Between Avraham and Ibrahim: Interview with “In Between” author Ibrahim Miari

Ibrahim Miari

Ibrahim Miari’s one-man show, “In Between” is a 5-course dramatic feast. It starts with the hypnotic pageantry of Miari’s Sufi dervish dancing and ends with his intercultural marriage to Sarah Goldberg, a Jewish Buddhist. In between, there is a larger-than-life puppet, hypnotic dumbek drumming, and lightening speed changes of character, place, time and emotion.

The play is also a petri dish for every conceivable political, religious and intercultural discussion on the subject of Israel and the Middle East. Miari grew up in Acco, Israel, the son of an Israeli Jewish mother and Palestinian Muslim father. His spellbinding autobiographical story, told with piercing insight and candor, repeatedly raises our awareness by putting us in the unfamiliar shoes of an Israeli who carries a passport stamped “Arab.”

As an Arab Israeli, Miari explains to his audience, he’s not Israeli enough because he’s a Muslim through his father (Islam is patrilineal); he’s not Arab enough because he’s a Jew through his mother; and he’s not Palestinian enough because he doesn’t live on the West Bank.

“I am a 1948 Arab,” his character declares, referring to Arabs who settled in Israel after the War of Independence. “I’m a demographic problem. I’m an inside Arab- an Israeli citizen. I am a ticking bomb-the ultimate security risk.”

Miari is also Ishmael grafted onto Isaac. Born Avraham, at 7 he attended a Jewish school and won the costume contest for Purim, his (and his mother’s) favorite Jewish holiday. By age 8, he was Ibrahim, enrolled at an Arabic school where Israeli Independence Day was celebrated as Nakba Day, the “Day of the Catastrophe”. He identified with everyone and with no one; he was a community of one.

Before moving to the United States in 2005, Miari was a member of the Acco Theatre Center Ensemble for nearly 12 years, acting and dancing in ensemble based projects for both young and adult audiences throughout Israel, Europe and the United States. He also performed solo shows in Hebrew, Arabic and English. An accomplished Sufi dancer and sacred dances instructor, he has directed the drama program at several peace camps in Canada and US with high school age Israeli and Palestinian youth.

In fact, it was while running such a program at a Canadian peace camp for young Israelis and Palestinians that he met his wife Sarah. Their subsequent search for a clergy to marry them gave Miari terrific material. He mesmerizes the audience with skill and satire as his Bread-and-Puppet sized silk cloud of a puppet transforms from imam to rabbi to Buddhist priest, each declining the young couple’s request to officiate their ceremony for ironically similar reasons.

Shelley A. Sackett with Ibrahim Miari at Arsenal Center for the Art’s NewRep Black Box Theater.

Reached at home by phone, Miari articulated why he has not published his play. “It is still a work in progress,” he said of the work that began as his MFA thesis project while attending Boston University’s Theater Education program. “(Not publishing) it allows me to change it as I grow as an artist and a performer. I improvise as I see fit in the moment, according to the energy in the room and current events.” By example, he recalled performing at MIT shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing last year. When his character likened being an “inside Arab” in today’s world to a “ticking bomb”, Miari sensed how the weight and immediacy of that line moved the audience. He paused along with them, incorporating that instant into that performance.

“All of a sudden, I took them to my story and I brought them back to reality. I am in the show and I am in the moment. This play is so personal to me and to my experience that no one else but me could perform it.”

Although his play is autobiographical, he had to invent the way his parents met because his mother wouldn’t tell him the true story. “After watching the DVD (“In Between” has yet to be staged in Israel), my mother said ‘You see? That’s why I didn’t tell you!’” Miari laughed. She remains silent on the subject to this day, although she is as supportive and understanding of her son in real life as she is portrayed in the play.

Miari prefers not to talk about politics (“My opinion about what is happening in Palestine is expressed in my work”), but he offers that the road to a peaceful resolution in Israel is as complicated as it is simple. “It is simple because people need to acknowledge that the violence, occupation and suffering needs to stop, and then they need to have the intention to go towards a solution. It is complicated because most people are unwilling to talk and because there is a lot of ignorance on both sides.”

On a happier note, he pondered what his daughter might take away from “In Between.” “I hope she would see that we’re all one, that this world is so much more than religion and politics. That you should live your life the way it suits you and not try to accommodate anyone.”

While Ibrahim Miari’s story and background may be unique, he echoes what every parent of every nationality and every religion says about every one of his children. “I just want her to be happy.”

Read more: