One woman’s Mid-East crisis


By Jerry Tallmer

Her name is Svetlana, she is a bleached-blonde, big-breasted, sex-loving Russian prostitute, Catholic by birth, not Jewish, who has come into the Montefiore Café in Tel Aviv to stir up some business. Just before the bomb goes off that will blow the scene into a blazing blood-soaked hell — a bomb belted around the waist of a tense. good-looking young guy named Youssef — this Svetlana shares with us her reflections on Israel and the Israelis:

“I never meet people like this. They have belief in something impossible — hope for life of peace, but on the same side they are smart enough to know it will never happen. How can you hope for something you know is not possible? It is crazy. They are like wounded animals, don’t know right from wrong, thinking the world treated us like shit, now we can treat these Palestinians like shit. We have the power hahaha!

“Maybe that’s what happens to your soul when you are being hated for thousands of years. A kid is hated for one year in school he is traumatized for life, these peoples have been hated since the beginning of time, who would not have a complex? Look at Americans, they get bombed once they become the most suspicious byeazumyets [idiots] on earth.”


The above lines, written and performed, like all else in “Dai,” by an unbleached, unstacked, unRussian, complicatedly attractive young woman named Iris Bahr — who keeps her precise age to herself — are at the heart of her 75-minute hit that went from four nights last year at Baruch College in the Culture Project’s Impact Festival to a two-month sold-out rip  at 45 Bleecker Street, and has now moved, along with the Culture Project itself, to 55 Mercer Street between Broome and Grand. It’s directed by Will Pomerantz.

Iris, in the present case, is pronounced Eee-reese. Among the eight or ten human beings of “Dai” who will, like the several diverse individuals in Thornton Wilder’s 1927 “The Bridge on San Luis Rey,” meet their deaths in this one (reiterated and reiterated) blast at the Montefiore Café, are:

• a weary, cordial, aging kibbutznik who has already lost one son to the wars;

• a fat, pasty-faced, anti-Semitic-reared postwar German  who falls head-over-homo-heels in love with the golden-boy Israeli student whose tour bus he was picketing;

• a 60-ish Israeli-born New York rich-bitch who can’t wait to get back home from this miserable, uncomfortable little country in which her sister “still has the toilet where you have to pull the rope to flush”;

• a fanatical hard-core West Bank settler who would gladly wipe out a hundred million Arabs for the sake of the Promised Land and her own three small children;

• an elegant, sophisticated Palestinian woman — a professor of statistics at Bethlehem University — who worries about the uptight Israeli-hating son for whom she’s waiting at this moment, and equates the Israeli-Arab death struggles with her own bad marriage;

• a young “Amerikakit” sergeant from Manhattan’s Upper West Side who has just learned of two of her mother’s sisters here in Israel she never heard of before;

• a showbizzy good-looking Latino-American actress who has come to Tel Aviv in hopes of snaring the lead in a Hollywood movie about a suicide bombing;

• a spooky, icy American Christian fundamentalist who is 100 percent behind the Israelis to bring on the “rapture” — the return of the Messiah — but will plough them under, instantly, without a scruple, if that doesn’t work out …

Plus that prostitute named Svetlana.

And one other: a headline-hunting worldwide CNN correspondent who — “dripping condescension” — answers to the name of Christiane … no, no, not Amanpour … Christiane Saloniki.

“I know,” said Iris Bahr over her English muffin — not in Tel Aviv’s Montefiore Café, where she has worked as a waitress, but the Chelsea Gallery Diner, on the northern edge of Greenwich Village. “I know, everybody thinks … well, I gave her the name Christiane, but … ”

Discretion being the better part of valor, she reached for her coffee and let the whole thing go. 

Iris Bahr, the daughter of Bulgarian-born Ruth and Haim Bar-Ziv, moved with her mother from Riverdale to Israel when she, Iris, was 13. (Her father is a retired banker in New York.)

It was after she’d completed her two years of service as a sergeant in the Intelligence branch of the Israeli Defense Forces — she saw no combat — that she took off on a year’s exploration of Asia and of herself that she chronicles in a memoir about to be published by Bloomsbury. It’s titled “Dork Whore,” and is subtitled —

“I can’t even speak this,” Ms. Bahr said, glancing around the diner; then grabbed the interviewer’s notebook and inscribed therein: “My travels (search for sex) through Asia as a 20-year-old pseudo-virgin.”

And did you find what you were searching for?

“Yes, but you have to read the book.”

After the Army and after Asia she came back to the country where she was born — this one — to earn her BA in psychology from Brown University, followed by, in her words, “brain research” and “MRI research” and “cancer research” at Stanford University and in Tel Aviv.

“That’s what I thought I was going to be doing, but at college I started acting, and I found out that as much as I loved research, I loved acting more.” Her budding career includes a movie called “Larry the Cable Guy” and a recurring role in TV’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” An earlier one-woman show of hers, “Planet America,” had things to say about immigration and identity. “Alienation,” Iris Bahr says, “is a big theme in all my work. I think it’s because of my splintered upbringing.”

No, she’s never been in the immediate vicinity of a suicide bombing, “but Tel Aviv’s pretty small. I would hear about a bombing and call mom” — her mother works at the University — “to say everything’s okay.”

No, she’s lost no close friends or family to the suicide bombers, though she’s got friends who have friends who were killed. “It’s always one person removed.”

Dai is Hebrew for Enough.  

“I wrote this show,” says Ms. Bahr, “in order to bring to life Israeli society in a way that I think many people [outside Israel] have not realized. The conflicted minds of Israelis as I have come to experience them. To explore all sides. And to evoke a very visceral experience in the audience. I’ve known what it is to live with this constant tension in your body.”

 It all comes down — doesn’t it? — to a contradiction in terms. Two bodies can’t occupy the same space at the same time. Whose land is it?

“I think the question goes beyond that,” she replies. “How does one coexist?”

Does that mean you think coexistence is possible?

“I don’t know.” Two beats. “I hope so. Otherwise you get a defeatist attitude that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It only takes a few extremists to ruin it for everybody.” After an even longer pause: “I think everything’s been said before, so I don’t feel like reinventing the wheel.”

Maybe you could be called a hopeless optimist?

“Yeah,” said Iris Bahr.

Maybe we all are, said the interviewer.

DAI. Written and performed by Iris Bahr. Directed by Will Pomerantz. At Allan Buchman’s relocated Culture Project, 55 Mercer Street between Broome and Grand, (866) 811-4111.