A Day of Honey, A Day of Onions

Ada Aharoni

Artwork by Jensine Eckwall


ESTHER:  An eighteen-year-old young girl
REGINA:  Her grandmother (Nona)
CLARA:  A member of the Maccabi
SALIMA:  A Palestinian
JUDGE ABRAMINO:  Esther’s father
RAFI:  A survivor, Esther’s boyfriend
DANIEL:  Leader of the group
YOSSI:  A friend, the clown of the group.

The following minor characters can be played by some of the same actors playing various characters above: 



Egypt, France and Israel in the Mid-Twentieth Century


(The HAVERIM—A group of friends from the Maccabi Club, at the pyramids, enter and merrily dance a hora—to the sound of “Hava nagila hava . . .” except for RAFI who stands alone watching them.)

(ESTHER approaches DANIEL, the leader of the group, as the lights fade out on the other HAVERIM—a spotlight remaining on RAFI.)

ESTHER (looking at RAFI):  Daniel, I’ve never seen him before—who is he?

DANIEL:  His name’s Rafi—Rafi Lipsky. He joined the movement last month. Queer bird—keeps mostly to himself. But who can blame him? He’s been in a Nazi camp—Majdanek.

ESTHER (taken aback):  Oh! a survivor? I’ve never met one before. Poor boy, how he must have suffered! . . . When and how did he get to Egypt?

DANIEL:  He got here in January 1946, three months ago, after he was a year in deportation camps in Europe. He has an aunt, Stephanie, living in Cairo. He preferred escaping Europe and his terrible memories, and came to live with her, after he lost all the rest of his family in the Nazi camps.

ESTHER:  How sad! How old is he?

DANIEL:  Twenty, I believe.

(The lights fade out on DANIEL.)

ESTHER (approaches and addresses RAFI):  Hello—my name’s Esther. (SHE offers him her hand.)

RAFI (doesn’t take it. Coldly):  Rafi.

ESTHER (hurt by this, but trying to make conversation):  It seems appropriate, does it not, for us Haverim to come to the pyramids? Have you ever been here before?

RAFI:  No. Never. Why do you say it’s appropriate?

ESTHER:  Our ancestors built those pyramids, didn’t they? They must have been a strong lot!

RAFI:  Do you really believe that?

ESTHER:  Why not? It’s a beautiful story. I love Biblical stories.

RAFI:  Suit yourself.

ESTHER (moving away from him, to the audience):  I knew when I wasn’t wanted . . . I left him to visit my favorite stone—one of the middle ones, slightly bigger than the others, in the first row of the Cheops pyramid.

(SHE measures herself against it as RAFI approaches her unnoticed.)

RAFI (curious):  What are you trying to do?

ESTHER (startled and embarrassed):  Oh—I didn’t see you . . . !

RAFI:  I hear one can bake a loaf on a hot pyramid stone. Do you take yourself for one?

ESTHER (picking up on his humor):  On occasion. I like to think I’m as wholesome.

RAFI (looking her over):  I should certainly think so. But what are you doing?

ESTHER (blushing—but pleased at his attention):  I was checking my height against the stone. I’ve done it since childhood, every time I came to the pyramids with my father, or with the Maccabi. “Am I as tall as a pyramid stone?” I used to ask myself. It gave me a secret pleasure that I was growing taller and stronger with every visit, while that stone remained immovable and the same for 5,000 years . . .

RAFI:  Uh-huh. But unlike us, that stone is timeless. We’ll disappear one day.

ESTHER:  Timeless, but dead—while we’re alive and growing. I know one day I’ll be dead, too, but in the meantime I’m alive and enjoying life, and I would like to try to accomplish all I can before I depart it . . .

RAFI:  What do you want to accomplish?

ESTHER:  Oh! So many things!

RAFI:  Like what, for instance?

ESTHER:  I’ll just give you three of them: 1. I want to have a country of my own—Israel. 2. I want to be a successful writer. 3. I want to prove that girls are just as good as boys . . . and so many other things . . .

RAFI:  Wow! Quite a program for a lifetime!

ESTHER:  And what’s yours, may I ask?

RAFI:  You may, but I can’t tell you.

ESTHER:  Why not? It’s unfair, I told you mine!

RAFI:  I can’t, because I have nothing to tell. No program whatsoever. I want nothing—except to be left alone.

ESTHER (hurt):  If so, I’ll oblige . . . (SHE starts walking away.)

RAFI (taking hold of her arm to retain her):  Please stay. I like talking to you, you remind me of someone . . . I’ll try to explain myself: One day you’ll be dead, you say. I don’t have to wait for that day, I feel already dead. I was killed there, in Hitler’s camps; what you see here is just a ghost—not really me.

(After an awkward pause.)

ESTHER:  Hi Ghost!

(RAFI stares at her.)

ESTHER:  Oh, I’m sorry, I really am, I shouldn’t be joking about this. Please forgive me.

RAFI:  It’s not for you to be sorry, you had nothing to do with it . . . (After a short pause.) I didn’t think someone like you had thoughts about death.

ESTHER:  Why not? Do you have the exclusive copyright?

RAFI stares at her again, and then walks away.

ESTHER (following him, quite upset, muttering to herself):  Big-mouthed Esther! Now I’ve really hurt his feelings . . . But I didn’t mean to. I shouldn’t have been so flippant—not on the subject of the Holocaust.

(The HAVERIM enter, joyfully dancing the hora again. SHE goes to RAFI who is standing apart.)

ESTHER:  Would you like to join them?

RAFI:  No. I can’t dance these dances.

ESTHER:  I could teach you . . .

RAFI:  You could, but I don’t want you to.

ESTHER (hurt):  Suit yourself.

SHE joins the group. They have stopped dancing. A tango is heard—sung by Yaffa Yarkoni.

YAFFA: Artsenu ha ktantonet, artsenu ha yafonet, artsi sheli, sheli . . . My small country, my lovely country, my country, mine, mine . . .

(The friends look at each other, not knowing if THEY should dance the tango. DANIEL approaches CLARA and bows.)

CLARA (non-plussed):  Dance a “bourgeois” tango? You know we’ve never done that before!

DANIEL (comically):  Don’t worry. It’s a kosher tango. Don’t you hear the Hebrew words? “Our tiny land—our beautiful land—my land—my land . . .” Come on, my Clara—let’s dance.

CLARA (laughing):  Well—in that case.

(SHE makes a mock curtsy and dances with him spiritedly—prompting the others to do likewise. They all form couples and dance merrily. ESTHER stands there watching, as RAFI approaches her.)

RAFI:  I’ll dance this one with you, if you like.

ESTHER:  Yes . . . I like.

(RAFI takes her in his arms and leads her gracefully through the movements—until the music ends, THEY breathlessly sit down, and the lights fade out on the group.)

ESTHER:  You dance so well!

RAFI:  Even a ghost can have a sense of rhythm.

ESTHER (sadly):  I heard you were at Majdanek concentration camp. You must have suffered terribly. If you want to talk about it, I . . .

RAFI:  No! I don’t want to talk about it!

ESTHER:  OK. (After another awkward pause.) That song inspired me. I wish I could live in the land the singer Yaffa Yarkoni sings about—a small land of my very own.

RAFI:  Egypt isn’t your land?

ESTHER:  Well, I was born in Egypt, but I don’t really feel it’s my land.

RAFI:  Why not? How long have the Jews been in Egypt? After the Exodus, I mean.

ESTHER:  More than 2,500 years. The Jews came again with the Prophet Jeremiah, after the destruction of the First Temple, and since, there’s always been a Jewish community in Egypt.

RAFI:  So the Jews were in Egypt before the Islam?

ESTHER:  Oh yes! Long before Islam, which was established in the seventh century A.D. The Jews were here before the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs. Despite this, we’re still considered foreigners! This is why I don’t feel at home here. Only five percent of us have been granted citizenship. I want so much for Israel to exist . . . like in Yaffa Yarkoni’s song, I yearn with all my heart for a little land of my very own . . .

RAFI:  No citizenship for the Jews? But it’s illegal! I didn’t know that! Does the international community know about this? Even in Germany they granted us citizenship! (After a pause.) And much good it did us!

ESTHER:  That’s why many of us Egyptian Jews long for a state. Every human being wants to feel fully accepted as a citizen. The Egyptians treat us well and call us “welcomed guests;” it’s great to be guests—but not for more than two thousand years! I want to be home by now! (Rafi takes her hand understandingly, but she draws it back.)

RAFI:  Now I understand you more Esther, however, I can’t say I give your “little state” much hope.

ESTHER:  Why not? In 1918, at the end of the First World War, Britain promised it to us in the Balfour Declaration; and as you know, we also got a majority vote in the United Nations, in November 1947.

RAFI:  But the Arab states have sworn to destroy it! Having had my share of Jewish slaughter, while the British and Americans stood idly by, I’ve little doubt the Arabs will succeed.

ESTHER:  Then you don’t believe in the Zionist dream?

RAFI:  I don’t believe in any dream! I’ve been through too much to believe in dreams!

ESTHER:  Then what are you doing at the Maccabi Movement?

RAFI:  I like the food. (Gazing at her.) And other attractions.

ESTHER (gazing back, then addressing the audience):  That afternoon, Rafi walked me back home, and I invited him in. He intrigued me, I had never met anyone like him before.

(THEY enter her house.)

RAFI (looking around in awe):  You live in a palace, Princess!

