BY LUTHER ADLER
STAGED BY
..........

Above: A Flag is Born's immense
popularity necessitated an extention
of its Broadway run.

Left: A scene from the play starring
Marlon Brando, Celia Adler and Paul
Muni.

Below: A newspaper account show-
ing two child refugees who would be
deported to Cyprus.

ALFP ASKS ALL AMERICANS TO SUPPORT
REPATRIATION AND RESISTANCE CAMPAIGN
Security Council
Is. s, Ben Hecht

Asked lo Take lip
Palestine Issue

With 900 Aboard
Runs Blockade

Statement by PETER H.
ISE t6S06.1, Chair m o n,
Hebrew Committee of
Notional Liberation, on
his departure for the
United States, at a prose
conference, Hotel Lute-
t ia, Paris, March 5,1947.

' itTiSiNG"
DEP:)RT
300 WORRY BRITISH

lichee., Committer DI Na-
tional Llheration, which is acting
pen ttrapOre pendhig the estah-
lishicirlit of the Provisional Gov-
oilmen: of Palectine. Is stetting
to itlate better? uw Seciletty
(loured of the Untied Nation.:
the problem: analog out of Brit-
lab aogressIve military action
agalnet the people or iaIrlitirr.
sMee wee are as yet not tee-
Orentzed as a Member of the
trotted Nations. :1:c
committee is codeavottitg to
harms one of the tiev”it mentbere
n: the Sectirtiy Coonril formally
request the intervention 'of the
Connell.
I em flying to !Sew York to
th.
cr
ric.cey



1

PALESTINE'S PPITi1P—ye, lithe lichee., :race In their homeland only to bt deported
to a concentration camp In ('.)pins.

OBJECT TO UNITED NATIONS
FACT FINDING COMMISSION

BEN HECHT WRITES—

The Pettish can col:lure kliitls
to their heart's eantent. but
:here nr? many more where they
HEBREW COMMITTEE POINTS OUT DANGERS came front.
r heyr rm.^ to venrit teri ■ vht.

— • -
Repatriation activities of the
Isotant for a Prey
ft:Ili:SUM. matte world headitnes
this aye/rend when the 1.ceetee-
ftnasiced enemy ship "Belt
14,Itt." at:en:gen to rot! the
Britian blockade wait over Stia
Hebrew IIP's„ Mkt captured by
British naval unite oft 1lAt17.
Whcre Are the thOt
Despite British scituec of the
: . Ben licelst," theft •sat a stronte
ttosslolilty that SOS of the re •
patitates eareeeded in enteelnk
tnt‘tr homeland. Noes reports
'rite` Halls ststel :hat sonic Eiti,
1h-trews Isete removed from the
step and deported to Cypf.,,,
leaving 300 of the Ortdinat PISA-
list unazeottnieS lot.
ttas,Le officials in:heated that
they ins.; Piave elitined away
trout the 'Den tiecht in smatter
cede/ And It..x:r.ed the shore
safety.
Shinned by Volunteer"
notericen Interest in the lit-
temtptlen of t.:to

playing an unexpected role in the battle
over civil rights for African-Americans,
something that will no doubt be included
in the lesson plan at Akiva.
On the eve of the performance at
Baltimore's Maryland Theater, the local
NAACP alerted the Bergson Group that
the theater discriminated against blacks,
forcing them to sit in a small balcony
section. The Bergson Group warned the
theater management that if African-
Americans were not allowed to sit freely,
Bergson Group officials would personally
escort several of their black supporters
to the theater, and the NAACP would set
up pickets outside the building. The man-
agement gave in and, for the first time in
Baltimore's history, African-Americans
were able sit anywhere in the theater.
The shattering of the Maryland
Theater's segregation policy was used by
the NAACP as a precedent to desegregate
other theaters in Baltimore.
The play's nationwide tour raised
almost $1 million, much of which was
used to purchase and refurbish a former
yacht that was renamed in Hecht's honor.

Recalling The Hecht
Sixty years ago last week, the S.S. Ben
Hecht, filled with 600 Holocaust survi-
vors, set out to crash the British blockade
of Palestine. Commemorating the 60th
anniversary of the voyage, the David S.
Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies
recently held an event near Washington to
honor the ship's all-volunteer American
crew.
One of the crewmembers was a young
army veteran from Mount Clemens named
Edward Styrak. Twenty-three at the time,
Styrak was one of the many courageous
young Americans, Jews and gentiles, who
risked arrest by smuggling Jewish refugees
from Europe to Palestine in defiance of
the British. Styrak later returned to Israel
to fight in the 1948 War of Independence,
serving in the Air Transport Command.
Veteran yachtsman Elliot Roosevelt,
son of the late president, initially volun-
teered to be the ship's captain, until he was
talked out of it by his mother, former First
Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Brooklynite Bob
Levitan, a former merchant sailor, became
captain.
At the commemorative event, Levitan's
daughter, Barbara Randall, said her father

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