Flying with my Grandfather to Israel

May 4th, 2011

When I was a child of maybe nine years old my grandparents decided they wanted to visit Israel, and to take us with them. I remember that we were late arriving at LaGuardia to check in for our El-Al flight to Jerusalem, and when we arrived the line to check in was long, and we were worried we’d miss our flight.

I had flown before, and I was aware that the check in procedures for the flight were more involved than usual. El-Al was very concerned about terrorism. One of the procedures involved a man asking if we had packed our own bags, and then asking if we were carrying any explosive devices. When they got to my grandfather and they asked him the question: “Sir, are you carrying any explosive devices?” he answered, “Yes, I am!”

Of course he was making a joke, but the security guy was really not amused. He was pulled out of line, and it took us an extra twenty minutes to clear up that issue. My grandfather had a German accent, having fled Germany in the late 1930′s. He did have a funny sense of humor, and he had met my grandmother – who had fled Austria at the same time – in New York City during the war. We were traveling as a family to Israel and I think having survived the Nazi security mechanism he just couldn’t not make fun of such a ridiculous approach to security.

Eventually, security becomes a matter of policies and procedures, and folks with jobs to implement. In the same way that when you build thousands and thousands of bombs there’s incentive to use them somewhere, when you build a massive security apparatus, some folks are incentivized to value their apparatus, even when the procedures are unrelated to any actual security value.

Security values are one of the highest values in a free public society, but they are not the only value of a free public society. I am aware that the man’s question to my grandfather was not contributing to real security, but served to activate our own awareness of threats. There are real security threats and the entire security apparatus is important. But as a theater artist I understand that what I make on the stage is separate in some ways from the real world, and I am personally frustrated by the separation between the public theater of security, and real threats which actually, well, threaten.

In this project we’re projecting real community understanding of security against the failure and cost of some protective mechanisms which – I believe – provide only theatrical security value, not true security value. The images of security and safety are not security and safety.

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