Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children is a short play written in response to the volatile political situation in Gaza in January 2009. The play was first staged at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 6 February 2009, following performances there of Marius von Mayenburg’s play The Stone.
The play consists of seven short scenes. In each scene, a group of Jewish adults discusses what to tell – and what not to tell – an unseen child to whom they are related. The lines are not attributed to characters; an opening stage direction makes it clear that 'The lines can be shared out in any way you like... The characters are different in each small scene as the time and child are different. They may be played by any number of actors.' The dialogue alludes indirectly to events in recent Jewish history, from the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel, to the building of the West Bank barrier and the Gaza War of 2008–09.
The Royal Court premiere was directed by Dominic Cooke and performed by Ben Caplan, Jack Chissick, David Horovitch, Daisy Lewis, Ruth Posner, Samuel Roukin, Jennie Stoller, Susannah Wise and Alexis Zegerman.
Reaction to the play was mixed. The Board of Deputies of British Jews criticised it as 'horrifically anti-Israel' and 'beyond the boundaries of reasonable political discourse', while playwright Tony Kushner and academic Alisa Solomon, both Jewish-American critics of Israeli policy, argued in The Nation that the play is dense, beautiful and elusive, and that '[a]ny play about the crisis in the Middle East that doesn't arouse anger and distress has missed the point.'
Caryl Churchill, responding to an article written by prominent novelist Howard Jacobson and published in The Independent on 18 February 2009, defended herself against the accusation of anti-semitism and argued that the play was primarily about the difficulties of explaining violence to children (The Independent, 21 February 2009).
On publication alongside the first performance, the play was immediately made available for anyone to perform royalty-free, with consent from the author’s agent, provided no admission fee is charged and a collection is taken at each performance for the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians.