And then, Achotinu (a play in one act)

In the interrogation room of the main Jerusalem precinct, 20 members of “Achotinu” have been seized. They are sharing a holding cell and awaiting their interrogations. Only Danziger Ben Colman, the mastermind, is still on the loose. 

Detective: Where is Ben Colman?

Feiberman: I don’t know why don’t you ask Black Jerry?
(the detective smacks the suspect)

Detective: When was the last time you saw him?

Feiberman: Four days before it happened. We held a meeting that morning, all of us, in a cave in the Judean Desert.
(the suspect is holding his face where he has been smacked)

Detective: What was your duty in Achotinu?

Feiberman: After my audition and initiation I received an order to find work around the Kotel. I was hired by maintenance.

Detective: Tell me about the audition and initiation.

Feiberman: They were held on two consecutive days. The audition consisted of my painting an impressionist variation of the Israeli flag on a cave wall. For the initiation I simply swore on a Hebrew bible.

Detective: And was the same procedure mandatory for all?

Feiberman: Yes I think so.

Detective: What kind of paint did you use?

Feiberman: Oil paint. The same we used for the mural.

Detective: That’s all for now – you may go.
(the two officers escort Feiberman back to his cell…a tall Chassidic man is escorted in)

Feiberman: Bring me Stern.

Detective: (aside) Get this man some water! Shalom Stern.
(Stern says a blessing on the glass of water)

Detective: Amen. Stern, can you tell me what it is that you saw?

Stern: (clears his throat) I wanted to be first at morning prayers. I try to do this about once a week, it is a great Mitzvah. As I approached the security gate I saw, leaned up against the wall, the first officer, tied up, gagged, his weapon stripped and lying on his back.  As I moved through the gate I saw three more officers bound like so.

Detective: Hmm. And is this when you called the police?

Stern: Yes. Well, no. This is when I saw it. The giant mural painted on the Western Wall. It must have been 400×375 meters. It was the Israeli flag and a mysterious angelic woman waving it. She was wearing a golden robe and one of her breasts were exposed. Oh Father of Mercy! Oh Hashem!
(the Chassidic Jew begins to weep…the detective hands him a tissue and pats his hand, while helping him out of his chair…Stern leaves the room weeping)

Officer: Detective, your wife’s on the phone.

Detective: Tell her I can’t talk now. It’s going to be a long night and Ben Colman’s still on the loose. Bring me Pachenko.
(A pale-faced lad is led in forcefully – he is hardly an adult yet)

Detective: You look nervous Pachenko. Can I get you something? Some vodka? Coffee—

Pachenko: I am an art student at the Bezalel! I was pushed into this. I am a pawn!

Detective: Where is he?

Pachenko: He’s still missing?
(Pachenko looks puzzled…Black Jerry, the dog is heard barking in another room)

Detective: How did you become affiliated with Achotinu?

Pachenko: All I know is that Ben Colman saw my portfolio – the work I had been doing in school. It was still my first year. Professor Alkobi called my cell phone toward the end of the second semester. He told me that Professor Ben Colman had admired my work and that there was a job for me. He then told me to be at the Kotel after the coming Shabbat and to wear a pink shirt. That night, Professor Alkobi spoke to us, representing Ben Colman. There were ten of us there if I do recall correctly. It was all very secret, you see.

Detective: Didn’t you want to know how much you were going to be paid?

Pachenko: I didn’t care. It was unimportant. I did not need any kind of persuasion. Furthermore, I thought that if I refused to participate – Professor Alkobi would make my life hell, even ruin my career. Listen, when someone offers you a commission to work for Ben Colman, you don’t turn it down. You just don’t.

Detective: No audition? No initiation?

Pachenko: No, nothing like that.
(The detective lights a cigarette)

Detective: What was your duty?

Pachenko: I worked on the frame of the mural.

Detective: Did you have a cover? Around Jerusalem I mean?

Pachenko: No. Until the night of the operation I had no idea that all of the Kotel’s security and maintenance were artists and working for the master. Professor Ben Colman simply handed me a sheet of paper with what to paint and when to arrive. He did not want to interrupt my education. The master values education very highly.

Detective: We’ve seen your work Pachenko. You are a very fine artist. (laughs) Perhaps you’ll be able to paint in jail. (hysterical laughter) Any last words boy?

Pachenko: (breaking down) I am sorry, I am so sorry, I did it for God. I didn’t think that I would be hurting anyone—

Detective: (face suddenly looks cruel) Get him out of here. Find me Alkobi!
(The officers drag the resisting man away screaming)

Pachenko: Let me call my mother! Ima! Ima! Help, God, I am innocent! I am a simple art student. I am not the man that you need!
(everyone notices a urin stain on Pachenko’s pants…shouts are heard in the hallway as Alkobi is dragged in screaming)

(enter Professor Alkobi)

Alkobi: aahhh! You Philistines! What are you trying to do, break my hand? Where is my?—

Detective: Start talking professor.

Alkobi: About what?

(for this sarcasm the professor is rewarded a smack)

Detective: Where is he Professor, where is he!

Alkobi: Where is who? Why don’t you—

(another smack…this time with the back of the detective’s hand. Alkobi puts his finger underneath the bleeding nostril)

Detective: Don’t play stupid with me Alkobi! Where’s your boss? (Black Jerry is again heard barking from down the hall) Someone shut that damn dog up.

