The Dybbuk

The holocaust is a topic that has always interested me as I sympathize with the innocent victims due to the injustices that were done to them. I heard about this movie sometimes before I had an opportunity to watch it. I had been looking forward to that opportunity to witness one of the world most remembered genocides. I expected to see a horrendous movie filled with brutal scenes, death and torture perpetrated by the Germanys. Previously I had read about the occurrences that had surrounded the genocide and I expected the movie to highlight the chief architect and the world’s greatest leaders of time that failed to stop the genocide. This was the reason as to why I found myself going to the theater after I leant that “The Dybbuk” would be showing. It is a play that was coming to New York courtesy of Pascal Theatre group in conjunction with dream up festival. The Dybbuk was first published in 1920 and a film based on it was done ion 1937. Dybbuk is a Yiddish term which translated means “the two worlds.” The Dybbuk is a Jewish folklore of a spirit of someone that died prematurely that enters a living person (Neugroschel 14).  The story line is based on the brutality executed by the Germany solders on the Jews. Although the movie is based on a true story, it is contains some horrendous scenes that makes match fictitious horror movies.

I arrived at the theater just in time for the play to begin eager to see how the two worlds are portrayed in the play. The play begins with Judith a British Jew who is on a visit to Germany. Judith is disturbed by memories and thoughts of friends and family who perished in the Holocaust. She believes that her friends and her family should not only be known but they need to be remembered as well.  The actress that plays Judith’s role also plays as Esther. Esther is one of the women that are trapped in the Ghetto. It is an interesting plot where Judith develops the frame of the play while Esther develops the frame of another play that is emerging.

When she observes the bickering, disappointments, competitiveness, terror, and

Smashed possibilities in the lives of her friends, she offers a solution to escape their doom. She inspires them by telling them of “The Dybbuk.”  Her colleagues are captivated by the story.  The role of the five is to voice the six million lost souls who haunt the play as they clamor to be known and to be remembered. It is a play that makes you feel that the dead Jews are haunting not only the play but the living as well. This is portrayed by the narration of the stories of the culprits and the victims not only in the concentration camps but even after the camps had been closed.

It is a brilliantly done production. Pascal’s play provided me with what has been the most gripping and profound theatrical experience that I have ever had. My judgment is not merely hyperbole as I am a lover of theater and I have watched many other plays before yet know was as gripping as this one. The play was staged at the off-Broadway theater. The stage design was compelling in due to its adaptability and poverty.

The ghetto room had three walls that comprised of precariously hanging rags that were supposed to be clothes. When the play is beginning, each of the ghetto inhabitants is seen collecting their “priced” possessions. The pallet of wood would be their bed, the blanket and the bucket.  It is a picture of abject poverty. Perhaps to make the audience realize just how desperate the five were, the stage is inclusive of five ladders. The ladders would give some hope that there is a way of escape from their predicament except that the ladders lead no where at all (James 23).

The significance of the ladder in a Jewish play can not be downplayed. It is reminiscent of Jacob’s ladder in which he saw a vision of angles descending and descending from Heaven and God helped him to get way from his enemies. May be the same God who helped their forefather would help them too. The stage actually has five ladders may be one ladder for each of the five to use as escape. But the escape can only be mental for physically, it seems impossible in light of the current state of affairs.

The production of the play succeeds in terrifying the audience by the occasional evocation of the presence of the Nazi in the ghetto. The trains of death that lead to the concentration camps also serve to bring feelings of empathy and sympathy to the victims as I watch the play. The play is going on when suddenly, the lights are turned off and we hear the boots of marching soldier and orders being hurled as the trains roar past. Trains that are carrying people the Jews headed to the camp. It is a most petrifying experience for the audience. In fact, the impact of the scene is only reminiscent of the impact that a visit to the holocaust museum had on me, but may be this was even more as the history came alive through dramatization.

The use of music in the Pascal’s play made me aware of the powerful pull that traditional music has on the emotion. As I heard the strains of a song that was very popular during the early 1940’s, I found myself unable to resist the flow of tears from my eyes. The song was done in Yiddish and its theme was “Where Shall I Go.”  The song makes me realize just how helpless the Jewish victims of the holocaust were. A crucial element of the play is the moral development.

The characters are frightened and doomed. They are trapped in a ghetto room and they have little they can do about their situation. It is a moving scene. They are all secular Jews except Esther which means they don’t know the teaching of her Jewish faith. Naomi says very strongly that she does not belong with the others as her mother was Aryan. Jan on the other hand had protestant parents who abandoned their Jewish identity.  Esther takes time to give the audience as well as her friend some important wisdom that she draws from Jewish customs and teaching.

The story that impressed me most was the one about the tight rope walker.  He stretched the rope over a river which was just outside a small village. All the villagers gathered around to witness the acrobat as he walked the tight rope. Then as everybody is excited about the acrobat walking the tight rope, the wise Baal Shem regrets as he looks at the acrobat and says “If only he worked on his spirit as he worked on his body.”  The message gotten from the story is that so much would be achieved by mankind if only more devotion was directed towards spirituality.  

More lessons come from the story of the mirror. It is a narration of man who was very wealthy. He comes to the village to show off the mirror he had to the villagers.  Baal Shem, who is ignorant of what a mirror is looking into it thinking it is a mirror and wonders where all those people he was seeing were coming from. He is however told that the mirror is a just and glasses that was transparent but was lined with silver which made it gain its reflective qualities. He observes that that the danger of being pursuant of material things is that they end upon reflecting our greed and not God.

This and many other lessons are shared by Esther who is obviously a devout Jew unlike her friends who are secular Jews. The play manages to show the importance of religion in the light of hopelessness as we see Esther bringing hope to an otherwise hopeless lot through the wisdom that she drew from Jewish lessons. But the lessons that are being communicated by Esther to the audience are overridden by the overwhelming sense of pity that the audience has for the five, they seem so lost and so hopeless.

Pascal’s play was written to help people remember the six million Jews who were taken to the gas chambers. He wants the audience to know them and also to remember them. The fact that he chooses five characters to tell the story of six million is very important. He wants the audience to know that the six million were not merely statistics but they were individuals who we can identify with. Pascal uses Esther as the compass of character in the play. She is the one that provides direction when they are confused and she is the one that reminds them of their Jewish roots and Jewish Character. The play is therefore not just about the holocaust but also about heritage. In conclusion, the writer manages to communicate messages of brutality and despair in his story through a well directed movie.

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