BOY: tall and thin, wearing a button-down checkered shirt that isn’t tucked in to his gray jeans; in his late teens
RABBI: stocky; deceptively young, as in early thirties; with curly jet-black hair that continues into a tangled beard that is white around the fringes; wearing a white dress shirt and loose black slacks with yellowed tzitzit dangling, and a brown leather yarmulke
THE MINYAN: as desired, along with the provided descriptions
A synagogue. Daytime.
Some brief explanations of Jewish terms you’ll find within: a minyan is a quorum of ten adult Jewish males necessary for certain prayers; tzitzit are tassels worn by orthodox Jewish men in public and during prayer; the bima is the podium from which the Torah is read; the ner tamid, meaning eternal flame, is a light in every sanctuary that represents God’s eternal presence and is never turned off.
No curtain. Lights come on gradually, beginning with dim purple projection through the faux stained-glass windows at the rear of the synagogue, until the yellow flame-shaped light (the ner tamid) hanging from the proscenium is fully lit. Two small columns of pews, run downstage; just behind the proscenium is a low dais with a high wooden table (the bima). Standing at the bima, facing the audience, with his head buried in the several different books open on the table, is the RABBI. Upstage, behind the house-right column of pews, stands the BOY, erect and uncomfortable. Once the lights are fully on––the brightest light now comes from the ner tamid––the RABBI turns a page, and the BOY turns and hesitantly moves towards the center aisle. He continues slowly downstage through the aisle, stopping behind the RABBI, entirely visible on the house-right side of the bima.
BOY: Um, excuse me?
RABBI holds up a finger without turning. The BOY holds his right wrist in his left. After a moment, the RABBI closes the book and turns, bringing it with him as he steps down from the bima.
RABBI: (Matter-of-fact tone.) I don’t know you.
BOY: No, hello, my name is––.
RABBI: (Interrupts.) Jonah? You look like a Jonah.
BOY: Um, almost. No, my name is David.
RABBI: Well. That’s a good name too. I’m Rebbe Yosef. (Offers his right hand to the BOY to shake. As he clears the bima, we see that the book he is carrying in his left is Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol.”) What can I do for you?
The RABBI turns the BOY with his handshake and begins walking stage-left in front of the pews.
BOY: (Following a step behind the RABBI. Begins carefully.) Well, I wanted to say Birkat HaGomel, I think. (Pronounced in heavily Americanized Hebrew––long “ahs” and “oh”.)
RABBI: (Stops walking abruptly, so his tzitzit swing wide and return, and half-turns towards the BOY. He reappraises. Pause.) You think or you know?
BOY: (Begins defensively, though at the same volume.) Um, at least that’s what my mom said I––. (Trails off. Voice falls. Softly, solemnly.) Yeah.
RABBI: (The RABBI’s posture has softened, though his beard still hides his expression. He takes a few steps back towards the BOY.) Birkas HaGomel. (Pronounced properly, brusquely: the “t” turns into an “s”; the vowels are tighter. Then, claps his hands together and speaks quickly.) Okay, yeah, no problem, we’ll need a minyan.
BOY: That’s alright, I really don’t want to bother anyone. Can I just do it now? I have class pretty soon anyways.
RABBI: (Looks BOY in the eye for a long second.) You came here and you don’t want to do it right?
The BOY doesn’t say anything. He looks down, again uncomfortable.
RABBI: (Puts his left hand on the BOY’s shoulder and gives it a shake.) Keep Hashem company while I’m gone. Won’t be a minute.
He drops the book back on the bima, looks back at the BOY, then strides off house-left. He exits.
BOY: (Speaking at the direction the RABBI exited. Resignedly.) Okay.
He moves and sits in the front row of the house-left pews, near the center aisle. After a few seconds of sitting rigidly, he sinks down and forward in the seat, rubbing his face with his hands, now exhausted. As he does so, his sleeves fall back, revealing a white hospital bracelet on his right wrist. He sits back and fingers the bracelet, flipping it inside-out and then back, faster and faster. He turns his head to stare at the ner tamid hanging from the proscenium. He opens his mouth as if to speak, or to supplicate––hesitating, wanting to, but not wanting to––and closes it after a heavy moment.
Offstage, we hear the RABBI shout: “Hey! I need a minyan over here!”
BOY: (Exhaling.) Fuck.
A few more seconds pass with the BOY sitting, fidgeting with his bracelet slower than before. The RABBI enters, followed by eight men, seven of whom wear identical white dress shirts and loose black slacks, tzitzit a-swinging, and one Latino man dressed in gardening attire. The RABBI takes two large flimsy plastic black yarmulkes from his back pocket, and gives one to the gardener and one to the BOY. Both put them on.
RABBI: Gentlemen, this is Jonah.