ESTHER (smiling):  Well—not quite.

RAFI:  No really. The exquisite garden and the fences outside all covered with jasmine flowers . . . At Majdanek we had fences, too; but they had electricity, not flowers. I don’t understand it, Europe is still licking her wounds—and here it seems nothing has happened—all is affluence and sparkle, as if the Second World War didn’t take place at all! Is this how Egyptian Jews live?

ESTHER:  Well, a part of them. But, on the whole, we’re thought of as a prosperous minority. We’ve been in Egypt so long you see . . . and the Jews have always been hard-working, and they have contributed so much to the building and consolidating of Egypt.

(RAFI admires a large painting of the water lilies by Monet, and a statue by Rodin.)

Wow! They’re beautiful! I feel in pre-war Europe again!

ESTHER:  Come and take a look at our library. (SHE takes him there.)

RAFI (looking intently at the books):  Hmm. Homer, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Stendahl, Proust. Ah—I see you also have our own philosophers too: Philo, Saadia HaGoan, Maimonides: the three pillars of ancient Jewish thought.

ESTHER:  Yes, they wrote their major works in Egypt, you know. In fact, The Rambam: Maimonides is one of my ancestors . . .

RAFI (impressed):  Is that right? So shall I call you Maimonida?

ESTHER (laughing):  Don’t you dare!

RAFI:  So I won’t. (After a short pause.) And all of these books in this library belong to you?

ESTHER:  Well—to my family.

RAFI:  Have you read them all?

ESTHER (laughing):  Of course not, how could I? Even my father hasn’t read them all, though he’s gone through those law books quite thoroughly. He’s a judge at the Rabbinate court.

RAFI:  Ah! Is that so?

ESTHER (gesturing):  My own favorite books are over here.

RAFI (going over and looking at them):  What a beautiful collection of literature and philosophy books: plays by the Greek masters: Aristophanes, Sophocles, and Euripides; the great philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle; drama, poetry, and novels by the best playwrights, poets, and authors in English and French, throughout the centuries, to modern times! What a collection, can you lend me some of them?

ESTHER:  Do you like poetry?

RAFI:  Yes. Especially in English. It’s the most lyrical of the three languages I know.

ESTHER:  I love English poetry too. My favorite poet is the British peace poet, Wilfred Owen, who was killed in the trenches during the First World War, when he was just twenty-five years old. (Indicating a book by Wilfred Owen.) Here—you’re welcome to borrow one of his books. And also some of the Romantics if you want.

RAFI:  I’ll take Owen, I’ve never heard about him before, now you made me curious. I’ll also take one by Keats, if you don’t mind.

ESTHER:  Not at all. Be my guest.

RAFI:  I’m quite fond of Keats. His ‘negative capability’ theory really appeals to me—the ability to negate oneself and enter into others’ skins is a real gift. I wish more people had the capability of “negating themselves.”

ESTHER:  I love Keats too. But what do you mean exactly by “negating oneself?”

RAFI (with grim humor):  Well, not only in the Keatsian way, I mean, and entering other people’s skins—but completely disappearing. Invisible! Out!

ESTHER:  Ah! I see. Rafi (smiling), you’re rather a misanthrope, and quite sceptical. I’ve never met someone like you before. Don’t you believe in anything?

RAFI:  What is there to believe in? What would you like me to believe?

ESTHER:  Well, to put it simply, that there’s hope for humanity, there’s hope for a state of our own, there’s hope for happiness . . .

RAFI (laughing):  “Hope”—Hatikvah—“The hope”—the title of our so-called “national anthem.” Of all titles for us to pick—the hope of a peanut!

ESTHER:  A peanut?

RAFI:  A peanut on its way to a Nazi oven. That’s all we were to them, you know. No, not even that worthwhile. Of what use is a roasted person? At least you can eat a peanut. Let’s face it—they got a great kick from it all. If man is a creature that can take pleasure in burning his fellow men, what “hope” for humanity can there be?

ESTHER:  In civilization—in human progress . . . in culture . . .

RAFI:  Stop kidding yourself Esther, you’re so naïve. This civilization of yours is, with all its pretensions of culture, just a jungle full of beasts!

ESTHER:  A jungle? How horrible! I don’t believe you, and don’t call me naïve!

RAFI:  Oh yes, just a jungle, and sometimes a zoo. Although Mark Twain said that animals in the jungle only kill to survive, the Nazis killed Jews just for a kick! We were no danger whatsoever to their survival. Until you fully realize, Esther, that human beings are wild beasts of the most deadly kind—and that they can murder each other just for the thrill of it—you’re indeed naïve and do not understand the world you live in.

ESTHER:  What about human progress? You can’t deny we’ve progressed through the ages . . .

RAFI:  Human progress, ha! ha! ha! Don’t make me laugh my dear girl. Your “human progress” is a thin, shallow cover in which man envelops himself for shelter. But under the slightest strain it breaks apart, revealing the sharp-toothed blood-thirsty beast beneath it. Take the Germans for instance—in reputation, the most “civilized” of peoples—then Hitler came along and crack—a Big Bang to the whole of your cultured civilization!

ESTHER:  But let’s face it, Rafi, as monstrous as Hitler was, he didn’t win! The Allied Forces did—not the Nazis! Remember?

RAFI:  Only to begin a Cold War with the Soviets—whose purges of their own people, I’ve heard, can almost compete with the Holocaust!

ESTHER (facing him squarely):  Rafi, if the whole of humanity are beasts, do you see me too as a beast?

RAFI (taken aback):  You, Esther?

ESTHER:  Yes me. Me—dumb, naïve Esther, am I merely another one of your deadly beasts?

RAFI (taking her hand, lovingly—speaking slowly, earnestly):  On rare occasions, a human being emerges in a sunlit clearing, far from the jungle. You’re certainly one of them, Esther. I’ve just met you today, but it’s clear to me you’re not a jungle beast . . .

ESTHER (laughing in mock relief):  Thank you very much! Whew! At least I’m saved from the jungle-zoo!

RAFI:  Esther, like my Aunt Stephanie, you seem to be part of humanity that’s still intact, still pure—the part that I envy and want to protect. I admire your belief in life, although I can’t share it.

ESTHER:  Then stop calling me naïve! You know what (she smiles.), you can call me “intact” if you want . . .

RAFI:  Dear Esther, I want you to be just as you are. And I wish with all my heart that you remain that way. Yet I know, that you won’t.

ESTHER:  You needn’t fear, Rafi, I’m quite capable of taking care of myself. Thank you for being so frank with me, and let me peep into the window of your mind. . . but it’s so dark in there!

RAFI:  At least you’ve tasted a sip of my darkness. Esther . . . (Taking her hand, lovingly.)

(REGINA enters—and HE quickly lets it go.)

REGINA (to ESTHER): I heard voices. (Seeing RAFI.) Oh—you have a guest. I suppose your father knows about this?

ESTHER:  He was nowhere around. I’m sure he would have approved. Nona, I’m pleased to introduce you to my new friend, Rafi . . . Rafi—this is my grandmother, Regina Mosseri.

RAFI (bowing slightly):  Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Mosseri.

(SHE offers him her hand aristocratically and HE reciprocates.)

REGINA:  You’ll have to forgive me for being surprised, but in good Sephardi families, an unknown young man is only allowed in a young lady’s home with her parents’ permission.

RAFI:  I understand. I’m sorry.

ESTHER:  Well, I don’t understand. I’m eighteen years old, Nona Regina, and I think I can be trusted.

REGINA:  I know very well what you think. God knows you’ve told me enough. And as I’ve told you—“It’s just not done.” (To RAFI.) What is your family name, young man?

RAFI:  Lipsky. Rafi Lipsky.

REGINA:  Lipsky . . . That’s an Ashkenazi name, is it not?

ESTHER (upset with her grandmother):  Yes, Rafi’s from Germany. He’s a refugee from Hitler’s concentration camps.

REGINA (sympathetically):  Oh, I see . . . How lucky you got away. . . Were your parents saved, too?

RAFI:  No. (Pause.) I think it’s time I left. Good evening, Mrs. Mosseri—Esther . . . (HE starts to go.)

ESTHER:  Wait—I’ll walk you to the garden.

(THEY walk outside together.)

ESTHER:  I’m so embarrassed. Please ignore my grandmother’s questions. (SHE picks a mango from a tree and hands it to RAFI.) Perhaps this will make up for it.

RAFI:  Completely. I love mangoes. Especially ones that are golden and mellow . . . like you, Esther.

ESTHER (laughing, but touched):  Rafi, I . . .

(REGINA appears at the door and calls ESTHER.)

REGINA:  Esther! Esther, come here . . .

ESTHER:  I’m coming Nona. (To RAFI.):  See you Saturday at the meeting.

(RAFI exits as REGINA confronts ESTHER.)

REGINA:  Ma chérie, you’re not a little girl anymore; you should know how to behave by now. At your age I was already married and pregnant. What was that young man doing here?

ESTHER:  Nona, I just met Rafi today; this has nothing to do with getting married!

REGINA:  Don’t be so sure. I saw how he looked at you. God forbid you should marry a penniless Ashkenazi! You’re a Sephardi girl from a good family—not a wild, poor, European Ashkenazi!

ESTHER (quite annoyed):  Nona—the only difference between Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews is that we come from Arab lands and Spain, and they from the rest of Europe! . . . Anyway, we did nothing wrong; I just lent him a couple of books.

