Some times in life, you have to whet folks’ appetite by giving them a wee taste of something. There was an outstanding author, Rabbi Dovid Zaretsky, who wrote a staggeringly brilliant work called SHIMKA which is the story about how a survivor opened a Yeshiva/orphanage and got a group of boys out of Poland via France to Israel. Here are just bits and pieces of a script based on that work, the wee taste of the SHIMKA story.
WE WILL SURVIVE
The place is Lodz. The time is right after WW II. Slowly, survivors are trickling back from hideouts and concentration camps, wondering where to go and what to do. One man, Moshe, decides to gather together surviving boys in a Yeshiva, and he dreams of transplanting that Yeshiva in Israel.
LIGHTS ON STREET SCENE. AT END OF STAGE THERE IS IRON GATE AND WALL. MAN WALKS ONTO STAGE, SHOULDERS SAGGING DOWN, EYES DOWNCAST, YOU SEE DEJECTION AND SADNESS IN EVERY STEP HE TAKES.
MOSHE: Back in Lodz. Back to the familiar streets, where nothing is familiar anymore. (Walks forward a bit.) Here, here is the Yeshiva I went to as a boy. Here, in this building I grew in Torah, learning in Kollel, danced on Simchas Torah. (Turns away suddenly.) I can’t look at it. Where are my Chavrusas? Where are my friends? Where are my teachers? Why was I left alive, alone?
MOSHE LEANS AGAINST THE WALL AND TAKES OUT A STACK OF PICTURES.
MOSHE: My son. Oh my son. I would have brought you here wrapped in a Tallis to learn the sweet Alef Bais. Instead, your ashes are scattered in Auschwitz. Hashem, I won’t go on. I can’t go on. Not without my family. Not without my son. I have no reason to live. Kill me now. Just kill me.
OFFSTAGE WE HEAR A BOY CRYING. SOON YOU SEE SHIMKA COME ON. HE IS DRESSED IN RAGS, HAS NO SHOES ON, AND IS WIPING HIS NOSE ON HIS SLEEVE. HE DOESN’T LOOK THE LEAST BIT JEWISH AND HAS A VERY NEGATIVE, NON-TRUSTING ATTITUDE.
SHIMKA: I’m cold. I’m so cold and hungry. (Notices Moshe.) Mister, some food, please. I’m so hungry.
MOSHE: Why don’t you go to your parents for some food? Go on, go home. (Aside) Ironic, a Polish child asking me for food. Where were his parents when my child was hungry? Did this kid’s parents care when my little boy cried the night of that last roundup? (To Shimka) Go home!
SHIMKA: You go home! This is my home.
SHIMKA: Yes, the whole world is my home. I have no home. No parents either. I never had parents.
MOSHE: (softening) Here, here is some bread.
SHIMKA TEARS INTO THE BREAD.
MOSHE: There is no such a thing as never having had parents. Everybody once had parents.
SHIMKA: (with mouth full, between bites, not feeling sorry for himself, just matter-of-fact) Not me! I never had parents. First I had just grandparents. Everyone in Cheder had parents. I just had grandparents and an aunt. Then when they took away everyone from here, I lived in a hole in a ground with my aunt. Then, one day, the Nazis took us out of the hole in the ground. Not because I cried. I never made a sound. My aunt told me to run. I ran and ran and ran. That was a long time ago. Now I have no parents. I have no aunt. And the whole world is my home.
MOSHE: (shocked) You’re a Yiddishe kind and I thought you were a regular street child. Tattenyu, you look like some peasant child. And you, a Cheder Yingelle, eating without a Bracha.
SHIMKA: (good-naturedly, stopping mid-bite) You want me to make a Bracha?
MOSHE NODS. SHIMKA GOOD-NATUREDLY MAKES A BRACHA. MOSHE SAYS AMEIN. SHIMKAE FINISHES THE BREAD.
SHIMKA: Well, thanks for the bread. Goodbye.
MOSHE: Goodbye (does a double take as a thought occurs to him). Hey, wait. Where are you going?
