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Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily in That Order)

A show that delivers one punch to the gut after another in a stark look at anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and losing faith.

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Michael Takiff in his “Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily in That Order)” at The Flea Theater (Photo credit: Pablo Calderón Santiago)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Michael Takiff delivers one punch to the gut after another in his Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily in That Order), a stark look at anti-Semitism and losing faith in a deity that would allow the Holocaust to happen.

Greeted by jazzy versions of old Yiddish folk songs, the audience members are lulled into believing they are in for a pleasant show about Yiddishkeit.

As the elegant and elegantly attired Takiff enters he begins by asking who in the audience is Jewish and then proceeds to give a short history of Judaism beginning with—who else?—Abraham and all his foibles, taking on the roles of both God and Abraham in a bizarrely funny “interview.”

Soon, assuming the personality of Maury Levenson, a lecturer at the Secaucus Hilton who speaks on the subject of how to be a good Jew, Takiff speaks about food (milk and hot dogs—feh!), denominations (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform—also known as Presbyterian!—and, God forbid, Jews for Jesus), the joys of eating matzo during Passover and the horror of non-Jews eating Pastrami on white bread with mayonnaise.

Michael Takiff in his “Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily in That Order)” at The Flea Theater (Photo credit: Pablo Calderón Santiago)

Then he conjures the image of Hitler happily dancing a jig in a conquered Paris.  Things go downhill from that point onward, even questioning the survival of Jews and Judaism.  He admits that American Jews, in particular, have had it pretty good but still are not free from inner and outer persecution and guilt.   American Jews still suffer from the Jewish holiday Hanukkah being unfairly compared to the Christian juggernaut of Christmas.

This brings Jews, God, and History up to intermission with more vitriol to follow beginning with Takiff admitting that he is an atheist.  He leavens this statement with a long soliloquy elucidating both the pleasures of all things Jewish including his Orthodox upbringing. High Holy Days services at his father’s synagogue are described with affection and irony, painting an intimate picture of a close-knit community buoyed by tradition and faith, laced with Hebrew prayers and colorful character studies.

His musings then veer off again to Hitler and the vagaries of history, including the infamous failed assassination attempt.

At his most sardonic, he again assumes the guise of God telling His version of stories in the Torah beginning with the Creation saga and on to Moses and Jesus. This God actually claims that the Nazi death machine was one of his greatest creations!  God’s explanation will cause much head scratching as it leads to His vicious condemnation of his “chosen” people delivered by Takiff with such passion that the audience actually flinched.

There is much poetry and beautifully expressed angst in this monologue.  It would be difficult to find deeper emotional or intellectual arguments about the horror unleashed by the Holocaust.

Michael Takiff in his “Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily in That Order)” at The Flea Theater (Photo credit: Pablo Calderón Santiago)

The work is not without humor and wit; nevertheless, Takiff turns himself inside out, scouring his heart, to show that his atheism is fully in line with his reaction to this horrible history which, ironically, reinforced his Jewishness.

Takiff is a skilled performer who never loses the audience no matter how angry or sardonic he gets.  He is helped by the mood setting lighting of Elizabeth M. Stewart and the sound and video contributions of Matthew Chilton.  Mark Mindek provides some minor, but effective, dance bits.

Brian Lane Green’s direction made all of pieces fit together into a cogent whole.

As difficult as the subject matter is, Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily in That Order) should be seen as a fresh, in depth consideration of the subject matter.

Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily in That Order) (through June 5, 2022)

The Siggy Theater at the Flea, 20 Thomas Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.jewsgodandhistory.com

Running time: one hour and 50 minutes including one intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (438 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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