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Habima Scores Success in Presentation of “the Eternal Jew”

The appreciation which the Jewish and non-Jewish theatre-going public has shown of the Habima, following its first performance of “The Dybbuk,” was sustained when the troupe presented the second drama of its repertoire Monday night before an eager audience.

“The Eternal Jew”, the offspring of medieval Christendom’s conception of the Wandering Jew and the accompanying tragedy was presented with an earnestness and understanding befitting the height of the theme. David Pinski, in his attempt to re-Judaize the Christian legend, has succeeded only half way. The Talmudic dictum preserved down the ages that on the day the Temple was destroyed, Messiah was born, served the author as the kernel for his drama. In a small Palestine town, Birath Arba, in the market place of the bazaar, merchants, beggars and zealots assembeld at the very moment when Jerusalem is besieged by the Romans. Unaware of the impending national calamity, they proceed about their daily affairs. A messenger from Galilee, a prophet probably, comes, bringing the news of the Temple’s destruction and a message of the birth of the Messiah. Met by disbelief, the prophet encounters the opposition which was the fate of all prophets, particularly in Judea, where proof was required of the authenticity of the prophecy. When the proof is not available, the prophet is subjected to ridicule and imprisonment until a young woman comes forth, telling a story which coincides with the prophecy of the stranger, that on the day the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem, her son, Menachem (meaning the comforter) was born.

The mother calls her child “the son of misfortune” for he was born on the day when the Temple was destroyed and trace of his father was lost-probably among the many killed or taken captive and carried away by the Romans. The stranger, impelled by his vision on the Galillean fields, signifies his readiness to follow the mother of the Messiah, to whom he is pledged to be an eternal slave. The young Judean woman cannot accept comfort, feeling that the Temple was destroyed and when her testimony convinces the residents of Birath Arba that the Temple no longer exists, a lament, so deeply moving only in the Hebraic tone, is heard. Persuaded by the Galillean, the people follow him and the mother to the place where the child had been left. At the end of the march they find, however, that in the absence of the mother, the child had been lost in a whirlwind. The Galillean sets out again on the road up the mountain to seek the Messiah.

Althoug the Habima players have, no doubt, labored under the difficulty of the inadequate dramatic qualities of the text in comparison to that historic moment which has such inherent dramatic richness, the troupe has achieved a great presentation. Freed from the Russian influences which were evident in the staging of “The Dybbuk”, the Habima has come back to its specific and original Hebraic tone and style. With the meagre material provided by the two-act drama, built on the Greek pattern of all dialogue and little action, the Habima players give a dazzling picture of colors and tones. The scene at the bazaar, with its various types, the encounter of people and prophet, prophet and woman, the sobriety of the Judean people demanding “proof” for prophecies, the emotions of the Judean mother, who has shaped mankind’s conception of motherhood, the intense patriotism and heroism of the people and, last but not least, the ever resounding lamentation over the destruction of the Temple, are conveyed by the Habima players in an unparalleled manner.

It must be noted, notwithstanding the ensemble character of the troupe, two ascend to the height of outstanding performances. Nahum Zemach as “The Eternal Jew” in search of the Messiah, and Anna Rovina, as the lamenting Jewish mother, make an unforgettable impression on the mind.

W. Z. S.

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