In the 16th and 17th centuries, Amsterdam was a haven for Jewish refugees escaping the Inquisition in Portugal. A large Sephardic community resettled there and the Jews were able to practice their religion openly and peacefully. So much so that Amsterdam was often referred to as the “New Jerusalem.”
That brings us to the subject of the next NJT production, David Ives’ New Jerusalem, the Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Torah Talmud Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656, the true story of Jewish philosopher Baruch de Spinoza who was excommunicated from the Jewish community of Amsterdam in the mid-1600’s in order to keep the peace for that city’s Jews.
Amsterdam’s Sephardic Jews had made a fatal arrangement with the city: They agreed to police their own community for unorthodox beliefs. When the city accuses Baruch de Spinoza of atheism, Chief Rabbi Mortera must summon Spinoza to the synagogue to defend himself – a historical event that shook up not only the entire Jewish community of Amsterdam, but changed Spinoza’s and Mortera’s lives—and all of Western thought—irrevocably. The ensuing trial at Talmud Torah congregation is a riveting evening of engrossing historical drama.
Although no record exists of the trial itself, playwright David Ives has imagined it in an eloquent and masterful way to bring us a thoughtfully engaging creation from his own mind based on the facts that are known. We do know that Spinoza was a brilliant mind whose ideas were revolutionary for his time. The Jews of Amsterdam were fearful that their precarious situation of peaceful co-existence could be threatened by Spinoza’s “heresies.” In the end Spinoza was excommunicated from the Jewish community of Amsterdam.
All of this makes for a very compelling story of actual truth combined with Ives signature wit. The Village Voice calls it “Riveting.” NYTheatre.com calls it “A richly intellectual work of theatre that will stimulate all sorts of curiosities about the most fundamental questions facing humanity.”
There will be several talkbacks scheduled during the run. Those interested should call for more specific information regarding dates and facilitators.
Tim Ocel directs the production which features, Will Bonfiglio, Jim Butz*, John Flack*, Greg Johnston, Karlie Pinder, Robert Riordan and Jennifer Theby-Quinn. New Jerusalem will run April 4 – 22 in the JCC’s Wool Studio Theatre, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. Tickets are $36 for preview performance, $39 – $44 all other performances and are available online at newjewishtheatre.org or 314-442-3283.