The BOY smiles wanly and doesn’t correct the RABBI. He wipes his hands on his pants. One by one, the men rapidly introduce themselves and shake hands with the BOY, who repeatedly pats himself on the head to reassure himself that the yarmulke remains in place. The RABBI watches the BOY throughout the exchanges.
MINYAN MEMBER 1: Hi, I’m Menachem. Shake.
MINYAN MEMBER 2: Shlomo, shalom. Shake.
MINYAN MEMBER 3: What’s up? Shmuel. Shake.
MINYAN MEMBER 4: I’m Chaim, welcome. Shake.
MINYAN MEMBER 5: César, but my mom was Jewish, don’t worry. Shake.
MINYAN MEMBER 6: Max, you hungry? Shake.
MINYAN MEMBER 7: Don’t listen to him, he’s a clown. Noam, pleasure. Shake.
MINYAN MEMBER 8: Moishe, let’s do it. Shake.
The BOY wipes his hands on his pants again as the men gather in a semi-circle around the bima. The RABBI brings the BOY in front of the bima, where he mimes opening up the ark.
RABBI: Okay, we got a Torah, we got a minyan, you ready? (The BOY nods his head.) Do you know it? (The BOY shakes his head.) No problem, repeat after me? (The BOY nods his head.)
RABBI: (Quickly.) Boruch atah Adonoi…
BOY: (Self-consciously.) Baruch atah Adonai…
RABBI: Eloheinu melech ha-olom…
BOY: (The BOY’s hands are shaking, almost imperceptibly.) Eloheinu melech ha-olam…
RABBI: HaGomel lechayavim tovos shegmalani kol tov.
BOY: HaGomel le-cha-yavim, uh…
RABBI: (Slower.) Tovos sheg-ma-la-ni kol tov.
BOY: Tovot sheg-malani kol tov.
MINYAN: (Respond together, quickly.) Amen. Mi she g’malcha tov, hu yigmalcha kol tov selah.
The BOY exhales.
RABBI: And there you go.
The RABBI closes the ark. MINYAN members file out stage-left. As they pass by the BOY, one of them pats him on the shoulder, and another gives him a meaningful smile. They exit. The RABBI and the BOY are again alone, now in front of the bima.
BOY: (Sincerely.) Thank you so much.
RABBI: No problem. (Pause.) So. I assume you know what that birkas is for?
BOY: (Softly.) Yeah.
RABBI: It’s a doozy, huh? (Looks at the the BOY as he translates. The BOY looks at the floor, fingering the hospital bracelet once more.) Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who bestows kindness on the culpable, for He has bestowed goodness on me. (Pause. Then continues even softer.) Is everyone okay? What happened, was there an accident?
BOY: (Expecting the question, bracing himself mentally as he begins.) No, well… sort of. I– (Pause. His mouth opens, but closes again. Then the BOY says quietly, but firmly.) Everyone’s fine. It was just me.
RABBI: (Looks at the BOY for a long second.) Got it. (Regular volume.) You did a mitzvah coming here and saying that prayer, you know?
BOY: Yeah. My mom will be happy with that at least.
RABBI: (Breathes out a laugh.) I bet. How’s she doing?
BOY: (His face momentarily resumes the exhaustion he displayed while waiting for the minyan to arrive. Avoiding the RABBI’s eye.) That’s a really good question. I think you can imagine.
RABBI: Yeah. I can. (Pause. Gently.) She still loves you, you know that?
BOY: (His hands begin to tremble once more, but he quickly clasps them together. Uncomfortable, he looks at the RABBI and then away again as he changes the topic.) So what does the response mean?
RABBI: Roughly, “May the One who has always granted you kindness keep granting you kindness.”
BOY: (Regains composure. Again quietly, but now sarcastically.) So where’s the prayer that asks God to make sure you’ve learned your lesson?
RABBI: I think we both know that’s not for Hashem to do.
The RABBI watches the BOY, who has frozen looking at the ner tamid once more. They remain motionless for at least five seconds.
BOY: (Almost inaudibly.) Yeah, I guess you’re right. (Louder. Turns toward RABBI calmly.) Well, I should get going to class. Thanks again for your time and your help.
RABBI: Help? (His smile is mostly blocked by his beard, though an eyebrow arches.) I didn’t do much. Come back soon.
The BOY knows he won’t. They shake hands. The BOY turns and begins to walk upstage between the aisles.
RABBI: (Calls after BOY before he exits.) Hey David! You know, God is great and all that, but so are people.
The BOY stops as if to consider. Then he waves and exits. The RABBI pauses, then steps back to the bima and resumes reading.
Lights fade out the way they came in: first the ner tamid’s yellow dims, then the darker purples seeping through the windows fade, leaving the stage dark. The RABBI’s head is back in his books in silhouette.