SHIMKA: To find someplace warm to sleep.
MOSHE: And then?
SHIMKA: What do you mean, and then? And then morning comes, I wake up, beg for some food, wander around my world, beg some more, then find someplace warm to sleep.
MOSHE: You stay right here!
SHIMKA: For what?
MOSHE. Because your parents, yes, you once had parents, did not bring a child into this world to beg and sleep and beg and sleep. Do you understand that?
SHIMKA: Well, what would you like me to do? (sarcastic) Go fly a plane?
MOSHE: Look here, Jews have plenty to do. You are part of a nation that was charged to be Mamleches Kohanim. You are a Cheder Yingele. My son did not survive this war, Cheder Yingele. But I will not let someone else’s son to wander off to self-destruction.
SHIMKA HAS BEEN BACKING AWAY DURING THIS STRANGE SPEECH THAT MAKES NO SENSE TO HIM. MOSHE GRABS HIM. SHIMKA STARTS STRUGGLING TO GET AWAY.
MOSHE: Oh no, you don’t run away. Ouch! Stop kicking. Listen, boy, do you want a warm bed every night and lots of food every day?
SHIMKA STOPS STRUGGLING AND NODS VIGOROUSLY.
MOSHE: So don’t run anywhere. I gave you the bread. I’ll give you even better food. Just stay with me.
LETS GO OF SHIMKA CAUTIOUSLY. SHIMKA STAYS PUT. MOSHE RUBS HIS SHIN.
SHIMKA: You really will give me all that?
MOSHE: Did your Cheder rebbe ever lie to you?
SHIMKA SHAKES HIS HEAD NO.
MOSHE: Well I’m your new Cheder rebbe and I wouldn’t lie. Because Hashem told us not to lie. And a Jew must always do what Hashem wants. Come, my Cheder Yingele, come let us go into my old Yeshiva. You and I, together, will make sure the sounds of Torah learning are heard in Lodz again.
MOSHE HOLDS OUT HAND TO SHIMKA AND SHIMKA TAKES IT.
MOSHE: Hashem, I see you have work for me to do. Okay, so I’ll do it. I’ll gather together any of the surviving children I can find, other people’s children, and somehow I’ll get them to Eretz Yisroel. Help me, Hashem. Come, Yingele, let’s go.
THE TWO GO IN THROUGH THE IRON GATE.
SCENE II. SAME STREET.
Very old, fragile man and young boy walk up street from other side of the stage.
DUVIE: Reb Yankel, how strange to be in the city. I don’t remember what it looked like.
REB YANKEL: Ach, yes, just so, Duvie. Life of a partisan since the war began, what can you remember of this city…except for its crimes against you.
DUVIE: And what is there for us now? No more fighting from behind trees? Where do we go now?
ENTER TWO POLISH RUFFIANS.
POLE 1: Look, Zhids still left. (spits in contempt) Now that the war is over, they’re crawling out of the sewer systems where they hid.
POLE 2: Stupid German Krauts didn’t finish them off. Left us to do that.
POLE 1: (reaches over and grabs old man’s beard) Hey Zhid, need a shave?
POLE 2: (takes out switchblade) We’ll clean you up nicely.
DUVIE attacks suddenly, as the old man struggles too. Duvie and old man begin running, heading to the side of stage of the Yeshiva. From that side, enter Zalman (young boy) and Shimka.
REB YANKEL: Look, two Jewish boys. They’ll tell us where to hide.
DUVIE: (screaming to the two boys) Help us. They’re after us!
ZALMAN: Hurry, before more of them show up and give us a pogrom. Quick, after us.
They climb over a low wall, hauling the old man with then. Go through the iron gate and slam it behind them.
The two POLISH MEN stand outside the locked gate screaming. All are bleeding.
POLE 1: POLICE! Someone get the police. We’ve been attacked by dirty Jews!
Policeman comes on stage. Goes to the gate and raps on it. Zalman opens it and the police walks in with the two Polish men.
POLICE: Okay. Who beat these gentlemen up? Which one of you?
