The Jewish Soul goes far, far back in time: four millennia, give or take a century, and we are all connected, over time and space, like it or not. With one exception, every speaking character in this monologue is fictional, but based on real people of our past.
My name was Avidan ben Reuel, from the Tribe of Benjamin; I was a slave, spending every waking moment, every aching day, from morning to dusk, under the burning sun, a heavy load on my back, Egyptian foremen free with their whips, while nursing a blistering hope deep in my heart that redemption was on its way. I did not live to see Moses and Aharon fulfill G-d’s word, saving our people from suffering with untold miracles. My grandson Havael was one of those who crossed the Red Sea, received the Torah, and danced around the Golden Calf; I died like countless others, under those whips, my burial coming as I dropped of exhaustion in the sand, extra food for the sated vultures.
My name was Gera ben Havael; my earliest memories were of sand and Manna from heaven, year after year. My parents died like the rest of the generation that left Egypt, and I entered the Promised Land with my brethren; I was in Joshua’s army as we marched around Jericho for the seventh time, amidst the call of the trumpets and the rumble of falling walls. I settled with the rest of my tribe our allotted section of Israel, where in great joy I harvested the land. I lived a full, long life, unlike many of my brethren including my great grandson Kenan, who was killed in continuing wars with the Canaanites; such is the price to pay for owning Abraham’s Land.
My name was Yeshuel ben Kenan, and I was a proud Israelite, related by marriage to the first King of Israel, Saul. I stood by him in battle and in counsel, in the great new times of Kingship in Israel. No longer were we 12 separate tribes, at the mercy of the surrounding enemies, saved by the grace of God and the Judge He sent; we could now be a nation like all the other nations, united and strong. I maneuvered my way into King David’s Court in Jerusalem after Saul fell, and there I served, a proud part of the ruling echelon of Israel’s glorious empire! Long live the Empire!
My name was Shimrit bat Jerubaal. I was a low-level official in the Israelite Kingdom. When the kingdoms of Israel and Judah split a mere century after unified kingship, everything came crashing down in Israel. We had no temple, no Davidic dynasty, no promise of a future; we only had Baal, who did not always protect us. When the Assyrians came in their hordes, I was one of those who managed to escape to Judah; most of my people were enslaved, taken somewhere in the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians kept coming, to Judah as well – only a miracle could have saved us; I was killed before the miracle of the G-d of Judah killing thousands of Assyrian soldiers, as they lay sleeping in the midst of their siege around Jerusalem.
My name was Ehud ben Yishai. I was brought down as a child to Babylon from Judah, taken along with my family as Jerusalem fell and the exile was completed. Vague memories of a large building with many people, and animals being offered up, that my father tells me was the Jewish Temple, were in my mind; I dutifully yearned for the past, but settled happily in Babylon with my friends and family. I was a fighter for the Jews when the evil Haman threatened us – seven Persian peasants fell by my sword. Like most, I elected not to return to the Land of Israel when Persian King Cyrus gave his permission – I was old by then, and life in Babylon was good.
My name was Alexander son of Reubus, and I was a modern, Hellenistic Jew, living the good life in Hellenistic Maresha. I was born into a common, religious family, who ignored the new ways of the world – I was quick to see that if it wasn’t Greek, it wasn’t worth having! I never understood why so many of the backward Jews refused to see the benefits of the modern way of life! My body was a perfectly sculpted work of art – I worked out 5 times a day in the gym, naked of course – what had I to be ashamed of? My death, with my physique, was a loss to Hellenism…
My name was Shaya son of Hiram, I lived only a few short years before I died in the proudest way possible, aged 14, in the Hasmonean revolt, killed by a Greek soldier near the end of the fighting. Yet I died proud of my life, my Judaism, my nation who defeated the detested Seleucids, who made Chanukah, the festival of the miracle of the victory of the few over the many! Hail High Priest Judah Maccabeus!
My name was Yael daughter of Jannai, and I was a shopkeeper at the end of the broken Hasmonean rule. Squabbling amongst our rulers and inability to rule led to our inviting the Romans in to help us keep the order. Excellent idea, only “order” became their type of order, the Pax Romana, and our lives went down along with our rule. The glory days of Hasmonean fighters were a distant memory, and I died when Herod became king – killed with my husband, by Herod’s soldiers, for non-existent ‘crimes against the king’.
