‘Wandering Israeli’ to stop in Tenafly
Thursday night

‘Wandering Israeli’ to stop in Tenafly

Elad Shippony dramatizes his stories of life in Jordan, Africa, and beyond

“The Wandering Israeli” performers Eran Edri (percussion), Sagi Eiland (guitar/vocals) and actor-writer Elad Shipping. (Danit Sigler)
“The Wandering Israeli” performers Eran Edri (percussion), Sagi Eiland (guitar/vocals) and actor-writer Elad Shipping. (Danit Sigler)

Elad Shippony became a wandering Israeli in 1973, when he was 3 years old.

That’s when his parents moved from Beersheva to Los Angeles — where young Elad never quite felt at home. He didn’t see himself as an American immigrant. Once he was old enough, every summer he was sent to spend a month or two with his grandparents in Israel.

“I really felt something special during those months,” Mr. Shippony said. “I felt I belonged to Israel more than to the States.”

After graduating high school in Los Angeles in 1987, he passed on the scholarship to Columbia University and returned home to Israel, where he served in the army, got married, had three daughters, and used his fluent English as a technical writer.

Throughout this time, though, he never became a completely settled Israeli. He lived for three months in Jordan, traveled in Africa and South America and to Antarctica, even spent a month couch-surfing in Russia.

His life as an Israeli, both at home and abroad, is the subject of “The Wandering Israeli,” the one-man play he began performing 10 years ago, when he grew tired of technical writing. Accompanied by two musicians, he tells (and sings) his story, acting the parts of the different characters.

Next week, he will bring the show to the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, where he will present two versions: the original Hebrew-language version and an English-language edition that premiered this year.

“It wasn’t a straight translation,” he said. He took out a section about traveling in Louisiana, and he added sections about life on kibbutz and in Tel Aviv.

He has performed the Hebrew version 600 times throughout Israel. For the English version, he set up in a theater in Jaffa’s Old City. “The English show doesn’t come out and say you have to move to Israel,” he said. “The point is you should be doing what you want to do, being in a place where you feel you belong to and can make a difference.”

The show’s theme song is “The Place I Want to Return To,” and that describes Mr. Shippony’s relationship to Israel.

Elad Shippony
Elad Shippony

“Israel is the place I always wanted to return to,” he said. “When everybody around me was sending in their college applications, I was busy planning my return to Israel.”

When he first moved to Israel, he lived in Tel Aviv. When he joined the army, he was adopted as a lone soldier by Mishmar Hasharon. That was the kibbutz where Ehud Barak, then commander-in-chief of the Israeli army, had grown up.

“Only in Israel would it be conceivable that you’re a private in the army walking down a path and you suddenly see the commander in chief,” Mr. Shippony said. “And you have your next door neighbor be his mother — who does your laundry.”

Like many young Israelis, after his army service Mr. Shippony traveled around the world. He spent a year in Africa; his adventures on the Congo River include being captured by Zairean soldiers. (If you want to know what happened next, you’ll have to go to his show, he said.) He spent time in South America — which ended up opening a new window on the North American world where he had grown up.

“In African you can get around with your English,” he said. “In South America you couldn’t. I had to learn Spanish.

“When I came back to Los Angeles, I was speaking Spanish. I discovered a whole new city. I was never aware of how many Spanish speakers there were. It opened up the whole city. Suddenly I could communicate with all these people.”

Which led him to wonder: “What would happen if I learned Arabic?

“It was 1994,” he said. “The peace treaty was signed between Jordan and Israel. Peace was in the air. People were talking about a whole new Middle East. I decided to learn Arabic.”

So he went to Jordan. “I lived there for three months in a backpacker’s hostel,” he said. “I learned Arabic off the street. It was an amazing experience.”

Mr. Shippony holds both American and Israeli citizenship. In Jordan, “at first I was an American,” he said.

“And then, very slowly, I kind of let my defenses down and I was an Israeli everywhere I went. People were amazing.”

His time in Jordan is a central piece of his performance, and it became the basis of a half-hour video documentary, which follows him as he returns to Jordan after 12 years, where he is warmly embraced by the hostel owner.

His three months in Jordan accomplished his goal: He returned to Israel speaking fluent Arabic. And indeed, “the whole country I lived in was a different place.”

His active IDF service, which was spent in a commando unit, came before his stay in Jordan. Back then, “we had very limited communication with the local community in the Palestinian territories,” he said. “Just the basic things.

“Suddenly, being able to speak Arabic — people open up to you. You can make people feel you respect them by speaking their language.

“Being able to speak Arabic to Arabs, Hebrew to Israelis, Spanish to Spanish speakers, is a way to get them to open up and speak to you. It’s the first step.”

What: The Wandering Israeli

Who: Elad Shippony and two musicians

Where: The Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, Tenafly

When: Thursday, September 15

7 p.m. — English performance

9 p.m. — Hebrew performance


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