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Naomi Yoeli

Musicians love to work with a familiar director. As time goes by the relations become more intimate. I had at least 5 mutual productions with Hanan Snir , Yossi Israeli ,Mundi Yosef and the English director Michael Alfreds who loved to direct in Israel. But my work with Naomi is totally different. She is not a director for hire : Naomi creates the text and takes a major part in every project, and most of them are autobiographical. The other actors take a part in many artistic decisions.  She sings, dances, plays harmonica and recorder and in her past she is a successful puppeteer and has a PHD on the subject of ceremonies and Israeli rituals. We started to work together in early 2006 and discovered we had a lot  in common, especially in using our most early memories: Though I am 10 years older, my house was close to her house in Jerusalem in the 50ths and 60ths. We knew the same street songs, mythic figures and experience of Adolescence. Her vocal talents help her to reenact events that happened years before she was born, like the U.N. Vote on recognizing the state of Israel (19.11.47) while I, who was listening to the radio in real time, remembered the results and nothing else.


"AUNT FRIDA" - 2006, Acco theatre festival  (1st prize)

"THE TABLE" - 2008, Play written by Ida Fink (translated by David Weinfeld), Zavta short play festival.

"BEIN HASFIROT" ("Between Calendars") -  2009, adaptation of Netiva ben Yehuda's book of the same name.

"NAFIZ  ,WAR TOURISM", 2011 Acco theatre festival. 

"AND ESPECIALLY THIS GARDEN" - 2012,  ("houses from within"  festival) from a bench looking to the old city.

"MY EX  STEP - MOTHER IN LAW '' - 2014, multi media arena, Beit haam  Jerusalem.

"HAPPY TIDINGS" - 2017 ,shidlovsky hall, Tel-Aviv museum.

"TIESTES" - 2018-9,  play by Seneca, translated by Doron Tavory, directed and performed by Tavory and Yoeli in Hashomer st.3 Tel Aviv.

"KUMU VENAALE" ("RISE AND SHINE" ) - 2018-19, a walk  from the mentioned bench to Mount Zion, ending with music on the rooftop of king David tomb.

"OLD PEOPLE WITH BACKGROUND DISEASE" - 2020, Dubnov Garden, 2021 Libling House  Tel- Aviv. A revue made of songs, tales, translations and original music.

AUNT FRIDA - Like most of her works, Aunt Frida (not really an out, but a distant family friend) played  a great part in N. childhood education. In the 1920' she build an imported  fashion house , which gave Naomi and her two sisters (X MIX AND DRIKS) a ticket to the world of Haute Couture.  Using original cassettes of conversations with  Frida , and with help of her daughter, Galia and another actress she reconstructed many childhood scenes and created a Frida museum. We used  4 sound systems to create simultaneous 3 girls and Frida different scenes, each one with different music.

THE TABLE - that work by Ida Fink is a rare example of pre-existing texts Naomi worked with (the other is "Tiestes"). The author,  beside  being a witness , worked as a translator in the Nierenberg  trials of Nazi criminals and knew the formal procedure: The play is written for 4 witnesses and Basso Ostinato (musical term of repeated pattern by the bass part): The bass is the prosecutor who ask  the same questions in order to decide their creditability for the coming trial. N. added a real  piano ostinato composed and played by me, and asked me to act, for the first time in my life, the 1st witness. She  played the prosecutor. Other musical embellishments were added, (mainly quotations of Shubert, Brahms and Schuman) and ,later,  a short story By Ida Fink and personal story about the Eichman trial in 1961.

When the play became a classroom project, the pupils read together  the 3rd witness.

BEIN HASFIROT (Between Calendars) - Netiva Ben Yehuda, once a legendary Palmach fighter  ,an author of 3 books ,music encyclopedia of Hebrew songs  and co author of  " Hebrew  Slang  Dictionary "was, by the time N. met her a radio figure who played   songs which were written before 1948  once a week. Daily she sat at a grocery store ,in her pocket a harmonica and talked to people who came to see her. N. came many times, and slowly built a story, taking only what was needed for the portrait of a young brave girl, a feminist, honest with the sense of criticism ,  especially about herself. N. reanacted  Some ceremonies and rituals ,since Netiva's father was one of the persons who invented them as a school  head master and a famous educator. I was the pianist, and later violist and composer Ayelet Lerman joined me .  Instead of an intermission  , a chorus composed of members of the Ruth Kenner Ensemble sang and danced songs taken of Netiva's encyclopedia. In the 2nd part, reconstructing Netiva's radio program they came to join her in the last song.

WAR TOURISM - The trigger for this play was the death of the 3 daughters of Dr. Abu El Heishe (ABH),  a  respected physician from Gaza who worked in  Israel, during a military operation, when he was promised that his house was safe.(2009) .the whole event was broadcasted live, and that broadcast + other temporary events that involved the new media  was  the center upon which the play ran . We couldn't use the book ABH wrote (copyrights issue)  ,so N. looked into her own biography , starting with a day trip to GAZA , made right after the six days war, and organized for the families of a public transfer company. With a lot of sarcasm she parodies the hybris of the civilians who thinks the new conquered  territories belong to them (they still do).With her daughter, they analyze the names of the operation which is a quote  of Hanukah children song. The term "collateral damage" (invented in the Vietnam war to justify killing of civilians ) which appears in an official letter from the law authorities to the army was sang as a rap song. The same technique was used on a hysterical monologue of a woman, delivered   in ABH hospital, who is sure that there were weapons hidden in ABH home. We made an operatic aria sang by N., while you could see   the video speaking in real time.  The internet played a cardinal role, and the climax was hearing the shouts of ABH   together with Ayelet Lerman's electronic realization that created a choir of crying. The play ends with a photo of ABH girls on a beach and a wordless elegy.

