Jewish Israeli Theatre – Here and Now!

In 1958 the Israeli government led by David Ben-Gurion declared Habima to be Israel’s national theatre. The same year, Habima was awarded the Israel Prize for its significant contribution to Israeli culture and society. From Habima’s beginnings in Moscow as a professional Hebrew theatre, to its immigration to the land of Israel, to the construction of its theatre hall in Tel Aviv and its establishment as Israel’s national theatre: this is the story of how the vision of a small group of Jews who dreamed of acting in the Hebrew language turned into Habima Theatre - the National Theatre of Israel. Around 120 of the best actors in Israel make up Habima’s remarkable company, which includes both young and veteran actors, from 92-year-old “First Lady of Israeli Theatre” Lea Koenig to the theatre’s youngest member. This magnificent company is conducted by a team of creators who are at the top of their fields in Israel and around the world.

Habima’s management has laid out a series of goals – our “principles of faith”, expressing the character of the National Theatre and its role in society: 1. Promoting Israeli classics and original plays and creating an incubator for young Israeli playwrights. We place great importance on the “melting pot” created between young playwrights and the Israeli/Jewish/Hebrew classics. 2. Showcasing Jewish playwriting and works from Jewish playwrights or which concern Judaism. 3. The “Hebrew Cultural Heroes on the Stage of the National Theatre” project, commemorating the greats of Hebrew culture on the stage of Habima. Each year the theatre will produce biographical plays that wind the stories of our cultural heroes together with their works. These include: Naomi Shemer (Road Signs), Leah Goldberg (White Days by Shahar Pinkas), Natan Alterman (The Abandoned Melody by Motti Lerner), refusenik Ida Nudel (play by Shay Lahav), Hayim Nahman Bialik (Behind the Fence), Yitzhak Navon (Bustan Sepharadi), Yair Rosenblum (Mika), Ehud Manor, Judah Halevi, Alexander Penn, and Hanna Rovina (Was it Ever by Edna Mazia), Sami Michael (Refuge), Eli Amir (The Bicycle Boy), and more. 4. Establishing an academic college for the performing arts that will operate within the theatre and train students interested in working in the performing arts, including tracks for playwriting, directing, design, and managing cultural institutions. 5. Establishing a museum dedicated to the history of Hebrew-Jewish theater (from 1900 to today), which will operate in collaboration with Habima’s archives, the Hanna Rovina Pavilion, and the theatre’s 100-year anniversary exhibition, in cooperation with the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. These bodies will work together to turn the National Theatre building into a spiritual and educational cultural center, a sort of visitor’s center serving theatregoers and the general public, young and old. 6. Establishing a branch of Habima National Theatre in Jerusalem. Habima National Theatre should and must be a magnet for wide and diverse audiences, primary and secondary school students, and IDF soldiers.

Milestones in a Hundred Years of Habima

1917 – Habima is accepted as a studio of Stanislavski, run by Yevgeny Vakhtangov next to the Moscow Art Theatre.
1918 – Habima put on its first play: Neshef Bereshit (“Genesis Ball”), a production made up of four one-act plays: The Elder Sister, The Fire, The Sun,

The Sun, and Bad Misfortune. A Hebrew theatre became a fait accompli.
1919 – The theatre’s second production, The Eternal Jew, was staged.
1922 – Rehearsals began for The Dybbuk, written by Jewish author and folklore researcher S. Ansky. Different versions of The Dybbuk were performed at Habima around 1300 times from 1922 to 1998. Before leaving Moscow, Habima staged a production of H. Leivick’s The Golem, starring Aharon Meskin and Yehoshua Bertonov.
1926 – Habima left Moscow for a performance tour of Europe, never to return. The tour concluded in New York City in 1927.
1927 – The troupe split up. Most of the actors decided to immigrate to Israel, while Nachum Zemach and a group of actors stayed in the United States.
1928 – Habima’s remaining actors arrived in the Land of Israel.
The first production staged in Israel was Sholem Aleichem’s The Treasure, directed by Alexander Dicky.
In 1930, Habima produced and performed Twelfth Night in Berlin – the first time it had staged a Shakespeare production.
1945 – After ten years of construction, the theatre moved into its new home.
In 1958, Habima was awarded the Israel Prize and officially recognized as Israel’s national theatre.
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“Habima is not just an artistic institution. It is a cornerstone of the revival of Hebrew language and culture and of the shaping of cultural life in Israel.” Since its establishment, the theatre is committed to promoting issues of national importance, holding conversations with diverse Communities; fostering the Next Generation of Theatre Professionals; promoting Theatre in Israel and a Universal Approach.

Architect Ram Karmi (1931–2013)

Architect Ram Karmi, one of Israel's leading architects and urban planners and winner of the Israel Prize, was commissioned to redesign the historic building. His extensive and varied experience made him the ideal person to design the new building, merging both old and new and uniting tradition and innovation – both hallmarks of Habima.

The late Karmi designed a wide range of projects - public buildings, offices, academic institutions and public transportation centers - which have won many awards around the world .

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