web analytics
December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
8000 meals Celebrate Eight Days of Chanukah – With 8,000 Free Meals Daily to Israel’s Poor

Join Meir Panim’s campaign to “light up” Chanukah for families in need.



Home » Sections » Arts »

The Last Jew: A Tragedy By David Pinski

One hundred years after David Pinski’s (1872-1959) “Di Familye Tzvi” was written, the scathing examination of the Jewish world that the play depicts is neither dated nor out of touch with contemporary Jewish life. Also known as “The Last Jew,” this play was completed in New York just 14 months after the infamous pogrom of April, 1903 in Kishinev, Russia. It depicts one family, headed by grandfather Rabbi Mayshe, his sons and grandsons, friends and various community members at the very moment that the terrible pogrom is starting.

The gripping content of this Yiddish classic begins with heated arguments as to what to do erupting between the assimilationist, the Zionist and the socialist, all in stark contrast to Reb Mayshe’s piety and faith. A staged reading of the play will be performed on the 100th anniversary of its creation, on Thursday, May 20 at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan by the Folksbiene Theater.

Once banned in Russia, this reading will be in Yiddish with English supertitles provided. Mark Altman, who curates the Folksbiene’s Hidden Treasures reading series, will be directing.

Pinski’s many theatrical works spanned Biblical to contemporary Jewish subjects, including The Eternal Jew (1926), The Treasure, The Final Balance (1926), Ayzik Sheftl, Yankl der Shmid and Gabri un di Froyen. Di Familye Tzvi was immensely popular, with the Yiddish version going through at least 13 editions. For Pinski, it was especially meaningful as he notes in his introduction, “This is not a pogrom-tragedy, but the tragedy of a sole survivor, the tragedy of a moribund religion, of a crumbling world philosophy… by the open grave of the Kishinev martyrs before their blood had time to dry… I called: a day of reckoning… outraged by the surrounding storm, I turned to the inner goings on of the Jewish people ? to that which goes on now and that which must take place.”

Pinski thought of his play as a “call to arms” for the Jewish people to throw off the yoke of the old religion and become a modern, secular nation. He fled Russian persecution for his radical politics (first Bundist, then Labor Zionist) to New York and finally settled in Israel in 1949. In later years, his home in Haifa became a center for Yiddish writers. In sharp contrast to the author’s original intent, today we can see the play as part of the never ending and raucous dialogue between different kinds of Jews and their G-d. The past century has shown us the tragic dangers of utopian socialism, racist nationalism and assimilationism.

In the shadow of the impending attack, the argument among the Jews opens with the Zionist grandson, Lipman, longing for Jewish independence and homeland, declaring that, “even the most just equality is not independence, and independence alone can be the reward for our people for its centuries of suffering.” His grandfather replies, “Your vanity proposes, and G-d disposes…” Reuven, the socialist grandson, cannot fathom his grandfather’s faith in G-d and His Chosen People, lamenting, “There’s no help for it, and I’m sorry for you, grandpa. You stand all alone ? the last Jew, the solitary survivor of a departed day. The world belongs to us, to me…” While the schisms in the Tzvi family are deep and likely fatal, this is not the real subject of the play, this is not the tragedy.

Reb Mayshe becomes convinced that he must guard the synagogue from the rioters. Most important of all, he must save the Torah scrolls. He calls upon his family to join him and they answer with radically different agendas. One plans to flee to a hiding place in the woods, another wants to rush out to defend his store, while yet another insists on organizing a belated defense. A great granddaughter reveals that she has converted to Christianity, proudly proclaiming that, “We were never very pious Jews anyway. Then why should we suffer from massacres? Really. Since we were already practically Gentile, why shouldn’t we become real Gentiles and stop suffering Jewish sorrows?” The cool rationale of such desperate actions is particularly chilling.

In the second act, the tragedy fully emerges as the tone and focus of the play shifts dramatically to an extended monologue between Reb Mayshe and G-d. He arrives at the near empty synagogue and struggles with the dawning realization that he may, in fact, be alone. He addresses G-d, “With all my soul I spoke to them untiringly, and now I stand before You, and must ask, “Where are Your Jews, Lord? Where is Your army?” Reveal them to me, or take me to You. I can do no more, dear G-d!”

The terrible divisions of the Jewish people and the impending slaughter pale next to the mounting tragedy of what seems like G-d’s silence. His faithful servant Reb Mayshe argues, pleads, despairs and then repents of his disrespectful words, all in a Job-like encounter with the Master of the Universe.