REGINA:  Is that what you want me to tell your father?

ESTHER:  Do you have to tell him anything?

REGINA (after a pause):  Okay, Mademoiselle, I won’t. But don’t do it again. You shouldn’t tempt the devil . . . even if he’s as fair as your Rafi. (She winks at Esther.) Now come and taste one of my ghorayebas, they’re so delicious you’ll lick your fingers, and forget all about your Rafi . . . (ESTHER runs to her and kisses her.) But Nona Regina dear, I don’t want to forget Rafi!

REGINA:  I know, I know . . .

(They both laugh.)

(The lights fade out on REGINA.)

(RAFI is revealed sitting at a table.)

ESTHER:  From that day on our relationship grew. We went on our first date to the Ezbekia cinema—and following the show enjoyed a khoshaf, a variety of dried fruits—soaked in a delicious syrupy, pink juice made of roses, called sharbat.

(ESTHER sits beside RAFI.)

ESTHER:  Do you agree that this khoshaf is the best dessert in the world?

RAFI (tasting it):  Yummy! (Laughing.) What about the shtruddel? Well, let’s agree it’s the best in the Middle East . . . (They both laugh.)

(SHE spontaneously gets up, goes over to him, and kisses him on the cheek.)

RAFI (smiling):  Be careful—if a policeman sees us, we’ll soon both end up in prison. There’s a law against kissing in public here, isn’t there?

ESTHER (smiling back):  Ah, yes—the crime of “indecent behavior.” . . . Egypt isn’t yet as “advanced” as Europe. (Coyly.) But at summer camp there’ll be no policemen.

RAFI:  Summer camp?

ESTHER:  Didn’t you hear? The Haverim are planning one for two weeks this summer. We’ll have lots of time together there. I hope we can both go . . .

RAFI:  Do you think your father will permit you?

ESTHER:  Well, I’ll try to convince him . . . I have ways . . .

(Lights fade out on RAFI and up on ABRAMINO in a long armchair—his French paper on his lap, as ESTHER approaches and places a wet cloth on his forehead.)

ABRAMINO:  Ah—there you are, my Esther.

ESTHER:  As always—with your moist “bandeau,” Papa, to read you your Journal d’Egypte.

ABRAMINO:  Yes, it’s so relaxing. There’s nothing as effective as a wet, hot cloth to calm one’s nerves. It draws the curtain on the court and the wrangles of my day—while my own “not that little Esther anymore” reads me my paper.

ESTHER:  Which I’m looking forward to. But first I have a favor to ask of you, Papa.

ABRAMINO:  Anything for my darling daughter. “Ask for half the kingdom, Esther—and you’ll get it!” That’s from the Bible, as you know.

ESTHER (nodding):  Well, Papa, as you know, the Haverim run a two week camp every summer in Alexandria.

ABRAMINO:  Yes, Gaby went last year and greatly enjoyed it.

ESTHER (hesitating):  Well, Papa . . . I’d like . . . I’d like . . .


ESTHER:  . . . to go myself this time.

ABRAMINO:  You—Esther? You can’t be serious.

ESTHER:  Why not?

ABRAMINO:  Because it’s out of the question.

ESTHER:  Why, Papa?

ABRAMINO:  Do I have to tell you? You’re a girl. No daughter of mine sleeps out of the house, unmarried!

ESTHER:  Jacqueline Hershcovitz did. She went to the camp last year, just like Gaby.

ABRAMINO:  Jacqueline is an Ashkenazi girl!

ESTHER:  So I’m a Sephardi—what difference does that make?

ABRAMINO:  What difference? Well, I’ll have to explain it to you, my girl. Can you compare a cauliflower to a rose? Jacqueline is a cauliflower, but you’re a rose . . .

ESTHER:  Jacqueline is not a cauliflower! She’s a smart and lovely girl!

ABRAMINO:  That Lipsky refugee—the boy you’ve been seeing so much of lately. He’ll be at that camp, too?

ESTHER:  Yes . . .

ABRAMINO:  That settles it—that only means trouble: Absolutely, no! . . . Now—will you read me my paper?


ABRAMINO:  What? No? No—to your father?

ESTHER:  No. You see—I can say it, too, Papa.

ABRAMINO (tearing off the bandeau):  What’s this?

ESTHER:  If you won’t let me do what I want to, why should I do what you want me to? You’re treating me as if I were a porcelain doll, and I’m just fed up with it! I’ve the same right to go to the summer camp as Gaby has. I’m a year older than he is—why should I be punished all my life because I was born a girl?

You promised me half a kingdom, and now you don’t even want me to go to camp . . .

ABRAMINO:  I can’t believe this. (Mimicking her.) “Just fed up with it!” Mademoiselle is just fed up with it! Dear God—you give them a modern education and they turn against you—against you and everything you stand for. Where is “Honor your father” in these days?

ESTHER:  And where is “Honor your mother?!”

ABRAMINO:  Your mother? Isabelle? What has she to do with this?

ESTHER:  You know she would trust me if she were alive!

ABRAMINO (remembering):  Isabelle, la Belle . . . you sound so much like her, Esther. You have the same musical voice she had, even when she was angry. (Raising his voice.) And you have the same crazy notions! A woman can’t act like a man, can’t you understand this, Esther?

ESTHER:  No! No! No! I can’t, and I’ll never understand it! Papa, when will your generation understand that we women are humans too—and should have equal rights like the other half of humanity?

ABRAMINO (in a fury):  “Equal rights!” My own daughter—to whom I have given all I have all her life—speaks to me, Judge Mosseri, of “equal rights!” Esther, hear my verdict about your so-called “rights:” You’re forbidden to go to summer camp—I just can’t permit it! And it’s final!

(Fade out on ESTHER as we see ISABELLE confronting ABRAMINO.)

ISABELLE:  What do you mean you “just can’t permit it?” Why not?

ABRAMINO:  Come on now, Isabelle, you know as well as I do.

ISABELLE:  What do I know?

ABRAMINO:  She’s a girl, and has to be protected! It’s just “not done.” What will the neighbors say if I let my daughter go to camp like a wanton girl?

ISABELLE:  Since when did you care what the neighbors say? Give her your permission to go to camp, and it “will be done!” It just depends on you! Come on darling, be a lovable father, know that I’m watching from up there, and don’t make me unhappy!

(The lights fade out on ISABELLE, and we see ABRAMINO confronting ESTHER again.)

ABRAMINO:  I can’t permit it . . . It’s against all my principles!

ESTHER:  But Papa why? Don’t you see it’s unfair? Don’t you think principles can change? Principles are not immovable!

ABRAMINO:  Oh my God! I keep seeing and hearing your mother in you. You’re right, I know she’d insist that I let you go. All right—against my better judgment, I give you permission. . . but I warn you. . .

ESTHER:  Oh thank you, Papa. (SHE tries to kiss him but HE pushes her away.)

ABRAMINO:  But I warn you, Esther, you’re playing with fire. I know how you feel about Rafi. And I know about young men. As Isabelle is not here to advise you, I have to speak very frankly with you: You lose your virginity, you lose your “capital,” you lose everything. No one will marry you. You dishonor your family, and you become worthless. You hear me?

ESTHER:  I hear. And I swear to you—nothing will happen. Rafi respects me, and I’m old enough now to take care of myself. (SHE picks up the paper to read to him.)

ABRAMINO:  Put the paper down. That part of our life is over. I don’t want you to bring my bandeau or read to me anymore. My mother will bring it from now on.

ESTHER:  But I want to . . .

ABRAMINO:  And I don’t want you to—anymore. You’re old enough, as you say. You’re on your own. But be careful little, big Esther . . . I care for you and don’t want any harm to befall you.

ESTHER:  Don’t worry Papa . . .I assure you, I’ll be OK.

ABRAMINO:  Please go now. I want to pray.

(SHE goes to the door and, unseen by him, stands watching him, sadly.)

ABRAMINO (taking up his prayer shawl and enveloping himself in it, at the window, toward the East):  That was for you, Isabelle. For you, and Esther’s new world. . . But I feel mine crumbling around me, like the Walls of Jericho. Sustain me, Oh God, let me understand and accept the new, for I cannot fight it anymore . . . Hear me Oh Lord . . .

(Lights fade on ABRAMINO and ESTHER, and come up on ESTHER, again, in a spotlight.)

ESTHER:  My two weeks in camp at Agami were well worth my struggle to get there. The calm blue sea on the side of the Mediterranean coast seemed almost a lake, and the golden sand was fine and soft. There were many activities, but the Haverim spent most of the time swimming in the crystal-clear water. The whole atmosphere was one of joy and freedom . . .

(RAFI is revealed.)

ESTHER:  Above all for me there was Rafi. For the first time since we met, we spent most of our time together; and at last I came to know the depth of his wound and pain.

(SHE approaches and sits beside him, as HE speaks.)

RAFI:  Now that I feel so close to you, Esther, now I can tell you . . . All my family were murdered in Hitler’s gas chambers—the whole Lipsky clan from Berlin and Frankfurt. But my father and sister had more original deaths.

ESTHER (surprised):  I didn’t know you had a sister? You never spoke about her.

RAFI:  Yes, I had a lovely sister. Her name was Maya. You remind me of her in many ways. You have the same hair, same hopeful look in your eyes—though hers were blue—and some similar character traits. She also used to smile and laugh a lot, that is before we were taken to the camp. And when she drowned herself, she was your age.