POLICE: No one beat them? They’re bleeding just for the fun of it, right?
DUVIE STAND UP and heads toward the policeman.
REB Y: (trying to hold back Duvie) Duvie, have pity on me. Don’t go. They’ll arrest you and kill you. Pity me and don’t go.
DUVIE hesitates, then removes old man’s hand gently and goes up to the police officer.
DUVIE: I beat them up.
POLICE: That’s royal. You, you peanut shell? You undersized runt. You! YOU beat up these two hulkers?
DUVIE: The old man there also kicked, hit and bit a little. But he got beaten first and stopped fighting. So I had to fight those two by myself. I’m telling you, all by myself. No one helped me. No one even knows I’m here in Lodz, because I just arrived from the forest.
POLICE: Why’d you hit them, then, if it was you who beat them up?
REB Y: They started hitting…
DUVIE: (breaking in) Let me handle this one. (turns to Policeman) Of course I hit them. And I’ll tell you, I should have hit them to death, like I did in the forest. My father was killed by the Germans when I was 3. Also my mother. She was strangled in the forest two years ago. They’re gone. I have no one. NO ONE. The only thing I have left is an old man I met when I was a partisan. And that old man, because he is an old man, has nothing left except his beard. See, he doesn’t even have teeth left. Only his beard is left. He always had that beard, inside the forest and outside the forest. And now, those two (pointing angrily) want to also take away my friend the old man’s only possession – his beard. Well I won’t let that!
POLICE: (amused) Is that so?
DUVIE: Yes. I’m a partisan and partisans don’t lie.
POLICE: (turning to Polish guys) Is that so?
POLE 1: Weeell, they fought, and we were just teasing a bit. We didn’t really mean it. Those Jews always make up stories that we kill them and..
POLICE: Be silent, fool. Dumscup. Disturbing the peace. Ha – beaten by a small tiny pint-sized partisan. I like that!
POLICE HERD OUT THE POLISH GUYS. ZALMAN and SHIMKA look on at the old man and the little boy. DUVIE begins crying.
ZALMAN: And since when do partisans cry?
DUVIE jumps up and puts up his fists.
ZALMAN: (backing up) And if you hit, you think I can’t hit back. Better than hit me, tell me your name
ZALMAN: Just like that – Duvie? No family name? Can’t be.
DUVIE puts up his fists again.
ZALMAN: Okay, don’t get so edgy. Okay, just plain Duvie. My name is Zalman. This here is Shimka. Or that’s what he claims his name is. I don’t know if I believe him. But you, since you say you were a partisan, I believe your name is plain Duvie. Do you want to be my friend.
SHIMKA: (smiling) Yes, being friends is better than beating each other up. Moshe always tells us that fighting is not good for Cheder Yingelach to do to each other.
DUVIE: (holds out hand) Okay, friends. Who is Moshe?
ZALMAN: Moshe? You don’t know who Moshe is? He’s the man who takes care of all Jewish boys who need to be taken care of.
SHIMKA: Yes, he does. He found me wandering about the streets. Until then I had no one in the world. Now, I have friends and I have Moshe.
ZALMAN: And me he took from the nuns who were hiding me. Moshe can get any Jewish boy from anywhere in Poland. He takes us, and then he feeds us, and then he teaches us.
SHIMKA: And he’s going to take us all to Eretz Yisroel, away from these Polish people who hate us.
ZALMAN: (suddenly struck by an idea) HEY! Say, why don’t we take these two inside to Moshe. Moshe will stop the blood – I mean you can’t keep wiping your bloody nose on your sleeve.
DUVIE looks to old man for instructions. Old man smiles and nods. They all head into the building.
REB Y: (left alone on stage for a moment) Baruch Hashem I have a safe place to leave Duvie. Hashem, thank you for guiding my steps to a yeshiva for Duvie, for here he will stay, and hopefully now be able to reach Eretz Yisroel. My promise to his mother will now be fulfilled. Even in the midst of my suffering, Hashem, You are there guiding me.
