Originally published FEBRUARY 13, 2013
By: Greg Salisbury at www.thejewishexponent.com
There is more than a trace of irony in Dan Fishback’s stint as artist in residence at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kelly Writers House. Fishback is a 31-year-old New York-based playwright/ musician/activist best known for works that combine the issues and history of gay and Jewish life, like the 2012 musical, The Material World. The play features Fishback’s socialist grandmother, Gittel, at the turn of the last century, as well as Madonna and Britney Spears’ imagined efforts at tapping into the power of Kabbalah in this one. He is also an alumnus of the university whose undergraduate years were not always easy ones, especially in his dealings with the Penn Jewish community.
“I had a very contentious relationship with the Jewish community at Penn,” recalls Fishback. “I had a weekly column in the campus newspaper, and I was very critical of the Israeli government at the time. Penn’s Jewish student body was much more right wing than I was used to — if I walked into an elevator and there was somebody in there with a kipah on, I was afraid they would start screaming at me — because they always would. And I got horrible hate mail like, ‘I hope you go to an Arab country and you get lynched.’ ”
That experience, plus his often futile efforts to get the student body to rally against the war in Iraq — he found that antiwar protests were no competition for brunch reservations — explain why he says, “My undergrad years were not happy.”