(The detective lights another cigarette, rises from his chair and walks to the other side of the interrogation table. He applies the cherry of the cigarette to the art professor’s hand. Alkobi falls to his knees, his chair collapsing underneath him)

Alkobi: Philistines! Barbarians! Have you not bigger fish to fry? Where are the soldiers, kidnapped by European activists?

(Black Jerry begins again to bark)

Detective: That’s it. Kill the damn dog!

(one gunshot is heard. The dog whimpers. Another gunshot – now silence)

Alkobi: I don’t know where he is. Really. (holds his wounded hand, climbing back in his chair) I do not know where Danziger ben Colman is. We made the mural so fast. It was all a blur. If I could help you – God knows I would. You think I know something that you don’t, but you are wrong, you are wasting your time. All I know is art, and here is what I can tell you: Herod himself would weep at the beauty of this mural! The ruins of our temple have finally found a proper place in God’s service. Anyway, wherever ben Colman is, you’ll never be able to find him. He will be as elusive to you as the meaning of his art.

Detective: What is the meaning of this mural? – The nation’s flag and the mysterious angelic woman? Were you protesting something?

Alkobi: The master seeks not to protest anything. The master has worshiped at the Western Wall his entire life. It is a very holy place to him. The master seeks merely to express the ennui of the current Apollonian state of Zion and his longing for the Messianic era. The master seeks to express the unsung Dyonisian genius of the Jewish country. He feels that the beauty of Jewish Man’s creative expression is the missing link to Israel’s redemption. The master’s mural was his offering to the Lord of Hosts. To color the material world with art in hope to influence God to send us redemption. To build God a temple of Jewish Man’s creative expression.

Detective: (a silly look on his face) Tell me what it was like being in ben Colman’s classroom. You were his pupil once.

Alkobi: He would sit on top of his desk while teaching at the Bezalel. His legs would cross at his shins, hovering above the ground, pointing upward – they would bend and twist with his feet in all different directions. This is how you could tell that his mind was active. His legs looked like they wanted to break free from his stationary torso and run – striding across fields of vacant pastures – away from the familial expectations and cultural norms which so terrified him – these hilly pastures were his imagination.

Detective: Well, enough about his legs. What did he wear?!

Alkobi: He dressed like his father. Black pants. White shirt. Black shoes. His pants would sag slightly below the desired position – slightly – and the gentlemen would be too embarrassed to be seen sloppily sliding his fingers into the waist line or hooking a belt loop to attempt a hopeless lift. A corner of his shirt might become untucked. A string from his tzitzit might occasionally escape the darkness of its tucked in home. He had no problem though, proudly pushing his hand through his light brown hair and casually groping his traditional black skull-cap. Not to set it in place on his scalp – but to make sure that the thing had not fallen off – as if some mysterious wind, felt only by him, was blowing it off.

Detective: Very eloquently put Professor. You talk like you paint. I do apology about the hand. I hope they don’t do worse to you in prison.

(The detective motions for the guards to take him away)

Alkobi: (being dragged away) You fools! You’ll never find him!

Detective: Is Mordechai ben Colman still here? Bring him in. (The detective gets up from his chair and begins pacing)

(Enter Danziger Ben Colman’s father, unescorted)

Detective: Good evening sir. I am sorry about the circumstance. I believe that you do not know anything more about Achotinu or your son’s whereabouts than we do. Just tell us a little about Danziger as a boy. It may give us clues as to where he could be hiding.

Mr. Ben Colman: He was a good boy. A good heart. Not a slow Torah learner. He was strange though. (he begins to weep…the detective hands the ultra-Orthodox Jew a tissue) He stole once in his life – but he returned daf tzadi of the Rav’s Tractate Nezikim after sketching a portrait of the Rav in almost microscopic proportion below the Ayn Mishpat. For this, they almost kicked Danziger out of the Yeshiva. None of the other boys would talk to him. He would just hang out with that damn dog, Black Jerry.

(someone in the room coughs)

Detective: Did you ever have to discipline him?

Mr. Ben Colman: One year, motze Yom Kippur, I yanked him by his scrawny arm to the electric stove and forced his hand on the hot top.

Detective: Why?

Mr. Ben Colman:  He tore apart my Shulchan Aruch. He divided each law and explanation with scissors and pasted the shapes to the living room table. Halachicly indexed! It was sad, his mother did not touch him – Black Jerry whimpered and licked his hand, I’ll never forget.

(suddenly an officer barges in…his clothes wet from the rain)

Officer: We can’t find him.  We’ve combed nearly the entire country.

Detective: The deserts?

Officer: yes.

Detective: The forests?

Officer: yes.

Detective: Well, keep on looking. I want every damn inch of this country combed. I mean it! It’s only been 48 hours. Every home, the sea, everything! Dispatch the Navy! Call the United States, whatever you can do!

Officer: One thing detective.

Detective: What is it Alvarez?

Officer: Where is Black Jerry, he might hold a clue.

Detective: I had the dog shot.

Officer: You imbecile! Don’t you know that he spent all of his damn time since his childhood with the dog?

Mr. Ben Colman: That’s true too.

Officer: If there were any way to find Danziger the dog would have been needed. We could have had it psychoanalyzed by the K9 specialist. And I wonder detective, if your haste in killing Black Jerry, does not represent your inability to understand the unsung Dyonisian genius of this country!

 

About the Author
Scott Krane has been blogging for The Times of Israel since 2012. His writing has also appeared in The Atlantic, Tablet, The Jerusalem Post and the Daily Caller, among others.
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