ZALMAN: (offstage) Reb Moshe, we have a new student for our Yeshiva.
SOME SCENES WILL NOW BE SKIPPED AND WE’LL HEAD TO THE END
KITCHEN. SARA, a war survivor in her twenties, is there looking at long list. FRAYDEL, a war survivor in her sixties, is moving around, putting things away, cleaning.
SARA: So much to do, so much to do. Baruch Hashem we’re getting more kids this week. I have to ask Uri for more beds. Oy, before I forget. Duvie is acting up again, you know, being sad. I have to get Reb Moshe to talk to him.
FRAYDEL: To Moshe you send a sad kid? To Moshe who looks at the world with such an angry face? Who sits holding pictures and crying…you think I don’t see that. He walks around being sad. Why does he scowl? He must be sick. He always looks like he has a stomach ache. He should go see a doctor.
SARA: He isn’t sick. He was married before the Nazis came to power, and in this hell he lost a wife and a young son. That’s why he looks like that. He can’t forget his family. But his personality is pure gold. You know that. He loves the boys so much. And the boys love him and respect him. He even pretends to be happy around the boys, he is such a good person. Only you and I see his sad side, not the boys.
FRAYDEL: Is that so?! Well, if it is, then it is as if he dropped into the world, just for you, mamesh, I tell you, he is from heavens put here for you. Here. I’m going right now straight to him to talk to him about this. You two are made for each other. It’s Basherte, I tell you, as sure as my name is Fraydel. The two of you are good people, giving people…
SARA: (shocked) What are you saying?! ME?! ME to MOSHE?! I’m not thinking of Shidduchim now. I didn’t start thinking of getting married.
FRAYDEL: And you think I WAS thinking of getting married before I met my Bashert? May you merit to live with Moshe like I lived with my Berel. A beautiful house. Many children. Nu, I’m going to speak to Moshe. Maybe he’ll be angry at me for doing that. And if he is, nu, what’s the worst he can do to me- yell a little?
FRAYDEL heads to door. SARA is flustered. SARAH runs after FRAYDEL.
SARA: Don’t say I told you to speak to him. Don’t tell him you spoke to me.
FRAYDEL is by now out the door and we hear her voice from offstage as SARA stands there.
FRAYDEL: You think this is the first Shidduch I made? My name is Fraydel and when Fraydel does something, she does it right!
SCENE VIII. OFFICE. MOSHE is sitting there and FRAYDEL enters.
FRAYDEL: The matter is like this, Reb Moshe. You, I don’t know so well. And me, you don’t know so well. I’m Fraydel. I came here and you let me go to the kitchen. Nu, I’m working there and happy. You let me bring my son here. Nu, he’s here and he’s happy. Now let me tell you this, Reb Moshe, I’m telling you now, I don’t care if you will be angry with me.
MOSHE: Angry with you – why would I get angry at you?
FRAYDEL: Because I came to tell you that Sara is Basherte to you from Heaven. And as much as you might want to avoid it, eventually you will come around again and marry her. That’s my thought on the matter.
MOSHE: (shocked) What are you talking about?! How did you ever think of something like that? Maybe she wouldn’t even want to marry me. What a crazy idea. Please, I thank you, but I have a lot of work to do.
FRAYDEL: (sits down calmly and folds her arms) I could leave now. But I won’t. Because you can’t fight this, Reb Moshe. Maybe the two of you can build a life out of the ashes of this war. Sara is a Tzadekes – she has a heart of gold. I know you two are a match, Reb Moshe and I’m not budging on this.
MOSHE: (sadly, looking down). I had a wife and a small child. How can I remarry? How can I go on and forget my wife and my child?
FRAYDEL: (leans forward and gesticulates earnestly as she talks) You think your wife and son don’t look down from Gan Eden and see your pain, Reb Moshe. Don’t you think your wife hearsthe sound of your crying at night? If a simple woman like me, Fraydel, can understand your pain, don’t you think your wife in Gan Eden doesn’t understand it? Tell me this, Reb Moshe, didn’t your wife always want the best for you? Didn’t she like seeing you happy? Answer me that!
