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Poetry from the Buttocks Ensemble

A

ctors Yuval Segev and Nadav Bosem appear often at Bamat Etgar events, a stage for progressive culture in Jaffa. They play the Yashvanim, or "Buttocks Ensemble." The name also alludes to "mityashvim," meaning "settlers". Their specialty is poetry. It is heartening indeed to find a hard-boiled cop ("Zach Manzur", played by Segev) and a gracious middle-aged orthodox settler lady ("Simha Babioff", played by Bosem) who have the sensitivity and warmth, the love for the Hebrew language and their fellow Jew, to produce unforgettable verse combining poignancy and patriotism. An example:

My Husband Rapes Little Girls

by Simha Babioff

I love him he loves little girls
I desire him he wants little girls
I want to be a mother to him
My husband is a father to every little girl
But my husband, he is Jewish
And this is a love song to the State

Please note: It doesn't matter if he rapes little girls, as long as he shows up for the army reserves.

Before we present more examples of their delectable verse (which the poets deliver with gentleness and restraint, sometimes suppressing their tears, often encouraging one another with insightful commentary, at times even drawing the audience into the creative process), we should say a little about the actors and let them speak for themselves.

Yuval Segev (police officer "Zach Manzur" is 26, a graduate of Seminar Hakibbutzim and the clown school in Paris. He also plays in children's theater. He has appeared in a number of student movies, as well as street theater.

Nadav Bosem (settler lady " Simha Babaioff" is 28, a graduate of the Nissan Native Acting Ascool. "I appear in plays of the Karov Theater. I am currently in Nazim Hikmat's "Why Did Banarji Kill Himself?" I have also appeared in a production based on Kafka stories at Tel Aviv University. During my studies I was responsible for many satirical evenings."

Nadav: As the yashvanim we poke fun at the poetry evenings that came back into fashion among Israelis after the new Intifada began. In times of crisis, people want to huddle together. These evenings took Israel by storm. People gather, sing the good old national songs and strengthen their feeling of togetherness. With an Israeli flag behind them, and a nice bouquet of flowers, Simha Babioff and Zach Manzur declaim their racist poetry.

Yuval: Zach and Babioff see what everyone sees and say what all Israelis think. For example, after Sakhnin [an Arab village – OS] won the national soccer championship, Zach wrote a poem expressing what many thought. (Fadiha, in what follows, is Arabic for "disgrace".)

There Isn't Any Championship

by Zach Manzur

The Sons of Sakhnin took the cup
And Nidal Shalata kicked the goals
Amazing that the Arabs won
And I say there must have been a mistake,
Because when we kill their kids in Rafiah it's one thing,
But Arabs taking the championship?
Fadihah.

Who are Zach Manzur and Simha Babioff?

Segev: The typical Israeli is violent and chauvinistic. That's Zach Manzur – he wants it all and believes he has it coming to him. But he also has human aspects. There's a lot of me in Zach Manzur. After all, I write his poetry, and I've developed his more tender side to show that he's also human. He aspires to be an artist. He writes very honest poems and takes himself very seriously, yet the cop in him pops up when needed to keep him from getting swept away. The name Zach Manzur has a poetic base. I made it up from the name of one of my favorite poets, Natan Zach, and added a popular Mizrahi name, Manzur.

Nadav: Simha Babioff, from the settlement of Eilon Moreh near Nablus, is a member of the settler aristocracy. She is very patriotic, but she has broad horizons and always knows the latest trends. She has opinions about everything and talks in her poems about issues that trouble her. She is very independent, and women's rights mean a lot to her, although the rights of Arabs much less. Simha has a strong social awareness, as long as this doesn't lead her beyond the bounds of solidarity with Jewish society.

I went to right-wing demonstrations to study the character. This kind of person is not much loved among most Israelis, but in our show the audience warms right up to her. Simha is always amiable, even as she says the most terrible things.

