UPDATE (March 20): Mention of the Davidson Center and the Old City as the venue for the play has now been removed from the passionjerusalem.com website. It now appears the play will be performed "...miles from the Temple Mount".
Jewish Israel has just learned that a Passion Play produced by JBS Theatricals, a production company under the auspices of Stivale Ministries, is scheduled to be performed at the Kotel’s Davidson Center in the spring of 2012. Titled "The Kingdom", and billed as "the Passion in the Heart of Jerusalem", this production puts the nature and dignity of Jewish Jerusalem to shame.
"Imagine experiencing the Passion of Jesus Christ IN Israel... IN the center of the Old City of Jerusalem..." (passionjerusalem.com)
There are some things that Jews of all stripes simply don't want to imagine, and a passion play – even one which puts the blame on the Romans – performed in Jerusalem is one of those things.
For those who may not know, a passion play is a theatrical performance which, according to Christian tradition, deals with suffering of Jesus following the last supper as well as his crucifixion. Throughout history, numerous passion plays have blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus. We all know how that went for our nation.
Jewish Israel is quite certain that this particular performance has been rendered “Jew-friendly”. Nevertheless, the producers Brian and Jeni Stivale are devout christ-centered evangelists, who frequently appear on TBN and from the tone of the promotional website content and video, they are determined to shake-up Jewish Jerusalem.
A cordial conversation with Pastor Jeni Stivale
Jewish Israel contacted and spoke with a very warm and forthcoming Pastor Jeni Stivale. We made it quite clear from the onset of our conversation that Jewish Israel takes a critical look at growing Christian influence in the Jewish state, and that our questions would be honest and the report most likely critical of this venture, because Jewish Israel and its reader are intuitively aware that the Jewish State and Jerusalem are not the proper venue for a Passion Play, if ever an understatement was made.
Jeni Stivale is aware of the controversial nature of the theatrical venture. She assured Jewish Israel that Jewish sensibilities had been taken into account. She said that she had discussed the project and reviewed the script with “Orthodox friends” and had not run into any opposition.
Stivale emphasized that this project is a business venture directed at Christian Tourism. Stivale noted that Jerusalem is lacking in cultural activities geared specifically for Christians. She hopes that this performance will pave the way for a permanent tourist attraction, like the sound and light show at the Citadel.
Stivale told Jewish Israel that it was actually Israel's Tourism Ministry (MOT)that had initiated and encouraged the project and that the MOT had seen and approved of the script. Of course, this comes as no surprise to Jewish Israel which has previously reported on Israel’s MOT which is bringing in significant Christian dollars, yet is bankrupt when it comes to Jewish values.
Jewish Israel noted to Stivale that the video promo for the "The Kingdom" indicates that the production is in cooperation with the Jerusalem Municipality, the Israel Ministry of Tourism, and the State of Israel. We asked Stivale if she had finalized arrangements with those bodies. Stivale assured Jewish Israel that everything was "kosher" and that they had postponed the original Easter opening (a traditional time for Passion Plays) because the Davidson Center had insisted that a letter be written to the Rabbi of the Kotel and they were awaiting his approval. Pending approval, the opening is now tentatively set for May 17th.
UPDATE: Jewish Israel notes that the video promo in the passionjerusalem.com site has been edited since Jewish Israel’s conversation with Jeni Stivale and the logos and seals of Israeli government bodies no longer appear at the end of the clip. The original video can be seen here.
The Jesus Factor
Jewish Israel also asked Jeni Stivale if she felt the "Jesus factor" was essential in attracting Christian tourists or whether or not it was possible to attract pilgrims with theatrical performances dealing with "Old Testament" characters and themes. Stivale said she felt that "Old Testament" content could work for some and that indeed there are production companies which do just that. However, Stivale said that she believes that Christians do need to hear about jesus in the land where jesus walked. JBS Theatricals has already performed the passion play in the US and this is the particular script that was available at this time.
A Crossless Production
Jeni Stivale is aware that setting up a cross at the base of the Temple Mount could be somewhat controversial and that the symbol of the cross is offensive to some Jews (not to mention Muslims). So it appears that in this particular production, jesus will undergo a cross-less crucifixion, which Jeni Stivale feels may offend some Christians. But after all, according to Stivale, this production is "more about love than pain". We think JBS Theatricals should consider that opposition to a Passion play in Jerusalem may be more about substance and principles than crosses.
"This is revolutionary. This is 'THE KINGDOM'". (passionjerusalem.com/experience)
Jeni Stivale realizes that such a play sets an historic precedent, but she claims that it is "historically good" and she hopes that this "will awaken some truth in Israel about who Jesus really was."
Stivale was reluctant to define herself as an evangelical and she reiterated that she has no missionary agenda directed at Jews. Yet it is clear from the Stivale Ministry website and other online content that they are also devout Christian performers on a mission to spread the gospel of jesus and to establish a spiritual foothold in Jerusalem.
We can only hope that some things are still sacred to us, the Jewish people, and that Israel’s Tourism Ministry, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Rabbi of the Kotel will uphold the integrity of the Jewish people and the holiness of Jerusalem on this matter.
Jewish Israel will keep our readership posted on this developing story.
This report is being translated to Hebrew and will be sent to the Israeli public bodies mentioned above, as well as to leading rabbis in Israel.
UPDATE (March 20): Mention of the Davidson Center and the Old City as the venue for the play has now been removed from the passionjerusalem.com website. It now appears the play will be performed well outside of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Jewish Israel was in contact with the Office of the Chief Rabbi of the Kotel over this matter and we provided Rabbi Rabinovitch and his staff with our Hebrew report on the planned performance, as well as other relevant information.