MOSHE puts head in hands and begins to cry.
FRAYDEL: Your wife would be happy for you. She’d be proud you have the strength to continue to live. She would get Nachas to see you beat the Nazis by surviving and bringing up a new generation of Yidden. Do you hear me, Reb Moshe. Not only does someone like Fraydel want you to get remarried — I tell you, your wife in Gan Eden also wants it, too.
MOSHE: (lifts up head) Where do you find your words and courage, Fraydel?
FRAYDEL: Reb Moshe, I’m a Yiddish Mamme. I cried at candle lighting every Friday night, at Havdala Motzei Shabbos, at every Bris and Chuppa I went to, I cried and prayed. I would ask Hashem to give me the right words, the love and the ability to raise my children. Then my children were taken from me, but the words, love and ability stayed inside of me, with no one to share it with. Shall I keep those words, this power of love and my mothering skills for nobody? Should I take all my unsaid words and all my love to the grave, unused? No, that’s not for me. I decided it is better to use for the boys in the Yeshiva, for you, for Sara, for any Jew that I could help. So what do you say, Moshe. Will you let me help you find happiness? Will you let my nurturing nature be of use to help you rebuild a home with Sarah?
MOSHE NODS AND FRAYDEL DOESN’T WAIT FOR MORE. She flies out of the room. From off-stage we hear her yelling to SARA as lights dim.
FRAYDEL’S VOICE: Sara, he said yes. Sarah, he said yes.
CHUPA SCENE. MOSHE AND SARA UNDER CHUPPAH. THEIR TEFILLOS.
MOSHE: Hashem, help me forget the pain of losing my loved ones so I can give my new wife happiness. Allow me to learn how to live again. Put some new life in my heart. Give me the courage and spirit to rebuild a Yiddish home, to help our nation survive. I have sinned against You, Hashem, by giving up hope during the war. Don’t let me make Sara miserable through my sadness. Accept my prayer as if I were a Tzaddik, for I never meant to sin against You. Bashefer, I am taking all my memories of my Shabbos table, of my delicious son, of my wife who died and I am giving You, Hashem, those memories for safekeeping. And now, I will go on with living, remembering that a Jew must always keep his chin up and survive.
SARA: G-d of my forefathers, there is so much I want to ask of You. I don’t even know where to begin. If I forget to ask for something, use my tears as that request. Help me bring a smile to Moshe’s face again. Help me be a support and comfort to him. Since I don’t deserve such a great husband, it must be the merit of my parents that allowed me to get married to him. Teach me how to be worthy then. Also, since under the Chuppah we are told You forgive all our sins, I’ll ask for more. G-d, heal Baruch. He is an orphan with no father, mother or any other relative. With all my heart, I beg of you, Hashem, heal him. Let him bring Nachas to Fraydel, for that is all she wants from life, the chance to rebuild, the chance to get Nachas from any Jew surviving. Let her have that pleasure, let Fraydel see the joys of all of us thriving, surviving, rebuilding. Please invite to join in this Simcha the souls of my family who perished in the war so they can see that I am rebuilding, that I will survive and that the Jewish people will survive forever.
The night is dark with heavy rain
It seems like light won’t shine again
All have I lost, no hope survives
Just chaos, pain and loss of lives
Pushed to the edge, I live alone
Bereft of love, of heart and home
Kailee, Kailee Lamah Azavtanee
Kailee, Kailee Nachaym Osee, Nachaym Osee
Shall I let my enemies triumph
Shall I let their destruction be complete
No! I will survive, I’ll find the strength, I’ll find the will to carry on.
I’ll stagger on through the pain
I’ll force that sun to rise again
My life will be born anew
Proud to continue to live as a Jew
From stark ashes, I will rebuild
I’ll live for those whom Nazis killed
Layehudim Yiheeye Orah, Orah Shel HaTorah
I won’t let my enemies triumph
I won’t let their destruction be complete
No! I will survive, I’ve found the strength, I’ve found the will to carry on.