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Can you separate the art from the artist?: JArts Theatreworks Group Presents “You Will Not Play Wagner”

By Jewish Arts Collaborative

Published Aug 28, 2023



This Curation is part of Combating Antisemitism.

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You Will Not Play Wagner | Trailer

Above: (1 min) Trailer for You Will Not Play Wagner, 2020.


Performing Wagner has been unofficially banned in Israel since the state’s creation because Wagner was a cultural touchstone of Nazism. But, could Wagner’s music transcend the antisemitic views of its creator?


You Will Not Play Wagner takes place in New York City and Tel Aviv as the characters Zoom across the COVID-19-plagued world. Ya’akov, a young Israeli upstart, provokes an uproar when he chooses to perform Wagner in the finals of an international competition for conductors. He comes into conflict with Esther, a Holocaust survivor and competition patron who has her own tragic connection with Wagner’s music, and Morris, the competition’s organizer.

Their arguments push the competition to the brink. Should Ya’akov conduct Wagner? Should the politics of the composer interfere with the quality of his art? To what extent do we honor the memory of the Holocaust, its survivors, and their descendants, without stifling the next generation? And would a Jewish Israeli conducting Wagner be treachery or triumph?

South African playwright Victor Gordon adapted his play for Zoom just before he passed away from COVID-19. This film is in his memory.



Run time: 64 minutes

Original language English, some Hebrew


Directed by: Lilia Levitina

Starring: Annette Miller, Ofek Cohen, Avi Hoffman


Executive Producer: Jewish Arts Collaborative

Producers: Ernest Aranov, Norman Lang, Rick Macomber, Annette Miller, Christo Tsiaras


Playwright: Victor Gordon

Screen Adaptation: Anna Ampleeva, Lilia Levitina


Boston Crew: Director of Photography Rick Macombe, Assistant DP Norman Lang, Assistant DP Christo Tsiaras, Sound Billy Rosenthal, Make-up by Elizabeth Stockman, Production Assistant Melody Mason, Violin player/Esther’s childhood self Olga Kamiinsky

Tel-Aviv Crew: Producer Ernest Aranov, Director of Photography Rolik Novitsky, Assistant DP Arina Ger, Sound Michael Gurevich, Production Assistants: Lena Charash and Moti Zahavi, Tamir Kurtatinsky, Alexei Benshtain, Musical Score: Mark Galinovsky, Lucas Syed


Editor and Sound Editor: Christo Tsiaras


Special Thanks: Anat and Yael Zahavi, Nadine Rosinoer, Olga Minsky, Michael Miller, Max Lifshin, John Escobar, Claudio Ragazzi, Michael Savikovsky, Zvi Polunsky, Emily Romm, Eugene and Eva Kaminsky, Michael Teplitsky at Theater Malenky, Gilad Alon & Bruno Amir at Cafe May 6, Govane Lohbauer at Shakespeare & Co, Ido Solomon at F.A.B. Defense, Mark Levitin, Ella Nikolaevsky, Maria Koreneva


You Will Not Play Wagner is an original piece by JArts TheaterWorks, commissioned by JArts and created in partnership with the Forward and the Consulate General of Israel to New England.



“You Will Not Play Wagner is dedicated to the memory of Victor Gordon, a South African Jewish playwright, who passed away from COVID-19 in the middle of the play’s adaptation for the screen. As the cast and I faced the responsibility of honoring Victor’s legacy, we poured over the characters’ psychology and uncovered layers of meaning in Victor’s text. Beyond the central plot question of ‘to play or not to play Wagner in Israel,’ there are Jewish and universal questions of tikkun olam, the healing of the world. How does a person position themself and their people within the narratives of individual and collective trauma? Is tikkun olam possible without personal healing? In today’s polarized world, can a conversation between people on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum bring hope? And of course, and always, what role does art have to play?”

Talkback at the Miami Jewish Film Festival

Above: (30 min) Hosts of the Miami Jewish Film Festival 2023 in conversation with director Lilia Levitina and actor Avi Hoffman of You Will Not Play Wagner.


JArts’ mission is to curate, celebrate, and build community around the diverse world of Jewish arts, culture, and creative expression. Our vision is of a more connected, engaged, and tolerant world inspired by Jewish arts and culture.


Art, Legacy, and Controversy

Wagner's music, due to its association with Nazism, has been controversial in Israel, creating a complex dialogue around the separation of art from its creator's beliefs. Based on the film, do you think art can truly be separated from the artist's personal beliefs or the historical context surrounding it?

Interpersonal Dynamics and Historical Trauma

The film revolves around the relationship between Ya’akov, an Israeli conductor, and Esther, a Holocaust survivor. How does their dynamic reflect the broader societal tensions around historical trauma and its influence on present-day decisions? In what ways does the film explore the concept of tikkun olam (healing of the world) in the context of individual and collective trauma?

Role of Art in Societal Healing

Throughout the film, various characters grapple with the purpose and impact of art, especially when it intersects with personal and collective traumas. How does the film portray art as a tool for reflection, dialogue, and potential healing? How do characters like Esther, Ya’akov, and Morris use or view art as a means to navigate their own personal histories and convictions? How does director Lilia Levitina's statement on the Israeli narrative and its relationship with trauma influence your understanding of the film's themes?

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