ESTHER:  Drowned herself? Oh, my God! Where?

RAFI:  In the women’s latrine. A suicide note was later passed on to us. “Tomorrow,” it said, “I’m registered for the 'medical experiments’ at the clinic. I’ve been raped by one of the commandants—and my unborn child is to be the subject of their scalpels and evil experiments. I was given a good meal today to prepare me for that. And now I have the strength to finish it all. If I kill myself, they haven’t won.”

ESTHER (shudders):  That’s horrible! Poor Maya! She was so brave . . .

RAFI:  Oh yes she was! My father, too, was very brave. It was just before Christmas. Three hundred of us were shoved into a truck and driven to a clearing in the woods.

(The following action should be stylized—some scenes enacted, some suggested; while RAFI relates, ESTHER listens, and RAFI plays YOUNG RAFI. GRISHLER is revealed.)

GRISHLER:  My dear hard-working Jews, you will now dig a large, round pit to plant what you specially like—(HE laughs loudly.)—a Christmas tree—a deep pit so that the roots can be strong and bear fresh green saplings. Schnell, schnell—quickly!

RAFI:  We dug and dug. And it was obvious to all of us that we were digging our own mass grave.

GRISHLER:  If you work well, Jews, you’ll be in time to get your Christmas presents under this very tree, ha, ha, ha.

(GRISHLER laughs so hard at his own joke that his cap falls into the grave.)

GRISHLER (humiliated, in a fury—clutching his head to hide his baldness): 
Gott in himmel!

(A young man, DAVID, jumps into the pit and retrieves it for him, hoping it will save his life.)

DAVID (grinning obsequiously—trying to please him):  Here, here, Commandant.

(GRISHLER snatches the cap from DAVID and shoves him back into the pit with the butt of his gun.)

DAVID (whimpering):  I only retrieved your cap, I did nothing wrong.

(GRISHLER fires two rapid shots at the young man, one in his forehead, the other in his stomach. HE rolls over like a ball, his blood gushing out.)

RAFI (to ESTHER):  David was our mass grave’s first inmate.

ESTHER (horrified):  Oh! It’s horrible . . .

RAFI:  We were ordered to undress. Father went up to Grishler for whom he had worked building roads, and pleaded with him.

LIPSKY:  Commandant Grishler, I ask nothing for myself. I’m ready to die. But, for God’s sake, I beg you to spare my son, he’s the only one of our whole family left alive.

GRISHLER (raising his gun in an almost friendly gesture):  Ah—Lipsky—for old times’ sake, hey?

LIPSKY:  Please, Commandant.

GRISHLER (bringing the butt down hard on LIPSKY’s eye):  These are new times, filthy Jew!

(LIPSKY cries out in pain and pulls RAFI back to the side of the pit, blood gushing down his cheek.)

LIPSKY (whispering):  Rafi, I will surely die, but you must live. It’s your duty to your family. You’re the last of the Lipskys. Maya killed herself so they wouldn’t win. You must save yourself for the same reason! Promise—promise me you will live!

YOUNG RAFI:  Father, how can I?

LIPSKY:  You can, and you must! If you live they haven’t won. Promise me you’ll save yourself . . . Promise!

YOUNG RAFI (whispering back):  All right Papa, I promise.

RAFI (to ESTHER):  My father kissed me, with blood pouring all over his face. His blood smudged all my face and body, and later I understood he probably did it on purpose. My father was a smart man. We were all made to line up naked around both sides of the gaping mass grave, our arms raised up above our heads.

(We see the shadow of the PRISONERS enacting what follows.)

RAFI:  With our haggard faces and protruding bones, we already looked like corpses. Behind us was a glorious sight: mother nature in all her beauty; the snowy trees glistened—pure, white, innocent, untouched—in contrast with our sewer. It was like being in one of those beautiful New Year’s cards, and I felt so out of place. I almost felt like crying out to those on the other side of the pit: “Please move aside, you’re spoiling the picture!” . . . These were my last thoughts before Grishler ordered:


RAFI:  The bodies on the other side fell like ballet dancers swooning into the ghastly mass grave, one on top of the other. Most swayed directly into the pit, while others were shoved in by Nazi boots. Then the soldiers pointed their guns at us . . . When they came to shooting on our side, Father held me and pushed me into the pit.

(LIPSKY pushes YOUNG RAFI into the pit, and jumps in after him and covers him completely with his body, as HE is instantly riveted with bullets.)

RAFI:  Thanks to my father, I was unharmed. I was soaked all over by his blood—which probably is what saved me—since it gave the impression I was dead, too. The bodies piled up over me, the stench was so unbearable, that I almost choked to death—which I would have welcomed; but my father’s voice kept ringing through my head: “Promise me you’ll live!” . . . And I couldn’t betray him.

(Fade out on PRISONERS.)

RAFI:  I lay there immobile till the Nazis drove away with all our clothes. I crept out of the mass grave, the only one who was still alive, and found an old sack for cover. I hid in the woods in a cracked, hollow oak—where the partisans eventually found me, more dead than alive.

ESTHER (deeply moved):  How horrible, outrageous, and inhuman! How could they do this to you? Rafi, I’m so glad you confided in me at last. Now I understand you so much better . . . I’m so grateful to your wise father that he made you promise to live—to be here now, my darling, for me to meet and love.

(THEY embrace and kiss passionately, as the lights black out on them; then slowly come up again as ESTHER addresses the audience.)

ESTHER:  My father’s fears were well-founded. I gave Rafi what Papa called my “capital” that evening.

(Lights come up on RAFI. SHE speaks to him.)

ESTHER (sadly):  If I were a Bedouin girl now, my father and brother would have seen it as their duty to kill me, or to throw me into a deep well. And a Sephardi woman is considered to have lost almost all her worth when she loses her virginity. My father calls it her “capital.”

RAFI:  Do you regret what happened?

ESTHER:  No. But for my society I’m now scarred. Like a pitcher that fell down, and has cracked . . .

RAFI:  Oh, Esther—how can you ever be that?

ESTHER:  More than you realize . . . There are things about me I haven’t told you yet.

RAFI:  They can hardly matter—now and forever we’re joined together.

ESTHER:  Joined forever . . . I just hope “forever” lasts indeed forever . . .

(THEY embrace and kiss passionately again, as the lights fade out on RAFI, and a French song: “Plaisir D’Amour,” sung by Joan Baez, is heard in the background.)

“Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment, chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie . . .

(ESTHER addresses the audience.)

ESTHER:  At that moment, I felt a strong desire to change over in my mind, the lines of this beautiful traditional French song, to: “Chagrin d’amour ne dure qu’un moment, plaisir d’amour dure toute la vie . . .” “Sorrow of love remains just one moment, but joy of love remains a whole lifetime . . .”

But forces were gathering to tear us apart . . . It began not long after we returned from camp.

(RAFI enters waving a newspaper.)

RAFI:  Well—it’s certain now. Egypt and four other Arab states will declare war on Israel as soon as it is created, next week, on May 15. It’s clear now that the Jews in Arab lands are in danger. I pray that what happened in Europe won’t happen here.

ESTHER:  Save your prayers, Rafi. This is the Middle East, not Europe. The Jews are safe in Egypt.

RAFI:  What makes you so sure?

ESTHER:  We’ve helped in so many ways in building up this country, we contributed to its economy, its agriculture, its architecture, education, medicine, law, technology, in everything . . . The Jews hold high positions in every profession. We’re respected, appreciated, admired. There’s no discrimination against us.

RAFI:  No—only suspicion and even hatred at times, and not only toward the Jews but toward all the foreign minorities, though they’ve been here for centuries, like the Greeks, Italians, and French, for instance.

ESTHER:  Forgive me, Rafi, but what do you know about Egyptians? You’ve been in Egypt for just two years—we’ve been here for 2,500 years!

RAFI:  And what have you got to show for it? No citizenship, no equal status—no acceptance. They still won’t acknowledge you belong here, or even let you vote . . .

ESTHER (sadly):  That’s true. But we’re still “welcomed guests” by royal decree. In 1917, we were confirmed that again—by King Fuad—when we set up the “United Zionist Movement,” in Cairo and Alexandria, and he was the guest of honor. We have his speech containing his declaration, published in the Egyptian Jewish magazine L’Aurore.

RAFI:  What did he declare?

ESTHER:  That the Jews would always be welcome and protected in Egypt, until we go back to our Land of Israel—that is, if we want to. His speech is really surprising and inspiring. Just imagine, the Egyptian King Fuad, as far back as in 1917, already believed in the return of the Jews to the land of Zion!

RAFI:  This is really something! But, the Germans too, welcomed us before the rise of Hitler. We too, were “respected, appreciated, admired.” More than that, unlike you, we were full-fledged citizens! And look what became of us!

ESTHER:  Rafi, you don’t understand a thing about the Egyptians. They’re not at all like the Germans. They could never act as the Nazis did! They’re a good and kind-hearted people who only want to live in peace and dignity. King Fuad’s son, Farouk, has been equally supportive of the Jews. If trouble arises when Israel is created, King Farouk will surely protect us.

RAFI:  And who will protect him? . . .

ESTHER:  What kind of a question is this? His officers of course!

RAFI (sarcastically):  Of course? I’m not at all sure about that. Didn’t you hear about the young officers’ organization? I hear they have started to brew some trouble for him, and probably for us too. You say I don’t know enough about the Egyptians—can you say you know enough about them?

