Three Gifts
1945-46
Scenes and Synopsis of the Play
 

Maurice Schwartz (with violin), Berta Gerstin on his right, bearded Isador Cashier seated second from the left.

Luba Kadison, Maurice Schwartz and Berta Gerstin.
 

From left to right:
Luba Kadison, Maurice Schwartz and Berta Gerstin.

Scene from I. L. Peretz's "Three Gifts."

Scene from I. L. Peretz'
"Three Gifts."
Peretz was a native of Zamosc (Samosc), Poland

 

ONCE UPON A TIME there was a fiddler named Joel and he lived in the town of Samosc in Poland. He was a great and restless soul and a musician of true genius. He had it in his power to gain world renown as a virtuoso. Instead he chose to head the town band in order to bring solace and joy to the poor and the suffering.

Joel had a wife, Mirel, who had borne him eight sons, all of whom were musicians playing in his band, but the family lived in poverty because of his selfless devotion to his calling.

Women found it easy to worship him and the ready responsiveness of his artistic nature caused him to fall deeply in love many times, his profound affection for his wife Mirel notwithstanding. Unending conflicts with Mirel made his heart give way, but he continued to play with even greater feeling.

During the final year of his life he fell desperately in love with a dark and mysterious young woman, Pesha. No one knew who she was and whence she came. She called him King David and began appearing suddenly at weddings dancing rapturously to his music. At the last wedding of which he played Pesha is revealed as the bride. She implores Joel to strike up flaming dance music. To see her in the bridal gown with the bridegroom at her side is more than his heart can stand and he dies under the strains of the music.

Before he died he had willed his place as the head of the band to his long lost twin brother, Jechiel, if Jechiel should be found.

In heaven, Joel's good deeds are weighted against his sins and the scales are evenly balanced. Hence his soul can be sent neither to Paradise nor to the Inferno. He must wander the earth again until he gathers in three Gifts of Pure Virtue to tip the heavenly scales in his favor.

And Joel is returned to wander the earth again in the incarnation of his long lost identical twin brother.

He arrives in Constanta, Roumania. There, at the inn, bandits are robbing a Jew who is readily giving up all of his belongings excepting one. The bandits kill the Jew for it, only to discover that it was a little sack filled with soil from the Holy Land. (According to Orthodox tradition great virtue is accrued upon death if one is buried with as much as a handful of the holy soil.) Joel picks up the little sack--the first Gift of Pure Virtue to bring to heaven.

Joel continues on his quest for other Gifts. His longing for his family, as well as for Pesha, brings him to his own home town of Samosc. He arrives at the house of his family for the first Passover night. His wife and his sons are frightened by his return from the dead, but Joel calms them by presenting himself as his long lost identical twin brother Jechiel. Meanwhile the house is raided by the Czarist police. Joel's son Joseph is suspected of being a revolutionary because of his friendship with the rabbi's son who is reputed to be a revolutionary leader. The old rabbi himself is brought in for questioning. The police chief orders the rabbi to remove his had out of respect for the law. The rabbi remains in his skull cap because the Orthodox faith forbids him to go bareheaded, but the cap is knocked off his head. The old rabbi runs for his cap. He is being jeered and beaten, and he dies of heart failure.

Joel picks up the skull cap--the second Gift of Pure Virtue.

He returns to heaven where he now finds his wife Mirel who could no longer live without him.

Thee three gifts gathered in by him tilt the heavenly scales in his favor and the gates of Paradise are opened to him and his wife. But he does not wish to abandon himself to heavenly bliss while there is so much misery on earth. He wishes to play the violin accompanied by the heavenly orchestra and have the earth's inhabitants hear the divine music.

The merciful God grants him his wish and the celestial airs fill heaven and earth.


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Photos courtesy of the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery.






 

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