Capital Fringe: Impossible to Translate But I’ll Try – True-Life Israeli Stories

— Guest writer Noa Baum —

I was born and raised in Jerusalem and let me tell you, growing up in Israel is more than Moses and matzos or war.

I’ve lived in the USA since 1990 and tour internationally and I am consistently struck by how a tiny place like Israel can generate so many extreme emotional responses everywhere I go. It is either put on a pedestal and worshiped like a religion, or reviled and portrayed as the mother of all evil on this planet. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Israel but few have ever experienced it ….

“Storytelling is an intimate response to an impersonal culture”, said Bill Harley, one of America’s best storytellers. We live in a culture of sound bites and flashy headlines with little or no patience for nuance and gray.

For me, Israel is not a concept; it’s my home, where my family still lives and loved ones are buried. My experience of growing up there is full of stories, not shrill sound bites and violent headlines. I want to offer a taste of my culture and experience of a different side of my homeland that isn’t seen on the news. the

Click for tickets to Impossible to Translate

Click for tickets to Impossible to Translate

Impossible to Translate But I’ll Try is a humorous cross-cultural journey through my life with very personal and culturally specific stories of breasts that cascade like pudding, lullabies and stinky feet, awkward first romances, mischievous matchmaking and daring swashbuckling adventures.

The exciting and interesting challenge has been to take these very personal stories that seem impossible to translate and try to offer them in a way that resonates with the universal.

The idea for this show started with an image – a little spark of a memory: I am facing my 4th grade enemy, the boy who chased me after school and pulled my braid, under the lamp post on the street in front of our apartment building. The enemy’s face is sweaty and red, his eyes bright green.

“What do you want?!” I yell into his face in a moment of unexpected courage.

(Ah, but to find out what he wanted, you’ll need to come to the show…).

That memory was connected to an entire story about fourth grade wars with boys, the books we read, my first love and a secret gangs of spies.

My creative process starts with speaking not writing. As I began to tell that story I struggled with communicating the specific flavor of my childhood in Jerusalem in the early sixties to an American audience. My native language is Hebrew. Trying to tell stories in a secondary language and translating my cultural references to American audiences was not easy. As I flailed about for words, trying to describe or translate the images in my mind, I kept saying, “Oh, it’s impossible to translate. But I’ll try!” and it was funny. Suddenly what was a challenge became fun. So that sentence became a thematic thread and eventually the title.

Impossible to Translate But I’ll Try
by Noa Baum
75 minutes
at Goethe Institut – Main Stage
812 7th Street NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
All the stories in the show are connected by many threads, the main one being love in its myriad and sometimes strange forms – like the comfort of my Polish grandmother’s stinky feet, the hysteria of finding a mate when you’re almost 30, or my mother giving me a name attached to a Biblical story.

I hope this show will connect you with my Israel: funny, normal, unique and full of many shades of color and love. I hope it will resonate with your own stories of love’s quests, adventure, connection and understanding.  Life, impossible to translate but I try to look beyond our differences into our universal humanity that connects us.

I had great fun creating these stories and I can’t wait to share them with the Capital Fringe audience.

Presented as part of the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival, a program of the Washington, D.C. non-profit Capital Fringe.


Our guest writer is Noa Baum, an award-winning storyteller and educator. Born and raised in Israel, she was an actress at Jerusalem Khan Theater, studied with Uta Hagen in NYC and holds an M.A. from NYU. Noa was recently chosen by Washington Jewish Week as one of 10 most interesting local Jews of the yearWebsite

Fringe Peeks is part of our ‘in their own words’ series.




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