ESTHER:  I admit I don’t know their culture enough, since I go to an English school. But I have many wonderful Egyptian friends there—as I have Jewish, French, British, and American ones. We have close ties, real cultural bridges—among us. It’s like a . . . microcosmic rainbow. In fact this is the title of our school magazine, which I edit together with Kadreya, a close Muslim friend. It has a beautiful motto: “To abolish war from the world forever.”

RAFI:  A rainbow quickly fades.

ESTHER:  Rafi—how can I make you understand? It’s your awful past which is shadowing your judgment and your whole attitude . . .

RAFI:  Esther, how can I make you see it’s your comfortable and sheltered life that’s blurring your vision?

ESTHER (after a pause, sadly):  Not so sheltered for all that.

RAFI:  Oh?

ESTHER:  I have seen the uglier sides of life too.

RAFI:  Those “things” you haven’t yet told me?

ESTHER (nodding, slowly):  Yes.

RAFI:  Perhaps you should . . .

ESTHER:  Yes, perhaps I ought to . . .

(As before, the following action should be stylized—some scenes enacted, some suggested; while ESTHER relates, RAFI listens, and ESTHER plays YOUNG ESTHER.)

ESTHER:  I was but a child when it happened. Mohsena—our maid, instead of bringing me to the park, as usual, took me to the market: Souk-Bab-El-Louk. It was one of the poorest sections of Cairo, which I’d never seen before. All around us were ragged, barefoot children—their eyes swollen and full of pus—their smudged faces covered with flies. They stretched their thin arms for alms, and my heart went out to them. I felt secretly guilty that my clothes and face were clean, and that I was not hungry like them—but what could I do?

(MOHSENA is revealed, flyswatter in hand, and YOUNG ESTHER addresses her.)

YOUNG ESTHER:  I don’t want to be here, Mohsena. I don’t like this souk at all. Look at all those poor children! Where are their parents? Why don’t they look after them? Please take me to the park like Nona told you to. Babs is waiting for me; she promised to show me her new crying doll her grandpa sent her from London. She told me her doll is almost as big as me!

MOHSENA:  Patience, we’ll soon be there, I tell you.

YOUNG ESTHER:  But where?

MOHSENA:  Don’t keep asking questions. You’ll soon see. I promise it’ll be something entirely new.

(ESTHER speaks to RAFI.)

ESTHER:  It was the first time in all my life I had never encountered so much poverty and misery before. Everything seemed shabby, dirty, ugly. Crowds of beggars lay on the pavement. The babies among them were huddled in rags and sucking at their mother’s thin breasts, while fleas and flies sucked them. It was such a pitiful sight, and it gave me shudders . . .

(Two BEGGARS approach ESTHER with their palms held out.)

BEGGARS:  Baksheesh, baksheesh! Alms for the poor, for God’s sake!

(YOUNG ESTHER opens her small purse and gives them each a coin.)

MOHSENA:  What are you doing? Why do you open your purse before them you silly girl! Now they won’t leave us alone because of you!

(More BEGGARS approach ESTHER now, palms extended.)

BEGGARS:  Baksheesh, baksheesh! Alms for the poor! (THEY push ESTHER.)

MOHSENA:  See what I mean! (SHE chases them away with her flyswatter.) Go! Go! Imshee! Imshee! Shoo, go away! Move on!

(One of them snatches ESTHER’s purse before SHE can stop him.)

YOUNG ESTHER:  He stole my purse! Give it back! (SHE runs after him.)

MOHSENA (pulling her back):  You asked for it. They’re all lazy thieves. If they want money, they should go to work, like I do!

(The BEGGARS stand at a distance and point their fingers at ESTHER, leering.)

BEGGARS:  Affrangea, yehudeya! Affrangeya, yehudeya!

YOUNG ESTHER:  Mohsena, they’re calling me a Jew—yehudeya—like it was a bad thing. Why is that? And what does “affrangeya” mean?

MOHSENA:  Didn’t I tell you not to ask any more questions?

(ESTHER speaks to RAFI.)

ESTHER:  I couldn’t recognize our meek and polite Mohsena, anymore. She seemed enveloped in her black mellaya, as if she had become a total stranger. She just pursed her lips and pulled me along, refusing to answer any of my questions . . . Further on, there were stalls of various pastries, the kind which Nona baked so well, and which I loved: crispy, nutty baklava, date-stuffed maamoul, tender ghorayebas which melted in one’s mouth, and golden konafa dipped in rich, fragrant honey.

YOUNG ESTHER (to MOHSENA):  Mohsena, can I have one? I’m tired and hungry.

MOHSENA:  You know your grandmother doesn’t allow you to eat from the street stalls. They’re not hygienic enough for you—(Sneeringly.)—just for us natives.

(Suddenly we hear a horrible cry of a young DONKEY being beaten.)

DONKEY:  Hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw!

(We see the shadow of the DONKEY being lashed by a bunch of BRATS who are getting a great kick out of it.)

YOUNG ESTHER (to them):  Don’t—don’t—you’re killing him!

(THEY turn to her surprised and then wave their whips at her, laughing jeeringly.)

BRATS:  What business is it of yours—affrangeya?

YOUNG ESTHER (screaming):  I’m not! I’m not! You’re affrangeya—all of you!

(MOHSENA pulls her away. We see some more BRATS swinging a metal baby bathtub tied high upon two wooden poles in which is a frightened little GIRL not daring to move—whom we hear, but don’t see—shrieking in fear.)

GIRL:  For Allah’s sake, please stop!

YOUNG ESTHER:  Stop! Get that poor girl down from there!

(But THEY swing the bathtub higher and higher up—till it somersaults and comes crashing down knocking the GIRL unconscious on the pavement. SHE lies in a large pool of blood—but nobody tries to help her. THEY just stare at her curiously.)

YOUNG ESTHER:  She’s bleeding to death. Help her—help her. For God’s sake—somebody help her!

(SHE tries to run to the dying GIRL—but MOHSENA holds her back.)

MOHSENA:  Serves her right. Who told her to climb up in that bathtub?

(SHE pulls ESTHER along.)

YOUNG ESTHER (sobbing):  I bet she didn’t; those terrible boys must have forced her into it. Poor girl! Mohsena, I want to go back home now. I want my Nona and Papa.

MOHSENA (wiping her tears):  You’ll be back in just a while. We’re here now, see. It’s this nice shop on the corner of the street with those pretty sugar dolls. Come, ya binti, you’ll like it—you’ll see.

(MOUSTAPHA enters and addresses them.)

MOUSTAPHA (beaming):  Welcome, my sister, Mohsena. You brought the little affrangeya to visit us, heh?

(YOUNG ESTHER stares at him with deep hurt in her eyes.)

YOUNG ESTHER:  I’m not affrangeya!

MOHSENA:  What’s the matter? Affrangeya is not an insult.

MOUSTAPHA (guffawing):  Is this why she gapes at me so? I thought I had trod on her foot or something!

YOUNG ESTHER:  What’s affrangeya?

MOUSTAPHA:  It means “European.”


MOUSTAPHA:  It means you’re not an Arab like us. Your face is fair, not dark, you speak French, not Arabic, you’re a foreigner, not one of us. And, also, your legs are bare! Did you ever see an Arab girl of your age with a short dress and bare legs like yours?

YOUNG ESTHER:  But I was born in Egypt, my parents, and grandparents, and all my family were born here! I’m not an affrangeya, I’m not! (SHE starts sobbing.)

MOUSTAPHA:  That’s not a reason for you to cry, my sweetie. If you want to think you’re not an affrangeya, then you’re not. But how will you convince others? They’ll just take one look at you with your fair skin, auburn hair, and bare white legs and know you’re not one of us . . .

ESTHER (to the audience):  This came as a bomb. It was an entirely new revelation about my blurred identity. As young as I was, I understood at that instant, that whatever I would do, and how hard I tried, I would always be considered, in the land of my birth—as not belonging, as a stranger, a foreigner and a freak! I dried my tears, and turned to Mohsena:

ESTHER:  Mohsena, I want to go home, I’m tired and hungry . . . Please take me back home now.

MOUSTAPHA:  Here—don’t be so unhappy. I’ll give you a nice Muled-El-Nabi sugar doll, and we’ll forget we were here, okay? We’ll keep it a secret between us. You’ll eat up all the doll before you get home, and not tell your Papa or your Nona you were here, okay? You know what the dolls are for?


MOUSTAPHA:  They’re for the feast of Mohammed, our Nabi, our prophet. You have Moses, who also grew up in Egypt, and we have our prophet Mohammed. Pick one for yourself.

(HE motions to MOHSENA to leave and SHE does so, as YOUNG ESTHER is occupied with the sugar dolls. SHE takes a brown one in a green and white outfit, with a crescent-moon pattern and three shiny stars on her head—symbolizing the Egyptian flag.)

MOUSTAPHA:  Are you sure you want a brown one?

(SHE nods.)

MOUSTAPHA (snatching away the brown doll):  No. I think it’s better to have one of your own kind. (HE now gives her a white one wearing a flowing white robe with sky-blue stripes and a shining Star of David on her forehead.)

(SHE presses the new sugar doll to her lips and kisses her. Then SHE looks around for MOHSENA who is nowhere in sight.)

YOUNG ESTHER:  Where’s Mohsena?

MOUSTAPHA:  Don’t worry. She’ll soon be back. You can rest in the meantime.

