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Trading Feathers for a Yarmulke

Back in March, I wrote an article about how a Native-American memory site was staging an exhibition devoted to Anne Frank. The display, at the Bosque Redondo State Monument in New Mexico, offered a chance to talk about the Jewish-Indian relationship more broadly, from 17th-century interactions with converso settlers to the Native-American embrace of the language of the Holocaust.

Now, courtesy of Gordon Bronitsky, a New Mexico Jew active in creating dialogue between Jews and Native Americans, we learn about still another Indian-Jewish intersection: Beginning today, the Stratford Festival of Canada will be staging a modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” with actor Graham Greene playing the role of Shylock.

In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Greene, who is perhaps best known for performing alongside Kevin Costner in “Dances With Wolves,” spoke directly to the question of Jewish-Indian linkages. “Shylock’s forced conversion to Christianity is not unlike the First Nations people being forced into Christianity,” said Greene, an Oneida born on an Ontario reservation. “There are a lot of parallels there.” Greene will appear onstage wearing a yarmulke and prayer shawl.

The actor, who shouldn’t be confused with his literary namesake, has never acted in a Shakespeare play before and confessed to being slightly daunted by the task. “Bending my head around [the text] was kind of difficult,” he said.

And yet, in his own way, he’s managed to get a handle on — and develop some sympathy for — the Bard’s most famous Jew.

“He loses everything — his daughter, his money, his house,” Greene said. “He’s the one who gets boned, big time.”

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