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PREMISE : : (NAOMI’s TRUE STORY)
Self-awareness: In her childhood, Naomi had delighted in her father’s enjoyment of worship, wishing she could become a rabbi someday, which was impossible for anyone of her gender (at that time). She is devastated at age 15 when her father is murdered by an armed robber on a Brooklyn sidewalk
Thematic situation: She becomes numb inside, isolating herself from her soul, rejecting any thoughts of the divine for several years. She can’t discuss her pain with anyone.
Mystery and irony: She focuses on her studies, deeply immersing herself in literature especially, and wins a scholarship, eventually reading about suffering and struggle in the works of great authors.
Inciting event: In college she is haunted by “a presence” of her late father. She avoids any thoughts of “God”, whom she secretly blames without admitting it to herself.
Opposition: She struggles with her mental health while resisting thoughts of the divine.
Battle and defeat: Admitting to herself that she has a problem needing outside help, she finally decides to discuss her pain with her literature professor, rather than a spiritual counselor or a medical practitioner.
Self revelation: She accepts her professor’s suggestion to write about reconnecting with her soul. This recovery plan delivers profound healing, inspiring her in her studies, helping her to graduate with top honors. It eventually becomes a major theme of her professional life.
New equilibrium: Naomi learns that she can become a rabbi, after a rule change. As a new rabbi, while preparing for group-study on the topic of “recovery of soul”, she encounters a letter written by Albert Einstein to “a grieving father who has lost a child.” She recognizes a kindred sufferer, and pursues that person’s story relentlessly, discovering a universal application, blessing many people with its utility in a powerful nondenominational way, which is today visible online. <END OF PREMISE>
INHABITING MY STORY, My Soul
Adapted for stage from a true account of recovery from great loss
[Set] A narrator’s lectern, two chairs, desk, laptop
[Characters] Naomi, a college student
Dr. Berk, Naomi’s literature professor
Narrator [reserved seat in front row]
Albert Einstein [optional character, could read his own quotes]
[Naomi enters Berk’s office, dressed in black] Professor Berk, thanks for making time to see me.
[Berk, already seated on stage] You’re one of our top students, Naomi. Of course I’d make time. Have a seat. How can I help you?
[Naomi] Maybe I’m losing my mind. I feel like I’m being followed, professor …
[Berk, interrupting] Have you reported this to campus police?
[Naomi] No, I haven’t. This “stalker” is my late father. I’m so confused. Maybe I need to be medicated? His presence is following me everywhere!
[Berk] Naomi, let’s avoid a ghost story, and let’s also delay tinkering with brain chemistry for now. Think carefully, as what you’re experiencing might be a gift.
[Naomi] Such a gift? — or such a heavy burden?
[Berk] The choice hinges on your interpretation. Let’s reflect on some of what we’ve covered in class, with Hamlet, with Wuthering Heights, and writings by Gabriel García Márquez. Can we sense the heartbeat of creation right now, by becoming attuned to mystery, embracing life’s magic instead of needing to control it? You have choices: you can believe life is tragic, followed by oblivion; or believe that we’re here to improve community, making a better world. I want to encourage you to give yourself a creative writing assignment about the soul of your father. Now, please tell me about him.
[Naomi] OK, yes. Well, he wanted to be a teacher, but when he came home from World War Two, I’m told that his father persuaded him to take over the family business, which he eventually did, reluctantly. Later, I noticed he was happiest on weekends, going to temple, telling me Bible stories at bedtime, and singing psalms with me. He inspired me as a child — resulting in me always wanting to become a rabbi when I grew up — which admittedly is a dream not allowed for women. But when I was 15, he was murdered by an armed robber on a Brooklyn sidewalk one evening while out walking with my mother. My faith was frozen-numb that day. I was not able to discuss this trauma in any depth, not with my mother, not my school mates, not anyone. I couldn’t even pray, as I was deeply disappointed with the divine. And now this “haunting”. I’m weak and weary, Dr Berk.
[Berk] Dear, dear Naomi, I’m so sorry for this hard news. But clearly you still have a depth of feeling and thinking, perhaps –my sense– given to you by your father. The papers you’ve written and the questions you’ve asked in class tell me much about you both. You come from a tradition of the great prophets — of Abraham and Moses and Deborah and Samuel — and they were all touched by a Presence, too. You’re not losing your mind, Naomi. You’re encountering your soul — and your father’s soul, as well. Invite his memory in. Study with his soul. Continue to learn from him. And please write about this learning for your own mental health and development.
Perhaps your inability to discuss the event with those close to you is due to the magnitude of this universal question: why is there suffering? But be alert about asking a flabby question, such as why two plus two is not five. (The ancient Greeks saw that truth is that which is not a lie. ) Instead of being distracted by whether mistakes in arithmetic are good or evil, I suggest seeing problems as basic opportunities to learn. (Please know that I’m not diminishing your challenging situation!).