YOUNG ESTHER:  Mohsena, I want to go home! Please take me home I’m tired, we have to be back! Nona will be worried!

MOUSTAPHA:  Mohsena will be back in a few moments. Don’t worry, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Here, lie down and rest. (He starts caressing her.)

YOUNG ESTHER (pushes his hand away, and cries out):  Don’t touch me! I don’t want your doll, take it back !

(SHE throws the doll in his face, he bends, and it hits him on the head, then falls down and breaks into pieces. She quickly runs to the door, opens it, and starts screaming in the street, followed by MOUSTAPHA who tries to grab her, he hisses toward her menacingly.): If you don’t come back straight away, I’ll come to your bed in the night and eat your liver!

YOUNG ESTHER (cries out):  Mohsena, where are you? I want to go home this instant! People please help me find Mohsena! I want to go back home! Please help me! I want my Nona and my Papa, take me back home at once! I want to go home! Mohsena! Take me back home NOW! Help me, PLEASE!

(People in the street eye the girl curiously, and look at MOUSTAPHA with accusing eyes. MOHSENA suddenly appears, and takes her by the hand, walking her back home. MOUSTAPHA disappears. YOUNG ESTHER hears a radio playing a sorrowful song by Om Kulthum—“Ya leili, ya leili—my night, my night,” and it seems to describe her own experience and her own feelings.)

MOHSENA:  You’ll forget all about being here, won’t you Esther?

YOUNG ESTHER:  I shall never forget . . . I will always remember!

ESTHER (talking to RAFI):  And indeed, this painful odyssey has left a painful wound in me even after all those years. But I’ve never told this story to anyone before. You’re the first one to know about it.

RAFI:  Thanks for your confidence. My God, that beast Mustapha tried to rape you! You were a very brave little girl to throw the sugar doll in his face, and to run away on time!

ESTHER:  I think it was more fear than bravery . . . just telling you the story, brought back again acute chills down my spine . . . I felt danger, and my instinct told me I had to run.

RAFI:  Poor little Esther! So you’ve had your taste of the jungle too . . . Do you see now what I mean when I say there are burning ovens between people, not “bridges . . .” And you really believe you’re safe in this country?

ESTHER (with difficulty):  Yes, I do.

RAFI:  Even after what happened to the little affrangeya yehudea?

ESTHER:  They try to rape their own girls too, and not only in this country, but all over the world . . .

(Desperately.) Rafi, I’ve got to believe it!

RAFI:  You’d better believe my instincts Esther, rather than your judgment! I feel the smell of the “Second Exodus,” in the air, I tell you, and I don’t like it, I don’t like it at all. And as you know, I’m a ‘connoisseur’ in those kinds of stinking warning smells . . .

ESTHER:  Rafi, don’t dramatize . . .

RAFI:  I’m grateful for your trust (He embraces her.), I wish I were just dramatizing! I fear for you, darling Esther.

(He kisses her. Lights fade out.)

(At the door of the Maccabi club.)

ESTHER:  Believing we were safe became more and more difficult. One evening when the first of us arrived for our Maccabi meeting, we found our club barred up—with an ugly sign: “Prohibited!”

(DANIEL, CLARA, YOSSI, MOSHE, and SAMMY are seen with ESTHER, staring at the sign.)

ESTHER (pointing at the sign):  Daniel, what’s this, what have we here?

DANIEL:  WOW! So now it’s here too! That’s what we half-expected, it’s happening everywhere! I fear it’s the beginning of our Second Exodus . . .

SAMMY:  It sure is! They also shut our club in Alexandria, and at the university, Jewish students are barred from lectures—and with me just one year from my Engineer’s diploma! It’s really unfair!

CLARA:  We’re living on a volcano, which can erupt any moment now! It seems those nationalist hotheads furiously shouting their slogans: “Egypt to the Egyptians!” are out to overthrow King Farouk’s regime. Despite his promises, I’m afraid, he won’t dare attempt to help us, or to help any of the other minorities.

YOSSI (singing): King Farouk is a man, and he eats bread and jam, and he rides in an old Carro tram . . . ” (Laughing.) Or soon he will!

DANIEL:  The worst is yet to come. They’ve just decreed a new law that non-citizens can’t own businesses! That’ll put most Jews, Greeks, French and Italians, out of work . . . And without work, it’s clear that all of us will have to go . . .

YOSSI (singing): Let my people go!

CLARA:  Oh shut up, Yossi! Daniel is speaking of the tragedy of the uprooting of our community, and a “Second Exodus,” and all you think of is joking . . .

SAMMY AZAR:  Well, I’m not going anywhere. At least not for a while. I’m staying at the university and I’m getting my degree. I won’t let those fanatics defeat me! I have a good Muslim friend by the name of Ismail, who’s copying the lectures for me. And the dean promised he would let me take my final exams. You see, not all the Arabs are against us. I still believe in the common sense of the Egyptian people, and am still hopeful that all this storm will blow away soon.

MOSHE MARZUK:  But enough Arabs are indeed against us. (Bitterly.) We’re finished here. Jewish communities all over the world will remain intact, but they’re going to wipe us out! We’re paying the heaviest price, we Jews of Arab lands, for the State of Israel . . . But I’m with Sammy. I won’t leave until I absolutely have to. I’m even ready to work underground to help those who want to get out—while I’ll try to find my way with my Arab neighbors who’ve kept their sanity.

CLARA:  More power to both of you. Yet, I look forward to the day when we’ll all meet again in Israel.

YOSSI (raising a mock glass):  L’chaim! . . . Onward—to the Promised Land! (Singing in imitation of Paul Robeson.) “River Jordan is deep and wide, Halleluyah! River Jordan . . .

DANIEL:  Enough, Yossi, lower your voice, you might be heard! We’ve got to watch what we say from now on. We might be arrested!

YOSSI:  Well, they’d better arrest Paul Robeson then. It’s his song—not mine! “Yom assal—yom bassal—a day of honey—a day of onions,” as the Egyptians say. Well—today is truly bassal; but really quite exciting! I love bassal, too, especially with “phool” in a pita.

DANIEL:  Shush Yossi, keep your voice down. God knows what will happen when we go to the Nasser cinema tonight!

RAFI:  Perhaps we better not.

DANIEL:  Rafi’s right. When they see us all together, there might be trouble.

SAMMY:  To hell with those nationalists, I say—I’m going anyway.

YOSSI:  Me, too. I wouldn’t miss it!

MOSHE:  Yes. We can’t let them think they can turn us into cowards!

RAFI:  Oh—but they can, they can—believe me, I saw it all before. . .

CLARA:  I hate being cowed into submission. I’m for going.

DANIEL:  Well, all right—but we must be careful.

ESTHER:  I’m for going, too. I’ll leave a message on this sign for the others to know they can meet us at the cinema at eight p.m. Bye, see you tonight.

(DANIEL, CLARA, SAMMY, MOSHE, and YOSSI nod goodbye and leave. ESTHER writes the message, as RAFI addresses her.)

RAFI:  Do you think it’s wise to go to the cinema tonight, Esther? I’m really worried.

ESTHER:  That cinema’s as much ours as anyone’s. By the way, it’s my uncle, architect Alfredo, who built it.

RAFI:  Very well, if you must, but I’d better come and pick you up.

ESTHER:  I can get there myself, thank you. I always have.

RAFI:  Esther—tonight’s different.

ESTHER (laughing): Tonight is different from all other nights”—like at Passover, during the Biblical Exodus?

RAFI:  Esther, this is serious . . .

ESTHER:  You know, Rafi, when I was a child, and just as curious as I am now, I used to ask at Passover: “How come we thank God that he has taken us out of Egypt, and we’re still in Egypt?” (They both laugh.)

RAFI:  And what did they answer?

ESTHER:  My grandmother used to answer in Ladino: “El dio es tadroso, ma no es ulvidoso!

RAFI:  You know I don’t understand Ladino, what does it mean?

ESTHER:  It means: “God is sometimes late, but he never forgets!” (They both laugh again.) However, dear Rafi, the Second Exodus has not begun yet—God is still late, and you don’t have to cross half the town for me!

RAFI (sighing):  Okay, if that’s how you want it, I’ll meet you there. But, Esther, I’m really worried; be careful. I feel, as I did that fateful “crystal” night in Berlin, that something’s in the air.

ESTHER (to the audience) I was worried, too, but I didn’t want to admit it. I got to the Nasser cinema safely—and we watched the film La Dame Aux Camelias, with Greta Garbo—without any incident. But when it was over, the trouble began. The national anthem was being played, and the audience was standing—facing King Farouk’s picture on the screen.

(YOSSI is revealed—along with DANIEL, CLARA, RAFI, RITA, MOSHE, and SAMMY. Again the action in the following scenes should be appropriately stylized—as ESTHER narrates.)

ESTHER:  Yossi, as usual, was acting the clown—singing to himself in time to the music—the parody of the anthem . . .

YOSSI:  King Farouk is a man
and he eats bread and jam
and he rides in an old
Carro tram, tara-la-lalala! tara-la-lalala . . .

ESTHER:  Suddenly we heard terrifying shouts all over:

MOB:  The Jews are the dogs of the Arabs! Down with the Jews—death to foreigners!

ESTHER:  Suddenly a sharp stone hit Yossi in the forehead, and he started bleeding.

YOSSI (in pain) Ow! It hurts!

