Weekly Message from Rabbi Panitz


Dear friends,

I am writing you on short notice to invite you to join me this coming Sunday afternoon, at 2:00 PM, for a performance of the stage play , Disgraced, to be performed by the Virginia Stage Company, at the Wells Theater. I have been invited by the Center For the Study of Religion Freedom (Virginia Wesleyan University) to take part in a community conversation following the performance. The invitation for me to participate signals that the conversation will likely cover issues of concern to us as Jews and as Americans. So I hope that you will be able to attend the performance and stay for the conversation.

I did not write to you earlier because I wished to see the preview of the play before asking you to commit time and ticket money to attend. If I had felt that the play was not worthy of your pains, I would not have reached out to you. But having seen it last night, I believe that you will find it thought-provoking. Moreover, it is important that Jewish voices, and not only my lone Jewish voice, be part of the conversation.

Disgraced, a 2011 play by Ayad Akhtar, tells of the unraveling of the lives of two married couples. The first couple are Amir and Emily. He is a successful South Asian lawyer who has rejected—and concealed-- the Islam of his Pakistani youth. He criticizes his native religion for its misogyny and its attempt to foist the society of 7th century Arabia upon a modern and more progressive world. His wife, Emily, an artist, is enamored of the Islamic artistic tradition and eager to create art that will, in its own language, combat Islamophobia. She prevails upon him to give some pro bono assistance to their nephew’s Imam, on trial for suspicion of assisting a jihadist terrorist organization. News of his action precipitates closer scrutiny of his past, with powerful professional and personal consequences.

The second couple is related to the first couple in several ways. Isaac is an art gallery owner who is contemplating showing Emily’s work in an exposition, and his wife, Jory, is an attorney in the same firm as Amir. But the connections among all four members of the couples are murky and ultimately questionable.

As the story unfolds, several of the characters reveal a core of tribalism in their make-up. Jory and Amir find themselves in competition for the same position in the firm, and that catalyst brings to the surface adversarial and prejudicial aspects of their nature. Amir and Emily likewise respond to stress in ways that reveal the demons of their nature., Amir, in particular, so critical of aspects of Islamic-dominated culture, cannot thoroughly emancipate his conduct from them, with tragic consequences.

I hope that you can join me at the Wells this coming Sunday. Until then, happy Passover!

Rabbi Michael Panitz