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.”