AND ESPECIALLY THIS GARDEN  - N. had "bought" from the municipality a bench near the King David hotel .on which her parents love to sit and watch the old city. The name of the work is a quote from the plaque pasted on the bench and tells how they loved all the sights of Jerusalem "AND ESPECIALLY THIS GARDEN". Contrary to her last noisy piece,   this one is silent. 40 people sit on pillows and hear N.+ my music through earphones. The time element is crucial: There are 4 times the Dormition abbey   bells  tolls -every 15 minutes. 1ring,2 , 3, and on the hour 4 rings+ the hour numbers . Considering the sunset that summer, we had to start exactly at 19.00 with the first ring and then play 3 parts, each one lasts 15 minutes. The first one uses the environmental sounds, to which we added birds, wind, etc…The 2nd  has some melodies concerned with the city, and the 3rd part is mainly variations on a minor key on a children song-her own private ( explained by the lyrics-a twisted puppet) childhood  association which is an allegory on our situation in Jerusalem. While the music is fixed in time, N. can interject new material and react to what happens around her. The area is not closed and everybody can walk in the garden...

MY EX  STEP - MOTHER IN LAW -  Agi Yoeli, who is defined by the long Family title is a hero for N., who used to meet her at least once a week, long after the legal connection was broken. This legendary artist  ,piano player and story teller who survived AUSCHWITZ concentration  camp and walked all the way to Prague in 1945 . N.  was particularly  adventurous in this work  by letting chance decide the order of events. A round table with a toy piano and a mini roulette . A volunteer comes and turns the wheel , which points to one of the 5 corners. In each corner there is a drawer with materials of a different aspects of Agi's life:  sculpture, dancing, cooking, etc… On the screen we can see a map of Europe, showing Agi's walk across Europe. .N. creates a dialogue with each guest – but not as Naomi ,but as Agi. Between each part we hear A   developing fugue that I wrote and in the end -a song whose theme is the impossibility   of sharing  the life "there" (Auschwitz).

HAPPY TIDINGS -  This was my most difficult task with Naomi: writing A-Capela songs  for non-professional voices ,and using prosaic  text  which  was taken from letters sent by N. family to her father ,who immigrated to Israel. The letters cover 6 years 1935-1941 .

N. felt a lot of guilt , though not her own, and had to pass through therapeutic sessions that led to a guided imagination solution: put them in a safe place she knows from childhood and sit them in beach deck chairs, and that is the way the play ended.

N. found the letters by accident  , in an outside porch at her parents home, almost destroyed by weather. After translation from Yiddish and Polish she understood the tragedy and guilt of her father. All of them were killed by the Germans, and could have been saved if her father would listen to their request to know more and later to immigrate to Israel. They adored him and he barely answered. His brief letters were a big celebration for all his relatives, but he evaded the subject of their coming after him. Of course,  like the rest of the world, he could not guess the terrible future that waited for them, being immersed   in the hard life of a poor young pioneer.

We chose and selected parts of the letters that could be set for music. The family was played by 4  actors and actresses  from the Ruth Kenner ensemble. With a very  little help of Naomi's harmonica they sang ACAPELA 8 songs .

Old Folks with Background Deseases

as the 1ST lockdown ended in the summer of 2021 3 old men (Yuval Maskin, Shimon Levy and myself) and one woman (N.) created a review that was performed in the special corner that was marked "for old people Only " in the Dubnov garden Tel Aviv. we felt like an endangered species as the media defined us and what we did was fighting back with humor and irony.

some of the stuff was written or translated by Shimon Levy, and some was improvised. We did a new version a year later.

TIESTES, A  play by Seneca, was  translated by actor and director Doron Tavory after finding out that the play, which was meant to be a reading play was not translated for acting .Using  some existing  translations he created a living, fluent language in which N. and he could talk to each other. The play calls for a large staff: Tantalus ,the original sinner who sits in hell, hungry and thirsty and gets an order to breath a horrible scheme to his son, Atreus ,who was betrayed by his brother ,Tiestes and had to flea with his 3 sons far away. the scheme is tempting T. to come back and become co-ruler, and then -kill his sons, cook them and serve them to already we have a family of 8, and then- servants and a corus. N and D did all the parts. As a corus they were 2 elderly pensioners who listened to Naoemi shemer hits on a cassette recorder, and while cooking or making tea they discussed the matters of high politics. The children were puppets, carried on strings.

The location was very smack, hosting only 16 spectators: Hashomer 3 used a be a small shop with a gallery and was turned by a generous lady to a small theater. By light and sound tricks we turned the small restroom into hell.

And the gallery add ceiling, with a gigantic lighting ball that changed its colors were the end of the world , since Atreus canceled the gods.

There were 3 demonstrated lectures: 1)The wicked family ,which came to life through 16 cards which were given to Every one  of the audience while entering:2)the phenomena of eating children, demonstrated by evidence from many sources. 3)the scheme of the Vitruvian roman stage and amphitheatre with elements made by artist Dana Yoeli who designed the whole set.

ARISE AND SHINE  (URU VENAALE) -  Like "and especially this garden" spectators are gathered near n. legendary bench looking at Har Zion.

They get a bag with water, earphones and a pillow-but then they start walking up the hill. N. , like a tourist guide, is telling the brief history of the last 70 years, the mistakes and the wrong doings of both sides. My music is heard through the earphones, accompanying the story. We go up until we reach the roof of king David's tomb. People are having tea and listen to a piece of 8 minutes I wrote for the occasion.

Photo: Goni Riskin

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