Now I’ll make a few suggestions of reading selections which might help, while trying to avoid meddling in your faith tradition. But we will need to consider literary and textual criticism, so be forewarned that reading between the lines, asking hard questions of the Bible text, will be vital. Literalism is a thorny problem. Our own interpretation is central. Listening for insight is key. Good readers such as yourself might be offended by this first famous title: How to Read a Book. Well, don’t be! Instead, be brave to question the text, which has been re-assembled from thousands of fragments. And we don’t even have the originals! So reading between the lines is listening to the ages, questing for guidance and meaning. Next, the Book of Job, where God and the adversary, often called satan (the accuser, in biblical Hebrew), made a bet about whether satan can get Job, a man known to both parties as perfect and upright, to curse God to his face, without killing him, all of which seems an effort to explain why bad stuff happens to good people. Eventually God bluntly tells Job in chapter 32, initially thru the words of a young neighbor named Elihu, that God alone is an utterly Awesome Being, and Job has no right whatsoever to question. Do you see what I mean about reading between the lines, Naomi ? — What? — we can’t even ask why people suffer? Let’s not read this account literally, especially considering that the name, Job, means “hated” in the original ancient language. Ask yourself: who would name their child Hated ? I would argue that this is an allegory instead of a history. Next then, contrast Job’s experience over-against the outlook of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher (translated as the Philosopher, in one version), where life is fleeting — but should be enjoyed. And then, the Story of Joseph — [ unspoken note: chapters 37-50, but 38 can be skipped as it as another story entirely ] — as Joseph’s story is about severe difficulties happening to him, to enable a providence of divine blessings. Joseph’s jealous elder brothers sell him to slavers, but God ultimately meant it for good, moving him into a powerful position to rescue a vast population. Fast forward now, Naomi. IF you’re inclined, you could continue to unpack the problem of suffering by exploring writings by Gottfried Leibniz, who coined the word theodicy to defend God against charges of being unjust or indifferent or impotent. He suggested that we live in the “best of all possible worlds.” And then you could consider a satire by one of his contemporaries, Voltaire, who wrote Candide, about a huge historical tsunami which actually demolished the city of Lisbon one Sunday morning in 1755, during the very hour of prayer, killing thousands who were at church, as well as those who stayed away.
There’s a deep mystery here to bless you, if we will have it. Like Jacob wrestling fiercely with someone in a dream where he’s given a new name, Israel, meaning — God’s-in-charge — Naomi, don’t let go until you get the angel-messenger’s blessing. Wrestle to learn! God is the Teacher!
[Naomi] You seem to be a person of faith, Dr Berk. Of what denomination?
[Berk] Denominations imply division, Naomi. I’m of a maturity by now which avoids such positions as being of minor significance. Reading is my ongoing act of devotion. Reading feeds my spiritual appetite, my soul. But “what to read” is a weighty question.
[Berk exits, excusing himself]
[Naomi opens her laptop, then swivels in her chair to address the audience.]
[Naomi] Dr Berk’s intervention awakened me from feeling abandoned and adrift. While I had plenty of self-doubt about my purpose and potential, I began to glimpse applications of what I was learning about human struggle, and was able to regain my own balance. Soon I found opportunity to help a college classmate recover from a painful loss of love, helping her revive from despair of a broken heart, including thoughts of suicide. And I was soon able to touch other lives with gentle words of encouragement and inspiration. I realized that I could share insight without needing “credentials” as a therapist or clergy member. Most importantly, I felt whole again, and saw a future calling to help others, which was very satisfying. I was awakening about the same time as my religious culture to the value of women as benefactors and healers of society. My ability to pray returned naturally. [Naomi busies herself at the desk]
[Narrator, rises to lectern from front row of audience to speak] : Naomi has been much comforted by Dr Berk’s wise counsel, accepting his suggestion of a self-assigned writing project, pressing ahead with her studies. He has helped her immensely to re-focus. Then, in her senior year of college, the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York decides to admit women. From Cornell, she graduates Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude, and enters that first seminary class, graduating and thus fulfilling her dream of becoming a rabbi. After all, the concepts of wholeness, holiness, and health derive from the same root-word. And thus she grows to realize that a central part of her future ministry will be in helping people reconnect with their soul.
[Naomi stands, >>> the Narrator drapes Naomi in a prayer shawl ]
[Naomi sits back at the desk to work at her laptop.]