My name was Jacob son of Zerubabel, and I was in Jerusalem when we defeated the evil Romans and threw their godless presence out of our land…I was also in Jerusalem when the same Romans began to re-conquer us. Unlike the elitist Sadducees or weak Pharisees, I and my Zealot brothers fled Jerusalem when the defeat was obvious, before the siege could close us in, and, based in the Masada fortress, continued our fight against the enemy while laying plans for more revolt when they left. I am proud to say I died a martyrs death on the top of Masada, preferring to die by my own will than give them the satisfaction! Death to all Romans!!
My name was Asa-el ben Eli-Shama, and I was an Essene, living in the desert with the Yachad sect. We had rejected the corruption of the temple in Jerusalem, and we were striving for a pure, untainted Jewish life, the holiness of the person over the unholiness of the temple. I was a master scribe, and was privileged to copy scrolls written by King David himself. Just before the Romans came, to kill us all, we buried our greatest treasures — our scrolls — in our caves in Kumeran, in the desert. Who knows, maybe one day they will be found…?
My name was Yehoshua son of Gerar. I was also there when the Holy Temple fell, and with unending sadness in my step and the smell of burning Jerusalem still lingering in my clothes, I followed Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai to Yavneh. There, as the future leadership of Judaism, we hammered out the new ideas of Rabbinic Judaism, that would enable it to survive, always thinking and dreaming of a return to Holy Jerusalem.
My name was Dan son of Yehoshua, and I was a proud fighter in the Revolt, under the leadership of Shimon Bar Kochba, with Rabbi Akiva at his side! What our fathers had failed to do, to rid our land of the Romans for once and forever, we once again attempted, with initially heroic results – we defeated them and established our state! I died a year later, in the battle of Beitar at the hands of those same Romans, who came in their hundreds of thousands to once again crush us. With me died not only all hope of victory over the Romans, but also all Jewish fighting aspirations for generations…
My name was Abraham, and I was a Jew living in the Diaspora. For sure, we were not masters of our own, but we lived out our lives, I and my fellow Jews, wherever we were – in Iraq or Africa, in China or Asia, in Europe or even in the Holy Land – always the downtrodden Jew, always surviving. Our Rabbis compiled the Talmud, full of the complexities of centuries of discussion of our Law, and hundreds of other books. I died, like generations before and after me, content, if not completely fulfilled.
My name was Michal daughter of Reuven, and I was allotted the hard task of being a Jew when the Christians took over the Roman Empire, and turned years of pent-up anger on us. Allowed into Holy Jerusalem only once a year – the same day both the Temples fell, the 9th of Av! – we eked out a meager living, always aware that the wrath of a Christian simply for our being Jewish might fall on us. I died as a result of one of these incidents, leaving my family broken but accepting.
My name was Yousef Ibn Ezriel, and I was a Jew living prosperously in Spain under the Muslims. Many of my best friends were Arab Muslims, and we lived comfortably alongside them for centuries – being the “Dhimmis” (second class citizens), of course – but being a valued and important part of society. I died as a result of a small but potent riot against the Jews, when a more militant section of the Arabs took power – I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. How many Jews throughout our history have said that…
My name was Zacharias son of Jeremiah of Frankfurt, and I had the misfortune to be living in the path of the Crusades. Ironically, the Christians launched their Crusades against the Muslims – the infidels who were ruling Christian Holy sites – but if they found Jews on the way to the Holy land, then killing us was encouraged. Many of my fellow Ashkenazi brethren were slaughtered, either by the Crusaders, by or other anti Jewish riots – blood libels, Christ-killer murders and the like. And if that wasn’t enough, we got the blame for the Black Plague which decimated half of Europe, and we were subsequently massacred. I was murdered in the fourth Crusade, a bloodthirsty mob ransacking my house, raping and then murdering my wife and daughters before my eyes, before running me through with the sword.
My name was Rebecca daughter of Jezrol. My family was 700 years in Spain, first under Muslim rule, then under Christian rule, before we were thrown out. The Inquisition, hunting after Conversos – Jews like my cousin who pretended to convert to Christianity but secretly carried on their Jewish faith – killed thousands in brutal fashion; and then in 1492 they took the short cut to the Jews’ wealth and threw us all out. I died in Turkey, under the Ottoman Empire, finally at rest.
