A Bit of Israel in Toronto

Published: June 25th 2010
in Culture » Stage

Razia Israely
Pic: Yankul Goldwasser

This coming week, actress Razia Israely will be arriving in Toronto from Israel to perform at Toronto’s Fringe Festival as well at the Shalom Centre in Thornhill.


Israely has been on stage in Israel for over 30 years. Her career began at Tel Aviv University, where she studied with some of Israel’s most well-known instructors, such as Nola Chelton and Rina Yerushalmi. She began to act professionally while in her third year at university, when she joined a group who was performing at the Haifa Theatre. The first play she participated in as part of that group was Soragim, a play that depicted inmates in a prison.


“This was a documentary play, where you go out and meet characters and then portray them on stage,” says Israely. Following Soragim, Israely continued to act with the same group of actors, and from then went on to work in all the famous theatres in Israel: Btzavta, Habima National Theatre, the Cameri Theatre, Beit Lessin, and the Beersheba Theatre. She also appeared in a slew of Israeli movies and on television shows. She always fondly remembers Haifa, where she got her acting start, and returns to act there at every possible opportunity.


One of Israely’s most significant roles was in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. “The movie’s producer, Branko Lustig, came to Israel in order to audition people,” recalls Israely. “I performed a short piece from a play called Everybody Wants to Live by Hanoch Levin. I played a Polish prostitute who pretends to be French, and at the end I spoke with him in Polish. He was on the floor laughing and decided that I would be able to appear in the movie. Later on I did a second, more specific audition, with texts that Spielberg had written, and that’s how I got the part.”


In the movie itself, Israely played a small speaking role. “There’s a part in the movie where the women are lying in the sheds and talk about how they heard that they’ll be given soap as if to take a shower, but while in the shower they’ll be gassed,” explained Israely. “I had a line in that scene: ‘We are their workforce. What sense does it make to kill your own workers, to go to all this assembling of workforce only to kill us?’, and then I make a movement like a sword on my neck. I also appeared in a few other scenes. It was a small part.”


Despite her small role in Schindler’s List, Israely describes being in the movie as a one-time, unique experience. “First of all, to appear in an international film, is not something that is obvious,” she says. “Second, Spielberg recreated the scenes in the movie from documentary films that he saw, and then he reconstructed what he saw. He brought it to life. There are whole scenes in the movie where you sit and as you watch them, you understand that this is how things happened. You watch and you are sucked into the scene and for a moment you can’t figure out whether you’re watching a reconstruction or reality. And then you say to yourself, ‘Wow, this could be how my family died.’”


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