[Narrator] Soon Rabbi Naomi, while researching a topic for group discussion, comes upon a letter from Albert Einstein replying to a little-known doctor in 1950: to “a grieving father who had lost a child”, to whom the famous scientist writes:
[Einstein ?] A human being is part of a whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself and his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. [Pause]
[Narrator — as Naomi types on laptop, in background] Naomi finds ample evidence of Einstein’s letter, but, beyond the doctor’s name, nothing more. Then, after much archival digging, she discovers the man was not a medical doctor, but rather, a lawyer, and a rabbi, and a military chaplain. She’s gripped by his story, as she feels a kinship with his pain and loss. And she’s impelled to locate more details, traveling far and wide in that effort. [Narrator sits]
[Naomi stands at lectern, holding a document] Rabbi / Chaplain / Captain Robert S. Marcus of the 9th Tactical Air Unit, was highly decorated for his service on the beaches of Normandy, France; and as a liberator of the concentration camp at Buchenwald, Germany, where he rescued 904 Jewish children, eventually finding passage to safety for them. These children became his personal mission. He took it upon himself to become their father, their mother, their rabbi, their teacher, their advocate. One of the boys he rescued eventually became an author and a Nobel laureate, named Elie Wiesel.
Later, sadly, Rabbi Marcus, while aboard a ship in the Atlantic, learns that his own firstborn son Jay, age 11, has polio. Marcus arrives too late even to say goodbye. [PAUSE] In his grief he writes to Professor Einstein for insight. // Eleven months after losing his son, Rabbi Marcus dies of a heart attack, at age 41. [PAUSE]. [Naomi sits]
[Narrator rises] Please wait. This story is not shared as tragedy. Yes, tragically, one man rescues 904 children but losses his own son, most dear. Yet perhaps there is joy ahead — discernible in a truly hard saying by another rabbi, Rabbi Sha-ul, later known as St Paul: “Always be joyful. Pray continually, and give thanks whatever happens.” [Unspoken: : 1Thes5 ncv ; see also Psalm 100.] . . .
But is it even possible to be grateful after the death of a child? [pause] Personally, I must argue yes. I lost a younger brother to a drunk driver while he rode his bicycle home from work. He was only 19. [pause] I’m grateful to my parents for their stability and example; I’m grateful to have known him; I confess that I’m grateful he was dead-on-arrival. And I’m grateful for this lesson: that drunk driving is like a guest pissing on the carpet of our home, on our social fabric — a lesson I needed, and respect. We’re all guests here, after-all ! // >>>Narrator sits].
[Naomi, stands w/document] I looked at length for Rabbi Marcus’s letter seeking insight from Einstein, in the professor’s archives and elsewhere, without results. After learning of the rabbi’s early death I felt that I could now let go of him, but I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I kept Einstein’s letter to Rabbi Marcus taped to my desk, meditating over Einstein’s words, daily.
In just a few sentences, without using the word “soul,” he describes an eternal life in the here and now of Wherever-land, a life of which we are nearly blind – yet it’s the only life we are sure of. Einstein believed we have the power to free ourselves from the delusion that we are entities separated from the ongoing whole — instead, we’re woven together as strands in a beautiful tapestry — a single organism!
But hey — Einstein was often termed an atheist by many Jews and Christians — a charge he vigorously and frequently denies, stating that while he didn’t believe in a personal God (viewing such a position as childlike) … [EDIT ? / see footnotes] … he repeatedly stated:
[Einstein ?] I am not an Atheist. [. . . ] I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being. [. . .] In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.
[Naomi concludes] Every once in awhile we catch a glimpse of this oneness that not only surrounds us but flows through us. The key to detecting that unity, I believe, centers on sharpening our spiritual attitude, and seeking our destiny, which is our assignment: to encounter our own soul — and, to recognize the souls of others.
If the mission of what Einstein called “true religion” is to help us see the underlying oneness of all things, then as a rabbi, I consider it my mission to spread the word about a faith that can unite all people of all religions and races — a meta-religion of universal connectedness, a unity which holds us all together.
To that end, while still conducting worship for my Jewish congregation, I started a study group which is open to people of all faiths, (and none). You can find it meeting in a Presbyterian building in Los Angeles, and online. It’s there for you to help you encounter your own soul. I’ve named that group Nashuva, a Hebrew word meaning return. But however you encounter your soul, may you be blessed in that pursuit, by that reunion.
Within us all, this soul-force is guiding and teaching us to experience the oneness which Einstein so beautifully described. We ignore it at our pain and peril ! Yes, meeting our soul can transform our lives, and our world. Blessings can be ours today, if we will have them! Amen.
Adapted for stage by MeridaGOround, from : EINSTEIN and the RABBI, by Naomi Levy
Einstein source (entry#5, of 12): https://www.learnreligions.com/albert-einstein-quotes-on-a-personal-god-249856
“I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.” Albert Einstein to Guy H. Raner Jr., Sept. 28, 1949, quoted by Michael R. Gilmore in Skeptic magazine, Vol. 5, No. 2.
Einstein source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_and_philosophical_views_of_Albert_Einstein
This firm belief, a belief bound up with a deep feeling, in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God. In common parlance this may be described as “pantheistic” (Spinoza). Agnosticism and atheism. Einstein said people can call him an agnostic rather than an atheist, stating: “I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal god is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.” In an interview published by the German poet George Sylvester Viereck, Einstein stated, “I am not an Atheist.” According to Prince Hubertus, Einstein said :””source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_and_philosophical_views_of_Albert_Einstein