“In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” These words, uttered by the Dalai Lama, echo the message of the December children’s play being performed by the Gallery Players Theater, Hanukkah Lights in the Big Sky.
The play takes on the challenging story of how a young Jewish boy, after a horrific act of violence is perpetrated against him, joins his entire town in uniting against a common enemy: intolerance. With performances scheduled through the duration of Hanukkah, from December 8-16, Hanukkah Lights in the Big Sky embodies the holiday season of giving and togetherness with its remarkable story of a community coming together to fight hate. The play shines a light on a real problem, and also shows how this community, which could be any community in the U.S., is not divided by difference, but united by it.
The play begins when a young boy puts a menorah in his bedroom window, and a brick is thrown through it. Buffy Sedlachek wrote this uplifting play based on true events that occurred in Billings, Montana in 1993. Jocelyn Wiebe, in directing her first show at Gallery Players, said the play will engage audiences of all ages and faiths and open the door for families to discuss religious intolerance, “In this play, there are Jewish and Christian characters alike who share their fear and outrage about the hatred rearing its ugly head in their town. The conversations that begin in the play are conversations that can carry on among the audience members after they leave the theater.”
Jared Saltman, JCC Cultural Arts Director and producer of the play, talked about how the play takes on dark subject matter in a light and positive way. “This will be a good show for the whole family. If your kids ask you about this, it gives you a first step into explaining what it means to be different and what it means to be Jewish.” The play is appropriate for children ages 4 and older, yet compelling enough for adults to come see, as well, said Jared. “There’s kind of something for everyone in this show.”
“There is a lot of humor in the play, which definitely helps,” said Director Jocelyn Wiebe, “The characters, especially the protagonist, Isaac, keep a lot of hope even in the face of their fear. We never actually see the ‘bad guys’ and there is no real violence depicted on stage, so although the situation is scary, the play focuses much more on how people respond with courage in the face of scary circumstances.”
The play handles the subject of difference in a way that will appeal to audiences of all faiths, while being especially sensitive to the children in the audience. According to Jocelyn, the characters discuss their different religious traditions using stories, jokes, and serious conversation that is accessible to both children and adults. “The main character is Jewish and his best friend is Christian. The two friends discuss Isaac’s experience of being Jewish in a predominantly Christian town. Their conversations raise many issues about Christmas and Christianity that I think audiences of any background will find illuminating. The mothers of the two children are friends and find ways to stand against the hatred and injustice…. They support each other’s religious traditions in ways that celebrate their distinctions while also recognizing the larger human bond that unites them.”
Jared Saltman added, “In the midst of the holiday season we wanted to do something Hanukkah-related but take a different approach. We wanted to say something more meaningful with this production. At a time when our country feels very polarized, it is important to highlight a time, which really did happen, when, through horrific circumstances, a town came together, took a negative and made a positive. It’s important to recognize that this kind of violence could happen anywhere, at any time, and to remain vigilant against it. Through this play, we see that this can still happen, but we also see people coming together to stand up against it.”
Ultimately, what both Jared and Jocelyn would like audiences to come away with is a sense of hope and redemption, and satisfaction at having seen “a well-done piece of theater,” said Jared. Jocelyn added, “This is the story of people coming together to celebrate their shared identity as neighbors and friends.” Hopefully, the play will bring our own community together to celebrate and embrace difference. The play ends with a symbol of solidarity that families will find meaningful for their own lives. With a few big surprises and some theater magic thrown in, Jared said, the play is bound to have everyone talking about it long after the curtain comes down.
For more information, times, and tickets to Hanukkah Lights in the Big Sky, please call the JCC at 614-231-2731 or visit the Gallery Players website.