(An ugly gash appears on YOSSI’s forehead from which trickles a rivulet of blood. ESTHER quickly applies a handkerchief to YOSSI’s forehead.)

(A hostile mob approaches the group, shouting.)

MOB:  Death to the kikes! Out, out, let’s kill them!

RAFI:  No time for that. Come on, quick. It’s becoming dangerous.

(RAFI grabs ESTHER’s hand, and pushes her and YOSSI along to join DANIEL and CLARA.)

DANIEL:  The emergency exit, quick! Follow me! Rafi—stay by the door and make sure all the group come this way.

ESTHER (to the audience):  I didn’t want to leave Rafi. The mob, armed with knives and sticks, was advancing upon us, shouting ugly slogans all the while.

MOB:  Death to the Jewish dogs! Death to the kikes! Kill them! Kill them!

RAFI (to her, insistently):  Esther, go with Daniel.

ESTHER:  Rafi—you can’t stay here—you’ve got to come with us.

RAFI (forcefully):  Go now—you must! Don’t worry, I’ll soon join you.

ESTHER (reluctantly):  Well, all right, but hurry.

(HE exits as SHE addresses the audience.)

ESTHER:  I felt awful leaving Rafi, who had seen it all before! The mob was relentless, and we started running as fast as our feet could carry us. “They’re after us—they’ll catch us—they’ll kill us!” I thought, as I ran from them with Daniel in the lead. The fanatic mob was coming closer—their cries piercing my eardrums, thumping on them like a thousand cymbals:

MOB:  The Jews are the dogs of the Arabs! Death—death to the kikes!

ESTHER:  Rafi was nowhere in sight. “Rafi!” I tried to shout. But his name stuck in my throat—and I felt I was choking. I ran and ran. My legs felt like a train’s pistons, until they became wobbly; my burning breath seemed to burst in my chest . . . I felt I couldn’t run anymore . . . It’s my end, I thought, I’ll never see Rafi, or Nona, or Papa, or Gaby, anymore . . .

(We see CLARA and DANIEL, supporting the wounded, YOSSI, joined by the lagging ESTHER—huddling together in a spotlight—the others in the shadows.)

ESTHER (to the audience):  We were up against the gates of a large, fine house. The mob was coming closer, and almost catching up with us. If they did we all knew we were finished . . . When suddenly the gate opened.

(ABDUL, a black porter, dressed in white garb and a turban, and a red sash around his waist, appears.)

ABDUL:  Come in, all of you, come in quickly and hide there under the stairs!

(ESTHER, CLARA, and DANIEL supporting YOSSI enter with the others.)

ESTHER (to ABDUL):  Shokrun—thank you so much!

ABDUL:  Thank me when you get out of this alive. (HE rapidly chains the gate.)

ESTHER (to the audience):  The frantic mob reached the gate, brandishing their sticks and glistening knives in the moonlight.

(We see MOUSTAPHA in a spotlight.)

MOUSTAPHA:  Open up, Ya Sudani, or we’ll bash your brains on the pavement, together with those of the filthy Jews you’re hiding!

ESTHER:  His voice sounded frightfully familiar, and suddenly I recognized him! (Shuddering.) It was Moustapha, Mohsena’s brother! I started trembling in the dark, and all my childhood fears came back to me! I heard his threatening voice again: “I’ll come in the night and eat your liver!” And all my fear for years of that happening, climbed in shivering sparks up my spine.

ABDUL (to MOUSTAPHA):  Which Jews? What are you talking about?

MOUSTAPHA:  The Jews that you’re hiding under the stairs, you dirty Abdul-Sudanese-nigger. Open up or we’ll splash your blood all over the pavement, like we’ll do to those Jews!

ABDUL:  I can’t open it. I don’t have the key.

MOUSTAPHA (brandishing a knife):  We’ll kill you, Abdul, smelly black dog of the Jews! We’ll kill you, all right, don’t worry, together with your Jewish slavemasters! You won’t separate from them in life, so we’ll do you a favor, and won’t separate you from them in death! Count on me dirty Sudanese, you have Moustapha’s word for it!

MOB (we hear them shaking the gate):  Kill! Kill the black dog and the Jews! (THEY bang loudly with their sticks and knives.)

(ABDUL stands upright with his arms proudly folded watching them unflinching.)

ESTHER:  Revulsion welled up in my stomach and throat at the sight and shouts of Moustapha. (Trembling all over.) I felt I was being strangled. Clara noticed, and covered me with her coat.

CLARA (doing so and whispering):  Esther—calm down; nothing will happen to us or Rafi; we’re in good hands with this brave Abdul.

ESTHER (to the audience):  Indeed, we all admired him, as he stood there in the moonlight with folded arms, unmoved—staring down in disdain at the brutal mob, like a legendary Arab prince, from The Arabian Nights.

MOUSTAPHA (to ABDUL, venomously):  All right—if that’s how you want to play it, nigger, have it your way, but I warn you, we’ll win in the end! We’ll go now to find some other kikes to kill. But we’ll be back for you and those you’re hiding—very soon! Mark my words, I’ll still eat your liver!

(MOUSTAPHA and MOB exit. The group is revealed in a spotlight, under the stairs, as ABDUL goes to them. Wounded YOSSI is lying on the ground.)

ESTHER:  Clara, Yossi’s condition has worsened, he’s losing a lot of blood.

(Both ESTHER and CLARA kneel down beside him and try to stop his blood from flowing with their handkerchiefs. Then ABDUL takes off his spotless white turban and hands it to them.)

ABDUL:  Here, bandage him with this.

ESTHER:  Thank you so much. (SHE ties the bandage around YOSSI’s head.)

YOSSI (trying to make light of things):  Well, you can’t deny it’s exciting! Sorry, Esther, my unruly blood has messed up your dress. (HE swoons, and collapses into unconsciousness.)

ESTHER (to ABDUL):  We have to bring him to the hospital immediately.

ABDUL:  To go out now is suicide. There’s a Coptic doctor on the second floor, Dr. Wissa, you can take him there, he’ll help you.

DANIEL:  He’s right! Sammy, please come and help me.

DANIEL and SAMMY carry YOSSI out.

(When everything was quiet again, the porter opened the gate and went out by himself, to see if it was all right for us to leave.)

(MOUSTAPHA jumps out and stabs ABDUL to death.)

MOUSTAPHA:  I told you we’d get you, dirty nigger! (He runs away swiftly.)

(ABDUL’s wife rushes out—followed by DANIEL, ESTHER and CLARA—and hovers over the dead body, wailing.)

FATMA—ABDUL’S WIFE (pointing at them):  You are the cause of his death! Who will bring me back my husband? Who will feed my seven children? I always told him not to meddle with things that don’t concern him, not to be such a hero . . . My God, my God—take pity on me and strike me dead, too!

CLARA (to her):  We’re so sorry! It shouldn’t have happened! Your husband was such a noble man . . . He saved our lives. We’ll never forget him!

FATMA:  But what will become of us? How will we survive?

ESTHER:  Don’t worry, we promise our parents will see to it that you and your children are well provided for, and that the murderer, Moustapha, will be thrown in jail to rot there all his life . . . We feel so guilty! He shouldn’t have paid such a high price for his good deed in saving us! Your husband Abdul was a hero, and we shall always remember him as such!

FATMA:  A lot of good that does me now! Oh—Allah—take pity! Bring my Abdul back!

DANIEL (to the HAVERIM):  You can all go back home now. Clara and I will look after her, and the body; we’ll also check on how Yossi’s doing. But be careful on the way, keep to the back streets, and don’t take the bus or the tram.


(Fade out on all but ESTHER who addresses the audience as REGINA is revealed.)

ESTHER:  When I returned home, Nona Regina met me at the door.

REGINA (shaking):  There was a phone call for you from Rafi’s Aunt Stephanie a few moments ago. Apparently, he was caught by a mob, and they hit him with clubs until he was unconscious. Then they left him for dead in the street . . .

ESTHER (in shock):  What? Rafi? Oh my God . . . Where is he now? Is he alive?

REGINA:  Yes, he’s alive. A Muslim taxi driver—may God bless his soul—picked him up, and drove him to the hospital. This courageous Arab saved Rafi’s life, as well as the lives of several other Jews who were attacked and left for dead in the streets. He just followed the mob, and like the Good Samaritan, he picked up the victims and brought them to the hospital.

(ESTHER is about to rush out, but REGINA stops her.)

REGINA:  You can’t see him now—only tomorrow at 9:00 am, at the Kasr-El-Eini Hospital.

ESTHER (despairingly):  I’m to blame for insisting we go to the cinema. He warned us against it. Poor Rafi—for this to happen to him again! Nona, what’s going on, it has suddenly become so terrible! I don’t understand it . . .

REGINA:  It’s a pogrom, Esther. The first we’ve ever had in Egypt. Abramino called and told me they’ve killed hundreds of Jews, the fanatic mob threw them to the streets from their balconies, and smashed their stores and houses . . .

ESTHER:  Another Kristallnacht, Egyptian style! (Sobbing.) Rafi, Rafi, how right you were, why didn’t I listen to you?

REGINA (looking upward tearfully.):  Oh God! Why have you abandoned us?

(Lights fade out on REGINA as ESTHER addresses the audience. We see RAFI in a hospital bed covered with bandages—a POLICEMAN standing behind him.)

ESTHER:  I saw Rafi the next morning. He was bandaged, all swollen and unrecognizable. They let me visit him for only fifteen minutes.

