Excerpt from The Ostricher Rebbele, a play by Henye Meyer
Artwork by Daniel Kabakoff
CAST OF CHARACTERS (in order of appearance)
ZELDY FEINFARB, their unmarried daughter
SHIMON FEINFARB, their son
BEREL the gabbai
OLD MAN and
LAIZER, the neighbour
FAIGIE, Yossel’s married daughter
Scene 1. The Feinfarbs’ main room. A dining table with vase of paper flowers, four dining chairs, a couple of easy chairs and maybe a low table to one side, a coatstand, all shabby but comfortable.
Enter YOSSEL, discouraged. He hangs up his coat and hat, sits down at dining table, slouching, depressed.
MASHA: Oh, you’re home, Yossel. (pause) No luck?
YOSSEL: Nothing. They said I was too old for the manager’s job.
MASHA: At forty-eight?
YOSSEL: It was an excuse. They had to advertise it, but somebody told me they really wanted to hire the boss’s son.
MASHA: What about the delivery driver?
YOSSEL: Delivering pianos.
MASHA: With your back — a mazel you didn’t get it!
YOSSEL: And the office job — they wanted somebody computer literate.
MASHA: Computer literate! Ah shtuss! What’s so wonderful about computers, I ask you? All they do is make the same mistakes…faster.
YOSSEL: No, they’re very useful. Whenever something goes wrong you can blame it on the computer. If I had a computer and I forgot to take out the bin, I could say it was the computer’s fault.
MASHA (puzzled): How?
YOSSEL: How should I know? I don’t have a computer.
MASHA: Yossel, shouldn’t you think about the job Eli offered you?
YOSSEL: Masha, a man has to have his pride. Eli is a good eidem but I just couldn’t work there. How do you think I’d feel, the shver stocking shelves while his son-in-law manages the produce department?
MASHA: So what’s left?
YOSSEL: Wait till tomorrow. The Jewish Advertiser may have something. After that…I don’t know. I just don’t have any marketable skills.
MASHA: Are you telling me that at forty-eight you’re a has-been?
YOSSEL: More like a never-was.
MASHA: Didn’t you take a computer course?
YOSSEL: Remember I crashed the entire system? And the keyboard was live and almost electrocuted the teacher? Even the repairman couldn’t figure out how I did it. We didn’t have a class for six weeks.
MASHA: Maybe you could learn bookkeeping?
YOSSEL: I can’t even spell it.
MASHA: A salesman, that’s what you should try.
YOSSEL: When I can’t even sell myself??
MASHA: Confidence — you need confidence. Somebody as wonderful and brilliant as you are shouldn’t be having this much trouble. You just don’t believe in yourself.
YOSSEL: Nobody does except you.
MASHA: And if I’m married to you and I STILL believe you’re wonderful, that proves how special you are! You’re so kind and giving — remember you told me even before we got married you went around collecting for somebody’s chasuna?
YOSSEL (nods slowly): Ours.
MASHA: Well, you’d have done the same for anybody else.
YOSSEL: So maybe I should be a meshulach.
MASHA: Only if they fire you from the grocery… I keep thinking we’re missing something, here. There’s some idea we’ve overlooked.
ZELDY: Am I interrupting?
MASHA: Not really. We aren’t getting anywhere.
ZELDY: Oh, good. I just wanted to tell you that Rivky Blumberg is a kalla.
MASHA: Mazel tov! That’s good news! She’s one of the last of your class, isn’t she?
ZELDY: Yes. Now I’m the only one left.
MASHA: Daven harder.
ZELDY: That’s all you ever say. You haven’t even listed me with any shadchonim, have you?
MASHA: No. With Tatty out of work, how can we afford to make a chasuna?
ZELDY: The kehilla will help if you ask them.
YOSSEL: Take charity?? I won’t even think about it.
ZELDY: Well, I will! I don’t want to be an old maid! What’s the sense of davening and saying Tehilim if nobody puts in any hishtadlus?
MASHA: Zeldy, that’s no way to talk to your father! He’s been tramping from door to door for weeks.
ZELDY: Then maybe he should try something else. (looks at YOSSEL — feels contrite) Oh, Tatty, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. You’re such a good Tatty, you’re an absolute tzadik to put up with me.
MASHA: Tzadik…tzadik…tzadik — THAT’S IT!
YOSSEL: What is?
MASHA: A tzadik!
YOSSEL: What tzadik?
MASHA: You! You’ll be a Rebbele!
YOSSEL (reaming out an ear with his finger): I seem to have a hearing problem. I thought I heard you say I should be a rebbele.
MASHA: I did. It’s the obvious solution.
ZELDY: Are you all right, Mummy? Do you have a fever? (feels MASHA’s forehead)
MASHA (brushes her aside): I’m fine! What’s so peculiar about being a rebbele? There must be hundreds. And they all seem to come here to collect.
YOSSEL: That’s crazy, Masha. I should just wake up one day and decide I’m a rebbele?
MASHA: No, you should wake up and realise you’re a rebbele.
ZELDY: But Mummy, rebbeles are all rebbishe einiklach. They have yichus.
MASHA: Nu, and why should only yachsonim go into a good business?
ZELDY: Mummy —
YOSSEL: Zeldy, that’s enough. Masha, as I said, first we’ll wait to see what’s in the next Advertiser.
Scene 2 The Feinfarbs’ front room the next day.
ZELDY: Here it is, Tatty! The Advertiser’s here!
YOSSEL: All right, hand it over. Go say Tehillim or something.
