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New York Playhouse Shares the Sufferings of Chaldean Mothers
By Mary Esho :: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 :: 40651 Views :: Sports, Art, and Entertainment

New York, USA –Basima is a Chaldean victim of an accident that kills almost her entire family, including her husband and her newborn baby; she takes off her head scarf, revealing the burns on her face.  She sits before an audience sharing her private hell and the suffering of the Iraqi people. 

On the stage of the New York Theater Workshop creators, Erik Jenson (co-writer) and Jessica Blank (writer and director) share the personal tragedies of Iraqi citizens during the war.  The play titled “Aftermath” in its final week of performance has earned impressive reviews as it depicts the private experiences of Iraqis.  Including the hardest hit and most vulnerable among Iraqi citizens, Chaldeans.   Leila Buck, plays a Chaldean dermatologist forced to treat the wounded against her will. 

The play tries to show the war’s continual effect on ordinary Iraqis widely ignored by media coverage since a new president was elected in the United States.  A voice-over during the play explains how over four million Iraqis remain refugees from their land. 

From the stage a young attractive woman softly murmurs, “Most Americans don’t know what a bomb sounds like. You don’t feel your eardrums, from the sound. We also don’t know what it smells like after the bomb has hit the target.”

“You don’t get that from TV,” the translator adds.

The show’s creators, Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank, are the same husband-and-wife team that put together “The Exonerated,” about real-life death row inmates who were innocent. Like their previous play, “Aftermath” is based on edited transcripts of interviews with the actual people being depicted; the actors tell their stories directly to the audience, mostly sitting on chairs on the stage.

The play actors include a theater director and his wife, the artist and scenic designer, who met at an arts institute in Bagdad and courted for six years; they would retreat to what colleagues called the Bermuda Triangle because it was a place where they could disappear and be alone together.

There is the translator, who learned English from American videogames and likes to tell the jokes that were going around Iraq, which were more revealing than any news report. (While there is a smattering of Arabic to lend a sense of authenticity, all the characters speak English.)

There is an imam, who as a teenager unsure of his beliefs helped become religious by reading a translation of a book demonstrating God’s existence in nature written by a group of American scientists.  

A young woman in the head scarf named Basima, a Christian who recounts childhood Christmases with particular glee – are courteous and likeable.

It is more than a third of the way through the 85-minute play before we start to learn about their experiences after the Americans came in 2003. The imam was taken, based on a misunderstanding, to Abu Ghraib; the translator was kidnapped by Iraqi police; the dermatologist was forced to treat wound after wound after wound (“You know why I chose dermatology? I hate blood.”); the theater director and his wife were targets of fatwas against artists from insurgents flooding the country from Iran and Syria (“If there is a play that I could pick that embodies Iraq now…’King Lear’ because of all the betrayals.”)

These and the other stories are told in persuasive detail with compelling performances by all nine members of the cast, who make you forget not just that they spend most of their time sitting, but that these actors are not the actual people whose stories they are telling.

The playwrights spent two weeks in Jordan last year on assignment from the New York Theater Workshop interviewing Iraqi refugees.

The audience drawn to “Aftermath” will get what it paid for – audience members will learn a little, and feel a lot closer to understanding what a mess U.S. involvement in Iraq became…and remains.   If that’s not enough, there is also a discussion session after each performance and literature in the back from groups like the International Rescue Committee

St. Joseph, MI USA

St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church
2442 E. Big Beaver Rd.
Troy, MI 48083
Tel: (248) 528-3676
Fax: (248) 524-1957

Congregation Organizer:
Rev. Michael J. Bazzi

Church Constructing Pastor:
Rev. Sarhad Y. Jammo

Current Pastor:
Msgr. Zouhair Toma

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Ayad Hanna

 Current Pastor: Msgr. Zouhair Toma

Msgr. Zouhair Toma (Kejbou) was born in Telkaif, Iraq in 1947.  He was ordained a priest in Baghdad, Iraq in 1968, and accepted his first assignment to serve the community of Baquba.  The Monsignor’s leadership skills and organizational talents along with his mastery of theology were immediately evident.  He later assisted Sts. Peter and Paul in Al-Salehia, and St. George in New Baghdad.

In August, 1978 Monsignor Toma was called to serve the growing community of persecuted Chaldeans finding refuge in Australia.   Being the fist Chaldean priest to arrive in Australia he quickly established a parish for the Chaldeans in Sydney to serve their social and spiritual needs.  The parish was named after St. Thomas the Apostle and built a rectory. 

In 1989, for his incredible work he was granted the title of Monsignor, Chaldean Patriarchal Vicar for Australia and New Zealand.  Continuing his passionate work to serve the Chaldean community the Monsignor moved the Parish Center to a more accessible location and built a large church campus featuring a modern community center, residence quarters, and administrative offices in 1995. 

In 2003, Monsignor Toma added a magnificent church to replace the previous one in order to serve the fast growing community and also opened two other centers.  The first was Our Lady Guardian of Plants in Melbourne, and the second was Mar Addai the Apostle in Auckland, New Zealand.  Mar Addai in New Zealand included two very large churches along with rectories and community centers.  Overseeing the Patriarchal Vicariate for 28 years, he managed to inspire six more priests to help minister to the fast growing Chaldean community. 

In August 2006, Monsignor chose to assist the St. Thomas the Apostle Diocese in the U.S. as more Catholic churches were being built in America and address the growing need.  On October 2006, Monsignor was incardinated and appointed Pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Troy.