Oslo is Dead, a Baby is Born
by Simha Babioff

Oslo is dead, a baby is born
Rabin is dead, lilacs bloom
Handcuffed Thais line the roadside
Cats meow we won't evacuate the outposts. (Meow!)
With laws or without them
There are many hungry children
Oslo is dead, a baby is born
At the separation fence another leftist dies.

Who is your audience?

Yuval: We perform at the Tmuna Theater at least once a week. The age of the audience varies from 20 to 80. We bring them onto the stage and get them involved. We live off their feedback. Today we are in the fringe, where change flourishes. Change cannot come from the mainstream.

Nadav: We are against the Occupation, but we don't shout "Occupation!"

Can everything be said?

Nadav:es, everything.

I noticed that in your poetry readings and improvisations there is a preoccupation with racism.

Nadav: True, because that is a burden that every Arab citizen carries with him from the moment he is born. Arabs have always been second-class citizens here, but since the Intifada of October 2000, when the Arabs in Israel rebelled, something awful has happened. The Jewish Left had embraced the Arabs in a phony co-existence. When the Arabs stood up for their rights, the Left was very insulted. The crisis wasn't anything new. It had always been there. It is hypocritical to deny this, and we are fighting hypocrisy.

You criticize the Right, but you also criticize the Left.

Nadav: The Left doesn't really exist. There are just the remains of Meretz and the Labor Party, and they have no agenda. Not even on economic issues. The Left supports the separation fence, but the situation in the Territories is our responsibility. We can't just wash our hands of what happens there.

Would you go to the settlements with your message?

Yuval: We would have no problem performing in the settlements.

Nadav: What do you mean, we would have no problem?

Yuval: You have a problem with that?

Nadav: I do. Once, my fellow performers in another play got really angry with me because I refused to appear in the settlements. I have no problem appearing before settlers, but I am not interested in going to the settlements. I don’t want to legitimize their presence there.

Yuval: I want to clarify what I said. I have no problems appearing with this show in the settlements. But when it comes to a normal commercial show, like a kids' show or juggling, I am not prepared to give them the justification. This show, though, has another mission. We are laughing at the situation, and I am sure this puts them under pressure. It will annoy them. I want to hold a mirror up to them.

Nadav: I agree that the situation could be interesting if we were to perform in the settlements. The tension would be interesting. But I prefer that it happens here, on our home turf and not theirs.

You mentioned the mission of the show. What’s the mission?

Yuval: I know I am making a very crude comparison, but imagine if the Jews had performed something about the life in the ghettoes before the Nazis. Something like, "Isn’t it great to live in the ghetto!" Before World War II there were many cabarets that ridiculed the Nazis and the Aryan doctrine. They made them grotesque. They continued to perform when Hitler was already in power, until he shut them down. There is something subversive in this. We also want to cause change.

How do you renew your material?

Nadav: Israeli politics is one big farce. Everything is already written for us in the newspapers, we simply have to take it. A former Minister of Energy caught smuggling Ecstasy pills? There's a lot of symbolism and suspense in that. We've had some wonderful weeks: the assassination of Sheikh Yassin, the Tannenbaum affair, Vanunu. That was an excellent period. The last few weeks have been a little harder, a little, let's say, disengaged.

What place does Bamat Etgar have in your agenda?

Nadav: It is important that a political stage exists. In Bamat Etgar, the audience is more radical, and we really go wild, becoming even more right-wing and extremist. True, there's an aspect of "preaching to the converted". When we performed in the evening called "The Lie" [marking one year of war in Iraq – OS], there was also an Arab audience there, and I think they understood and responded. Bamat Etgar is always an opportunity for us to write new material. I get feedback from people who saw us at the Bama and they say we were much more political. I agree. It gave us a chance to recharge our batteries.

We promised to return to the poetry. What could be better than…

Tea at Condoleezza's
by Simha Babioff

Condoleezza's in the kitchen
I wait.
She serves
I ask:
No cookies?
None
And will there be?
No
But
But what?
Cookies are
Are what?
Basic
Not in my house.
So there aren't any cookies?
No
And there won't be?
No
And peace?
Depends
Depends on what?
The cookies

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