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"GOTT, MENTSH UN TAYVL"
SCHORR'S LIBERTY THEATRE TROUPE
Seated: Clara Gold, Bertha Gutentag, Annie
Toback, Dora Weissman, Annie Lubin and Sara Skulnik. In circle:
A photograph of Schorr taken in 1904.
The cast of this production included: Michal Michalesko, his wife Chana Levin, Annie Lubin, Anna Lillian, Benny Adler, Max Badin, Pesach'ke Burstein, Isidore Elgard, Clara Gold, Zena Goldstein and David Levenson.
Briefly, the story of "God, Man, and Devil" is as follows: Hersh (Dubrovner, played by Lazar Freed), a learned and godly scribe, who ekes out a bare pittance by writing scrolls of the Law for synagogal use, lives in contented poverty with his childless wife, Pese (Miriam Elias), his two nieces and wards, Frayda (Celia Adler) and Zippa (Anna Teitelbaum), and with his old father, Lazar (Gershon Rubin), a retired badkhan, or wedding bard and jester. Hersh leads an extremely ascetic life, the only pleasure he sometimes permits himself is playing sacred hymns on his violin, for which he is adored and secretly loved by Frayda. Hersh's best friend is Hatzkel Drachma (Morris Strassberg/Abraham Morevsky), a poor and unschooled weaver of praying-shawls, between whose only son Mottel (Joseph Greenberg) and Frayda a match is proposed. As the curtain goes up, the Drachmas (Doba, the wife, played by Liza Silbert) come to visit Hersh, and the two families prepare to hold a treble celebration: In the first place, this is the fifth night of Hanukah, the eight-day Feast of Lights commemorating the Maccabean victories; in the second place, Hersh has just completed the writing of a scroll of the Law; in the third place, Mottel and Frayda are about to become engaged.
photo: Yiddish playwright Jacob Gordin.
They are interrupted by the intrusion of Uriel Masik (Maurice Schwartz), who is none other than Satan in human guise: come to corrupt the godly Hersh. Believing that a Jew nowadays could not be led away from God by suffering, as in the case of Job, nor by the desires of the flesh, as In the case of the non-Jew Faust, he proceeds to tempt Hersh with gold. He represents himself as a dealer in lottery tickets, and after much persuasion, aided by the others present, overcomes Hersh's scruples and sells him a ticket on trust. And not content with having aroused In this godly man a lust for gold, he sows other seeds of evil by whispering to him that it is against Rabbinic law for a Jew to live more than ten years with a barren wife like Pese, and that he ought to divorce her and marry his young and beautiful niece Frayda.
Sure enough. Hersh wins the 50,000 ruble prize in the lottery, becomes rich, embarks upon large business ventures in partnership with Masik, who has become his adviser and inseparate companion, and under whose influence the degeneration of his character proceeds apace. He divorces Pese, with whom he has lived contentedly for twenty-two years, and marries Frayda, while giving her less attractive sister Zippa in marriage to Mottel. He neglects Frayda, whose grief at his changed attitude finally affects her mind. He becomes disrespectful and even brutal toward his aged father. He establishes a modern, steam-run plant for the manufacture of praying-shawls, thereby ruining his best friend, Hatzkel, and other weavers, who are forced to become hands in his factory, where they are mercilessly exploited until they are driven to revolt. Masik rubs his hands in glee and believes that at last he has beaten God; but he gloats too soon. Wealth has not been able to change Hersh's essential nature nor to obliterate the effects of his former education and past life. And when Mottel, the only son of his best friend in former days, meets with a fatal accident at the factory in Hersh's presence, the latter, who, since he be carne rich, has never known a moment of true happiness, awakens and realizes what a mess he has made of his own life and that of all around him. Bankrupt of life, he sees no escape from the blind alley he has strayed into save by way of death, and accordingly he hangs himself with the very prayer-shawl which is stained with Mottel's blood.
discovers that Hersh has committed suicide, he comments
bitterly: "So even the power of gold is limited. Money may
mislead; it cannot annihilate the Man in man. I have lost
1 -- Maximilian Hurwitz. Playbill for the Yiddish Art Theatre's production of "God, Man and Devil", 1928. Courtesy of YIVO.
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