My name was Rabbi Samuel Berliner, and I was at the right place at the right time – my great grandfather, leaving Spain, came to Tzefat, and it was here that the great mystics of the world gathered, including Rabbi Isaac Luria – the “Ari”, the greatest of us all. Kabbalah was the essence, and it caught on in a Jewish world desperate for some happiness, teaching the inner deepest meaning of the Hebrew religion, language and soul. I died in Tzefat, inhaling the clean, holy air until my last breath.
My name was Isaac Rabinovitch, a Polish Jew, living in a shtetl with my community. I was a simple farmer, trying to make a living under semi-hostile conditions, with the Ukranian and Polish Christian peasants continually making life difficult. I lived through the horrors of the Chmielnicki massacres and disappointment of the false Messiah, Shabbtai Tzvi. Later in life I and my entire community discovered Hassidism, putting the joy back into my Judaism and bringing God into all aspects of my life through intense prayer and joyous singing. I was killed in a pogrom by a huge Cossack, a smile on both our faces.
My name was Moses Abelman, and I was a Modern enlightened Jew, living in Germany under an accepting equal society. We started what would become Reform Judaism, hoping the less obvious Jewish-ness of our lives would enable our acceptance more readily into society. From Reform Judaism would grow Conservative Judaism, for whom Reform had gone too far; I was happy living an accepted life in my country, thinking the persecutions were a thing of the past…little did I know…
My name was Josh Goldman, and I was an American Jew, in the Land of opportunity. The USA was accepting of all religions, the first modern democracy, and I fought alongside my co-patriots in the civil war, defeating the South and proving that we Jews were a part of American Society. In G-d we trust – long live America!
My name was Vladimir Rosenbaum, and I was a Jew living in Russia. My grandfather was forced to live in the Pale of Settlement, set up in East Europe and a specific area Jews were allowed to live in. As bad as it was then, times deteriorated. Under the Czars, pogroms and mass killing of Jews for political purposes were a matter of course, and I joined the fledging modern Zionist Movement that Theodore Herzl founded. The smell of revolution was in the air, the thought of returning to our land rejuvenating us all! I reached the Promised land, discovering a murky swamp that was untenable and unlivable. We tried to work the land, but lacked the knowledge. I died a poor man in Petach Tikva in 1885.
My name at birth in 1885 was Leah Shornhorst; I changed it later to Leah Artzi when I came on the Second Aliyah at age 19, ready to work the land and give of my all to make it ours. My very religion became working the precious soil of Eretz Yisrael, and although completely irreligious (pork on Yom Kippur? No problem!), I was deeply connected to my land, my Tenach, my roots. We were the new Jew, the Jew who would not passively wait for Messiah to come and redeem us, but who would go on our own accord and make the land ours again! With song, dance and work, we made the land bloom! I died in Haifa in 1928, of malaria contracted from the mosquitoes, in my land, next to my people.
My name was Feivel Grossmann, and I was born in perhaps the most difficult time and place in our history – Warsaw, 1928. I witnessed Hitlers’ rise to power, and stayed with my family in Poland, hoping things would get better. They didn’t. Six million of us the bloodthirsty Nazis took, and that wasn’t half of what they wanted. Most of my family died in the gas chambers at Treblinka; my brother was one of the few who died with a weapon in his hands, fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I escaped along with some others, joined the Partisans, and eventually made it to Palestine in 1945. I joined the Palmach, and was killed in the battle of San Simon in Israel’s War of Independence, April 1948.
My name was Yaniv Peretz, and I was born in 1948, the first sabra in our family for millennia – a Hiloni Jew, fiercely and proudly Jewish. My parents made Aliyah from Iraq, and both the State of Israel and I took our first breaths together. I was educated in the Hertzliah Gymnasia school in Tel Aviv, and was drafted to the IDF like everyone in my class. I strove hard and became a paratrooper, fighting in the Six-day war, and participating in the capture of the Western Wall. I had just been accepted to medical school, and was engaged to Liat, when I was killed by a stray bullet in 1972, while on reserve duty, next to the Sinai desert border with Egypt.
My name is Betsalel Steinhart; I was born in England in 1972. In 1986 my life changed, when coming on Aliyah with my family. I made my home in Jerusalem, and I spend my life educating Jews about their heritage…
And you… ?