More than 40 years ago, thanks to Jewish novelist Erich Segal’s “Love Story,” people said that love meant never having to say you’re sorry.
Israeli playwright and actress Naomi Ackerman brought a more valuable lesson to the packed basement of the Weber School on Monday morning, Oct. 26: “Love shouldn’t hurt.”
Ackerman portrays Michal in “Flowers Aren’t Enough,” a solo show about domestic violence and abusive relationships that she created 18 years ago on a commission from the Israeli Ministry of Welfare. She has taken the show around the world and seen it performed more than 1,000 times in four languages: Hebrew, Arabic, English and Spanish.
She brought the show to Weber on behalf of the Jewish high school and Jewish Family & Career Services’ Shalom Bayit (peace in the home) program, which has funding from the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta for its Teen Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative.
Michal is a young, well-to-do Jewish woman who meets and falls in love with a young man headed for law school and perhaps eventually for the Supreme Court. He should be every Jewish mother’s dream, yet Michal’s parents are wary.
That’s only one warning sign. From the start, he changes and isolates Michal, cutting her off from her friends and support system (at one point she realizes she no longer has contact with any of her wedding guests). He tears down her self-esteem, mocking her for studying sociology and driving her to quit. His anger flares over nothing, which she at first finds flattering — perhaps his fury at her late arrival one day reflects how much he cares for her and how much he worries about her.
The first time he hits her is their wedding night, but even that she tries to excuse as a result of drinking too much at the party.
She keeps it all to herself in the false belief that “what you do not talk about does not happen.”
The bruises from slaps and beatings heal, but the verbal wounds are deeper. “If you’re not careful,” Michal says, “words can kill.”
Sure enough, she tries suicide before escaping her abusive husband’s grip.
Ackerman said the story is based on what she heard from four abused women at a shelter in Jerusalem after she was commissioned to do the show. She tied it all together with her own touches, and she continues to tweak the show as she learns more from her audiences.
“Today was not about scaring you. It’s about opening the curtain,” she told the Weber students, or her preferred metaphor: lifting the carpet to see what has been swept underneath.
The key message she shared was for everyone to trust their instincts, whether about their own relationships or those of friends or relatives. Admitting you’re a victim doesn’t mean you’re weak.
“Pick up the phone and talk to someone at Shalom Bayit,” Ackerman said. “You get help.”