Main Entry: thau·ma·turg
Etymology: French, from New Latin thaumaturgus, from Greek thaumatourgos working miracles, from thaumat-, thauma miracle + ergon work — more at Theater, Work
The official blog of the Dramaturgy Department at Baltimore's CENTERSTAGE. For posts related to our current and upcoming shows, click the links to the right. Alternatively, you could begin at the beginning, and explore our posts in chronological order.
In response to our current production of The Whipping Man, we got this lovely, unsolicited email from a patron. Couldn’t ask for more:
The play, the actors, the direction, the set, lighting were ever so much better than the review led me to expect. …the subplots and subsidiary detail enhanced our experience of the intricacies of relationships under the slave system.
The follow-up discussion engaged all of us in opening up the characters and plot lines as we talked about religion, politics, and race. I was so impressed that [the actor] stayed to hear and interact with the audience - and describe some of the directorial process. …I have to disagree on one point: We do talk about race in America - not frequently, not enough, but at Center Stage on a spring Sunday following a shared experience of artistic genius.
After the general discussion, three of us , a middle-aged black woman, an older white woman, and a Jewish man, continued to talk about our experience of race, shared history and the handing down of tradition. Where else in this wonderfully diverse city do such conversations occur? Thanks to all at Center Stage for a most memorable evening!
In what might seem to many as highly unusual, and a strange allegiance, Richmond, Va., is home to the Soldiers’ Section at Hebrew Cemetery, believed to be the only Jewish military cemetery in the world outside the state of Israel.
Jewish presence in Richmond predates its designation as a city and state capital, and, for that matter, Virginia’s designation as a state.
Jews were among the colonists who established Jamestown in 1607, and may well have been in the group of 120 men who left that enclave days later to sail up what is now known as the James River, in the first effort to settle an area that today is part of downtown Richmond.
At the time of Richmond’s founding in 1737, Jews were engaged in trade throughout the Virginia Territory. By 1790, approximately 100 of the 3,700 colonists calling Richmond home were Jews. On Shabbat, they gathered at the Orthodox Kahal Kadosh Beth Shalome, a synagogue that followed Sephardic ritual worship.
With the arrival of more Ashkenazi Jews, a second synagogue, Beth Ahabah, was established in 1841. Khal Kadosh Beth Shalome eventually merged with Beth Ahabah, which continues to this day as a Reform house of worship and is the sixth-oldest synagogue in the United States.
from “Hamsa” by Menachem Wecker
The hamsa has been variously interpreted by scholars as a Jewish, Christian, or Islamic amulet, and as a pagan fertility symbol…it is recognized today as a kabbalistic amulet and as an important symbol in Jewish art…As the references to Fatima (Mohammed’s daughter) and to Miriam (Moses’ sister) suggest, the amulet carries significance to both Jews and Muslims. One of the most prominent early appearances of the hamsa is the image of a large open hand which appears on the Puerta Judiciaria (Gate of Judgment) of the Alhambra, a 14th century Islamic fortress in southern Spain.
It would not be unusual for an Islamic symbol to find its way into Sephardic Jewish culture, which flourished alongside Islam. However, amulets are somewhat problematic in Judaism. Still, the Talmud refers on several occasions to amulets, or kamiyot, which might come from the Hebrew meaning “to bind.” One law allows for carrying an approved amulet on the Sabbath, which suggests that amulets were common amongst Jews at some points in history. (Shabbat 53a, 61a)…
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact time when hamsas emerged in Jewish culture, though it is clearly a symbol of Sephardic nature. Jews might have used the hamsa to invoke the hand of God, or to counteract the Evil Eye with the eye embedded in the palm of the hand. Some hamsas contain images of fish, in accordance with Rabbi Yose son of Hanina’s statement in the Talmud that the descendents of Joseph, who received Jacob’s blessing of multiplying like fish in Genesis 48:16, are protected from the evil eye like fish. He explains: “the water covers the fish of the sea so the eye has no power over them (Berakhot 55b).”
Other icons besides eyes and fish have also found their way into the hamsa, including the Star of David, prayers for the traveler, the Shema, the blessing over the house, and the colors of red and blue, both of which are said to thwart the Evil Eye.
Hamsas still play a role in some Sephardic rituals today. During the henna ceremony, when brides are decorated in the preparation for their wedding, brides may wear a hamsa around their neck to ward off the evil eye.
Throughout the production of The Whipping Man, CENTERSTAGE will be providing numerous opportunities for audiences to engage in discussion inspired by the themes of the show. Conversations will focus on the notion of inheritance— inherited faiths, political systems, racial struggles, and all of the inherited gifts and issues associated with our multifaceted identities. Prominent leaders of Baltimore’s African American and Jewish communities will participate, to encourage exploration of these two communities’ relationships over time. Theater scholars and artists will also contribute, offering historical and cultural expertise as well as behind-the-scenes insights to enhance audiences’ experiences of The Whipping Man and its rich subject matter. Click here for events, dates, times, locations, and guests.
This project was made possible by a grant from the Maryland Humanities Council, through support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this programming do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Maryland Humanities Council.