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Are we still capable of having a real opinion?

I read the biography of Jacob Israel De Haan, Unrest, by Jan Fontijn. Writer and director Gerardjan Rijnders based Salaam Jerusalem on this biography. It is this play, performed by De Nieuw Amsterdam, that really makes me realise how urgent it is to let such an almost forgotten figure as De Haan speak.

Jacob Israel De Haan overturned taboos, fought passionately for a fairer and more just world and had to pay for it with a violent death. An exciting life. Hardly anyone remembers who he was. Despite the street in Amsterdam named after him. And despite the beautiful quote from him on the gay monument: 'For friendship such an immoderate longing'. But does a 21st-century person still have a message to poet/journalist Jacob Israël de Haan (1881 - 1924)?

Humour and unctuous theories

Rijnders employs humour and a light tone. That in itself is surprising for such a tormented and tempestuous life story. He also draws all sorts of lines to the present and drops illuminating, often unctuous theories into it. Thus, he ensures that De Haan is sparkling enough to grab our attention and then open our eyes to how indifferently we treat each other in our time.

Cooking temperature

We live in a hype of instant opinions, which we hurl at each other at boiling temperatures. It seems we no longer have the patience to listen to each other. Let alone looking for what someone who lived a century ago could teach us anymore.

Brilliant text

In his views, De Haan let not only his sharp intellect speak, but also his feelings. In this, he is a man of our time. But unlike many nowadays, he knew exactly what choices he was making, even if he switched quite often in the course of his life. His Jewish youth, socialism, his clash with it, his homosexuality and the naturalness with which he wrote about it openly (in 1904!), the Zionist struggle for a Jewish state in Palestine and the orthodox religious party that wanted to wait just yet before establishing it. These are the episodes from De Haan's life. Rijnders incorporates them all into his brilliant text.

Wikipedia moment

When making a show about someone's life, there is always the danger of a school-like sequence. Rijnders cannot escape this either. But he gives it a comic twist by performing such an enumeration precisely as a caricature. A 'Wikipedia moment' the characters in Salaam Jerusalem this. Thus, the performance naturally leads you to genuine interest in the meaning of De Haan's life.

Setting up a tent while talking

At Salaam Jerusalem this life story takes shape in a conversation between actors Randy Fokke, Sabri Saad El Hamus and Ludo van der Winkel. Each time, they temporarily step into the role of the writer and the people who surrounded him in his life. While talking, they are setting up a tent and ironing a canvas.

Imbued with phallic symbols

From the start, the show is steeped in phallic symbolism and homoerotic desires. While the woman gives an account of the Alfaman's tracks across the globe, the two men engage in elaborate tit for tat. This erotic charge, with a dash of sadomasochism, is indicative of the main character. Even when he deals with rational matters. What drove De Haan to go to Russia to investigate the harsh fate of men in prisons? Why did he place so much value on good contact between Jews and Arabs? The latter is a valuable insight from which we can still learn a lot today. But this commitment was also rooted in the beauty of Arab men and the relationships De Haan established with them.

photo Leo van Velzen


Especially in the first half of the show, about De Haan's Dutch years, the play remains somewhat detached. This is unfortunate. De Haan's life was turbulent. So I want to feel some of that. The passion is more in the words than in the play. As beautiful as the final image of the tent is, with two Arab musicians (Nizar Rohana and Modar Salama) and their delicate music, the cumbersome setting up and yet repeatedly taking down the tent often distracts from the story. Precisely because the setting up is so widely spun out, this act loses its tension and becomes annoying. You already know well in advance what the end result will be.

Political strife and a fierce love life

Even in the second part, when De Haan is in Palestine, I do not feel the drive I imagine in his life. He plunged into political strife and a fierce love life. With deliberate fatalism, he met his death. Even when the men on stage kiss each other vigorously and plunge into SM sex, I do not feel the thrill of De Haan's life.

photo Leo van Velzen

Really driven

The really driven cry only comes when Ludo van der Winkel erupts into a tirade against social media with their shallow, one-line judgements, unreasoned hatred and lies. With that irritating 'Like' in between every time. It shakes you up, all those isolated moments: what a cheap way to attack the world. Compare that with the heartfelt criticism De Haan expressed. With his profundity until he could go no deeper. We are drowning in a sea of destructiveness. We say all sorts of things without really knowing what we are saying. And the terrible thing is that this blinds us to the simplest, calmest truths. Sabri Saad El Hamus is an Egyptian actor who wants to be here in the Netherlands, just to play and sing.

Good to know
Salaam Jerusalem can be seen across the country this spring, see playlist.

Maarten Baanders

Free-lance arts journalist Leidsch Dagblad. Until June 2012 employee Marketing and PR at the LAKtheater in Leiden.View Author posts

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