The tragedy of Reb Mayshe is played out against the spectacle of the community minyan foolishly musing over the nature of the pogrom, how Jews will unfortunately perish, but “our Jews are among those to blame.” Empty arguments and facile complaints multiply finding fault with the Jewish community as the men of the city argue and quibble over procedure, meetings and the “decline of Judaism,” while the bloodthirsty mob is literally at the door. And of course, they consider Reb Mayshe’s call to defend the house of G-d as total foolishness, the madness of a farce.

Repeatedly, his pleas fall on deaf ears, whether to a group of men praying (hypocritically ignoring him) or to his own grandson. Repeatedly Reb Mayshe asks, “Jews, where are you?” to continued silence. This is the tragedy; this is the horror of Pinski’s play. His masterpiece has drawn us into the heart of the contentious Jewish world where consensus is rare.

Pinski’s “The Last Jew” is a wrenching experience with no easy answers and only a plethora of questions that confront the tragedy of anti-Semitic violence, a Jewish community deeply divided and the eternal question of understanding God’s ways left, as always, unanswered. It is a moving and gripping tragedy that depicts a Jewish world before the reality of self-defense and the State of Israel existed, and yet has a haunting relevance. Its question “Jews, where are you?” still echoes today.

“Di Familye Tzvi” or “The Last Jew” by David Pinski, Folksbiene Theater at the Edmond J. Safra Hall in the Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place, New York. 212 213 2120 or www.folksbiene.org/readspecial.htm One Reading Only, Thursday, May 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets $18.



Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.





“To those of Kishinev who perished in the sanctification of His name,” by Ephraim Moshe Lilien, from Die Judenmassacres in Kishinev, Berlin 1903.





This poster was inspired by the Kishinev Pogrom legend of Reb Moshe Tsvi Kigel, a shames who was reportedly murdered in front of the Ark protecting the Sifrei Torah. Pinski’s “The Last Jew” is based on the same legend.

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Last Jew: A Tragedy By David Pinski”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Sydney has banned the  Chabad menorah from being lit this year because of the murders in the Lindt cafe.
Sydney Darkens Hanukkah by Banning Chabad Menorah Lighting
Latest Sections Stories
book-path-for-life

There are those who highlight the diversity of these different teachings, seeing each rebbe as teaching a separate path.

South-Florida-logo

Rav Dynovisz will be speaking in Hebrew on Wednesday, January 7, at 7:30 p.m.

South-Florida-logo

Rabbi Simeon Schreiber, senior chaplain at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, saw a small room in the hospital that was dark and dismal but could be used for Sabbath guests.

“The secret to a good donut is using quality ingredients and the ability to be patient and give them time to proof.”

I so desperately want to have a loving relationship with my stepsons.

The Liberty Bell is a symbol of American Independence.

Because you can’t have kids pouring huge jugs of oil into tiny glasses, unless you want to turn your house into an environmental disaster.

Try these with your kids; there’s something for every age group and once all the recipes are made, dinner will be ready!

You children will build the country and you will help restore Israel to her former glory.

Bais Toras Menachem is proud to welcome its new staff member, Yaakov Mark, who will be the Administrator as well as Ort College and GED class coordinator.

Because she is keenly aware that anti-Semitism may start with the Jews but never ends with the Jews, she makes the logical connection between the opprobrium for both America and Israel so commonplace on the political left.

In this narrative of history, it is the third world Palestinians who are victims of the marauding Jews, of course.

More Articles from Richard McBee
Jerusalem to Jericho Road: photograph by Chanan Getraide
“Chanan Getraide Photographs”: 2004 exhibition at Hebrew Union College Museum

“We are living in a Golden Age of Jewish Art, but don’t know it.”

McBee-062014-Outside

He refuses to flinch from our painful history, perhaps finding a kind of solace in the consistency of irrational enmity directed against us.

“Vidduy: The Musical” breaks through the formidable barrier of repetitive confession to allow us to begin to understand what is at the heart of this fundamental religious act.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

Silverstein’s work has long concerned itself with the intersection between the personal and Jewish Biblical narrative, significantly explored in this column in “Brighton Beach Bible” (July 27, 2009).

Not surprisingly the guardians of synagogue tradition is male dominated in both Moses Abraham, Cantor and Mohel and Synagogue Lamp Lighters.

Neither helpless victims nor able to escape the killer’s clutches, the leaders had to make impossible choices on a daily basis in a never-ending dance with the devil.

Bradford has opted to fully exploit the diverse possibilities of the physical surface by concentrating on the three-dimensional application of paint (impasto) and other material.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/the-last-jew-a-tragedy-by-david-pinski/2004/06/09/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: