A Land Twice Promised

  • Review
By – May 3, 2016

A Land Twice Promised is Noa Baum’s mov­ing mem­oir of how she came to write the sto­ry­telling per­for­mance of the same name. This piece which dra­ma­tizes the expe­ri­ences of two women from Jerusalem — Baum her­self, an Israeli Jew, and Jumana, a Pales­tin­ian Chris­t­ian — and the paths that led them to hear each other’s sto­ries with com­pas­sion and empathy.

Until they first met by chance in a park in Cal­i­for­nia, where their chil­dren were play­ing, Jumana had nev­er spo­ken to an Israeli Jew. Baum — despite her active oppo­si­tion to Israeli occu­pa­tion of the West Bank — had nev­er spo­ken to a Pales­tin­ian, nor had she thought to.

Baum’s sto­ry begins with her youth­ful beliefs that Israel was to be a light unto the nations and moves through the dif­fer­ent stages of her dis­en­chant­ment. She wit­ness­es a demon­stra­tion against the occu­pa­tion in which a mob of scream­ing, abu­sive stu­dents seri­ous­ly threat­ened the demon­stra­tors. The next day’s news­pa­per car­ried the sto­ry but not a word about who had start­ed it. Baum was incred­u­lous, and each sub­se­quent demon­stra­tion against the occu­pa­tion left her hol­low­er and angri­er than before.”

How did Baum make peace with her­self? She didn’t. She threw her­self into act­ing until the day she was not cast in a new pro­duc­tion. Depressed, she took a job as sto­ry­teller for chil­dren. Dur­ing this time she mar­ried an Amer­i­can, and the two moved to Cal­i­for­nia so that her hus­band could pur­sue his PhD in agri­cul­ture. There, a sto­ry­teller and men­tor encour­aged Baum to try per­son­al sto­ry­telling. She was seized by this and began writ­ing about child­hood mem­o­ries of grow­ing up in Jerusalem. Then she thought of Jumana. Here was this woman that I’d known now for sev­en years, our chil­dren went to the same kinder­garten, we both grew up in the same city, all our child­hood was spent not even five miles apart, and I’ve nev­er heard what that war was like for her.” Thus began the long, dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions that led to her per­for­mance piece A Land Twice Promised.

Speak­ing direct­ly was often dif­fi­cult for both. Lis­ten­ing to Jumana’s mem­o­ries about the war and the impact of Israeli occu­pa­tion, Baum felt a pal­pa­ble, unbear­able sense of shame … The lit­tle girl of my child­hood dreams want­ed to shout, But we are not bad! We are good peo­ple.” To hear that Pales­tini­ans had the same deep feel­ing for Jerusalem a reminder of how lit­tle thought was ever devot­ed in my upbring­ing and life to who they’ were.” If speak­ing with can­dor was not easy, nei­ther was the shap­ing of what became Baum’s script. There were times she felt she just couldn’t con­tin­ue, espe­cial­ly in 2002 when sui­cide bomb­ings in Israel were accel­er­at­ing and chil­dren were dying on both sides. Sto­ry­teller and men­tor Bill Hart­ley man­aged to calm her, Your job as an artist is to remind peo­ple of their human­i­ty. You do the best you can where you can.”

Baum has been doing just that through­out the U.S. and in Israel; per­son­al sto­ry­telling is both an expres­sion of her cre­ativ­i­ty and her mis­sion. When we are telling each oth­er our per­son­al sto­ries,” she writes, it actu­al­ly expands our abil­i­ty to accept things that were con­tra­dic­to­ry to every­thing we pre­vi­ous­ly held as Truth.”

Mer­rill Lef­fler has pub­lished three col­lec­tions of poet­ry, most recent­ly Mark the Music. A physi­cist by train­ing, he worked in the NASA sound­ing rock­et pro­gram, taught Eng­lish at the U. S. Naval Acad­e­my, and was senior sci­ence writer at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land Sea Grant Pro­gram, focus­ing on Chesa­peake Bay research.

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