ZELDY: You bet I will. All of kuf-yud-tes. (exit)
YOSSEL (calls): All right, Masha, I’m opening the Advertiser. (Enter MASHA) Let’s see…”part-time girl wanted”. That’s out.
MASHA: Why? If she’s a girl only part of the time, what is she the rest of the time? A man, maybe?
YOSSEL (rolls his eyes): And Skinflint Wholesalers needs cashiers.
MASHA: So what’s wrong with that?
YOSSEL: I know what they pay. I bring home more on benefits. Next one — you know, I wish they’d say who they are; there’s only a box number: “Busy property office needs manager. Must be computer literate” — forget that.
MASHA: Wait, maybe you can take a computer course again.
YOSSEL: No, there’s more: “Must be computer literate and familiar with Excel, Sage, PowerPoint, CorelDraw, AutoCAD and Word 2019. Legal background an advantage. Able to work under pressure. Needs good telephone manner.”
MASHA: Don’t touch it! The police are after them.
YOSSEL: Here’s another one: “Salesman with own car. Must be self-starter –”
MASHA: The salesman or the car?
YOSSEL: It doesn’t say…”Commission only. Must have sense of humour.”
MASHA: Because the salary is a joke.
YOSSEL: I couldn’t take it anyway. I forgot to tell you the car was niftar yesterday.
MASHA: Take it to Mr Grossberger. He can make ANYTHING go.
YOSSEL: Sure – only I don’t have any money to pay him. Here’s the last ad: the Beenstock needs a part-time carer —
MASHA: You’d be good at that.
YOSSEL: — “Must be fluent in English, Yiddish, Hungarian, and Glaswegian.”
MASHA: That lets you out. Your English isn’t so good. Somebody heard your answerphone message the other day and asked me what country you were from. I didn’t know how to tell them the country you were from was the Stamford Hill Yeshiva.
YOSSEL: They didn’t teach English in my school.
MASHA: They didn’t teach job skills, either. Is that the lot? (YOSSEL nods) Now will you take my advice?
YOSSEL: I couldn’t have promised I would. I’d have remembered doing something that daft.
MASHA: Don’t worry so much! What does a rebbele do, anyway?
YOSSEL: He gives brochos.
MASHA: Nu? Aren’t every Jew’s brochos valuable? So you can give brochos. And what else?
YOSSEL: He gives aitzes. Masha, what are you letting me in for? I can’t give advice! I don’t know nothink about nothink!
MASHA: Of course you do. Remember when Faigie and Eli were first married and they fought for months over who should take out the rubbish?
MASHA: And you told Eli the kitchen rubbish is the man’s job, and the bedroom bins are the woman’s job. And the bin in the WC is the cleaner’s job. And they stopped arguing.
MASHA: Well, there you are! Aitzes in sholom bayis! And they work. And what about the time Shimon didn’t know whether to become a melamed? You told him to do it, and look what a success he is! They just gave him another rise. They even paid it! So — aitzes for parnossa. And anybody can give aitzes for refuos.
YOSSEL: I can’t. I don’t know from doctorei.
MASHA: So if you don’t know, excuse yourself for a minute and come ask me.
YOSSEL: But you only have two aitzes yourself: breathe steam, or put ice on it.
MASHA: What more do you need? They cover everything. Just come to me and I’ll tell you which one to say. And chicken soup, of course.
YOSSEL: Everybody knows about chicken soup.
MASHA: They only know about eating it. You tell them to rub it in.
YOSSEL: Rub it in?
MASHA: Any skin condition. Athlete’s foot, psoriasis, head lice…
YOSSEL: Rub chicken soup into them? Does it help?
MASHA: Well, it probably won’t hurt, anyway… Actually, sometimes I say take paracetamol. You can say that, too. Tell them ONLY soluble paracetamol.
MASHA: Why do I say it or why should you say it?
YOSSEL: There’s a difference?
MASHA: When I say it, it’s because the soluble paracetamol works faster and you need to take less. When you say it, it’s because it makes it sound like rebbishe advice. It sounds very spiritual.
YOSSEL: It does?
MASHA: Of course. Water is a siman brocha. So if you tell people they have to dissolve paracetamol in water, they’ll think it’s because the water is the important part. That’s very ruchniusdik. They’ll believe in you more and they’ll probably get better faster.
YOSSEL: Oy, vey! She doesn’t want me to be a rebbele, she wants me to be a con man!
MASHA: There’s a difference?
YOSSEL: YES! …quite often.
MASHA: Listen, Yossel, I’m not asking you to do anything you don’t do already. All you need is a fancy beckishe, a few signs, and you’re in business.
YOSSEL: You expect me to go into the shop and buy a rebbishe beckishe for myself??
MASHA: No…that’s kind of expensive…I know! I’ll go down Cheetham Hill Road and get some nice appliques for your beckishe.
YOSSEL: I can’t keep up with you. Is my shtreimel all right? Somebody told me to brush it up gently and put it in the fridge for a week, but when Zalman tried it, his shtreimel smelled of herring for a month. Anyway, I think the shtreimel’s too old for that.
MASHA: We can’t afford a new one. Maybe if I use some mousse on it and a hair dryer I can make it look healthier.
YOSSEL: And what are these signs you say we need?
MASHA: Nothing special, just the usual: “Tzadik boh l’ir.” Eli and Shimon can put them up.
YOSSEL: Masha! I’m not a tzadik!
MASHA: You ARE a tzadik! You’re a good, patient husband and father, and you do your best with parnossa. You just haven’t found the right job. But this — Yossel, I guarantee this IS the one!
To read the entire play, buy the DVD, or perform the play in your school or community, please contact the author, Henye Meyer. firstname.lastname@example.org