RAFI (to ESTHER):  After the first blows, you don’t feel anything. I felt I was dying. And, again, I heard my father saying: “Promise me, you’ll live.” I couldn’t betray him, or you dear Esther . . . I was now an expert at feigning death. At last I heard one of them shouting, “This Jew is dead, let’s find another one.” And the blows stopped. The cab driver arrived and picked me up, then I blacked out completely.

ESTHER:  Oh, Rafi. I’m so sorry. It’s my fault all this happened! I should have listened to you! I shouldn’t have insisted we go to the cinema . . .

RAFI:  Dear Esther, how could you know about the depth of the venom of anti-Semitism, when you had never tasted it? I tried to warn you, but it’s difficult to realize it, until it faces you in all its grim horror and ugliness . . .

(Pointing to the POLICEMAN.) I’m under arrest and about to be deported.

ESTHER (alarmed):  Deported? Where?

RAFI:  I don’t know! They say to France, but I don’t believe them. I hope it’s not like my last “home,” Majdanek . . .

ESTHER (sobbing now):  Rafi, where will I find you? I may never see you again!

POLICEMAN:  Time’s up, Miss; you have to go.

RAFI (grabbing her hand):  Don’t cry, Esther! One way or another we’ll find each other, I promise. Remember—we’re joined forever . . . Count on me! Shalom my little Esther, we’ll meet in Paris or in Jerusalem . . .

ESTHER (embracing him):  Goodbye, my darling Rafi. (SHE whispers in his ear.) We have a date on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem.

(RAFI nods. The lights fade out on RAFI and the POLICEMAN, as ESTHER addresses the audience.)

ESTHER:  I don’t know how I managed to get back home that day; my feet were wobbly and my head swam. I just remember Nona Regina opening the door and crying out on seeing the state I was in. At that point I fainted . . . I found myself among a wild crowd.

(We hear the CROWD and see two men, one in a gallabeya and one in a white policeman’s uniform, carrying a bride, with a covered head, over their shoulders.)

CROWD:  Long live the Betrothed of the Nile!

ESTHER:  Then I realized the policeman was the one in Rafi’s room, and the other man was Moustapha. But who was the bride? Was it just a life-size doll bride to pacify the God of the Nile, or was it a real human sacrifice, as in ancient times? Was it Rafi? Was it I?

(MOUSTAPHA and the POLICEMAN put the bride down, and take off her veil to reveal ABDUL.)

ESTHER:  It was Abdul! He was the human sacrifice! I felt horrible, we should have been the ones to be sacrificed, not him! I wanted to shout out to them, take me instead, but my voice choked in my throat.

(MOUSTAPHA and the POLICEMAN shout, and throw ABDUL over the bridge into the Nile.)

CROWD:  Death to the Sudanese—death to the niggers, death to the Jews!

(Lights out on all except ESTHER.)

ESTHER:  Take me! Take me instead, I succeeded to shout at last! It’s unfair, Abdul was a good man, he only tried to save us! It’s unfair! I cried out with all my strength . . . Suddenly, as he was falling, Abdul’s white gown mysteriously turned into mine. The brown legs dangling in the air became my own legs—slim legs waving for help like those of Icarus plunging into the ocean—little white legs roughly grabbed by Moustapha’s sinewy brown hands, trying to get at my liver . . . . The muddy ripples of the Nile covered me, and I sank in more deeply . . .

(MOUSTAPHA appears in a spotlight.)

MOUSTAPHA:  Taali, Taali, come, come, my lovely bride Esther, come into my moist arms. Come, I’ll cover you forever with my cool caresses; no more worries, glorious final end. Yehudeya affrangeya, you’ll get exactly what you deserve, come . . .

(ESTHER is caught in a whirlpool drawing her to him, against her will. SHE tries to fight it with all her might, but does not succeed.)

ESTHER:  Suddenly Rafi’s face appeared facing me.

RAFI—in a spotlight—calls out to her.

RAFI:  Esther—what do you think you’re doing? You’re my bride, remember? We’ve made a date, haven’t we? On earth, not in water . . .

(MOUSTAPHA fades out, as ESTHER speaks.)

ESTHER:  Rafi, give me your hand, pull me out of this whirlpool!

RAFI (stretching out his hand to her):  Esther, where are you? Come to me.

ESTHER:  I took a powerful hold on myself and swam up, up—struggling for breath, my lungs bursting. (Stretching out her hand to him.) I have a date with Rafi, and I have to make it!

(Lights fade out slowly on ESTHER and RAFI.)

(We see ESTHER in a spotlight carrying a lighted wax candle in a holder and we hear a CHOIR, from the loudspeaker, singing the wedding song: “Here comes the bride . . .)

DR. MIZRAHI (addressing a worried REGINA):  She has regained consciousness, she’ll be alright now. Lots of chicken soup, Regina, and next week Esther can attend her cousin Rita’s wedding. Give her some vitamins too. (He writes a prescription, and leaves.)

REGINA:  Thank God, you’re back with us! (She kisses her.) I’ll bring you a hot naana tea, and you’ll be fine!

ESTHER:  At my cousin Rita’s wedding, it was my role to walk in front of the young couple at the beginning of their mutual life together—symbolically lighting the road for them.

AUNT DEBORAH:  How beautiful Rita looks tonight, and how happy, don’t you think so Esther? (ESTHER nods.) May you soon be as happy as she is . . .

ESTHER (dressed as bridesmaid, holding a candle):  As I looked around at our beautiful, vast synagogue—Shaar Hashamayim, the Gate of Heaven—and the four hundred guests that filled it, I was sad to think that this could be the last wedding here. (SHE mimes the following.) My candle wept at the thought. A drop of hot wax fell on the palm of my hand and I winced in pain, scratching it away with my fingernails. Then another one fell, and another—and with every drop of wax pouring, I felt our Second Exodus flowing on my very skin. Aunt Deborah seemed to read my thoughts:

DEBORAH:  Our community is melting away before our eyes . . . but let’s try to be joyful, it’s Rita's wedding after all!

(ABRAMINO is seen approaching her quickly.)

ABRAMINO:  Gaby’s been arrested!

ESTHER:  Gaby!

ABRAMINO:  I’m going to the prison to try to get him released. I tried to talk to the captain-in-charge, on the phone, but he wouldn’t listen. I have to go there myself.

ESTHER:  I’m coming with you, Papa.

ABRAMINO:  I don’t know if you should.

ESTHER:  Maybe I can help. I’m coming with you. (He nods, and they leave quickly.)

(ESTHER addresses the audience as the CAPTAIN is revealed.)

CAPTAIN (to ABRAMINO):  So you want your son free, hey?

ABRAMINO:  Of course I do. Will you tell me what he’s been charged with?

CAPTAIN:  To be a Jew nowadays is enough. Every one of you is a Zionist at heart.

ABRAMINO:  Since when did the longing to go to the Land of Zion become a crime? It’s obvious you don’t want us here anymore. How can Gaby be freed?

CAPTAIN:  Quite easily. Just a thousand English pounds, and he’s right off to France tomorrow morning.

ABRAMINO:  You’ll get the payment when I hear that my son is safe in Paris.

CAPTAIN:  Then he’ll be here the next day and every one thereafter. I get that money now or your son never leaves here, never. Is that clear?

ABRAMINO (to the CAPTAIN, indignantly):  It’s against every law I’ve sworn to uphold. A plane ticket costs two hundred sterling at the maximum, where does the rest go?

CAPTAIN:  Expenses, my dear judge—paper work; you must know something about that! I warn you for the last time, if you value your son, you’ll just have to accept it—or leave immediately and he’ll suffer the consequences!

ESTHER (whispering to ABRAMINO):  Papa, he means what he says. Do you have your checkbook with you? If you do, I suggest you pay him what he asks for.

ABRAMINO (taking out his checkbook and writing the sum):  Very well. But I want it in writing that you’re freeing Gaby tomorrow.

CAPTAIN (scribbling a note and handing it to him):  I’m sure I can count on you not to tell anything about this to anybody.

ABRAMINO (nods. Examines the note, signs and hands the check to the CAPTAIN):  Can I see my son now?

CAPTAIN:  That’s out of the question.

ABRAMINO:  But I . . .

CAPTAIN (menacingly):  You what?

ESTHER (pulling him away):  Papa lets go. (To the CAPTAIN.) We understand.

CAPTAIN:  You’ve been very cooperative, Judge Mosseri, and Miss Mosseri. Now I have other business; I must ask you and your lovely, wise daughter to leave.

ESTHER (pulling at his sleeve):  Come, Papa, let’s go.

(HE starts to leave with her. Fade out on CAPTAIN.)

ABRAMINO (wearily):  Yes—we must leave, after 2,500 years, we all must leave the Valley of the Nile again. But this time, no Pharaoh will run after us to retain us . . . Now I’m convinced, the sooner we get out of Egypt the better! We’ve had our day of ’honey’—now the day of ’onions’ is starting . . .

ESTHER (smiling radiantly and whispering to herself):  Rafi—I’m coming . . .

(Fade out on ABRAMINO as ESTHER addresses the audience.)

ESTHER:  But REGINA felt otherwise.

(We see REGINA addressing ABRAMINO as the lights fade out on ESTHER.)

REGINA:  But Abramino? Why so quickly? You know what the Arab proverb says: “Rapidity comes from Satan!”

ABRAMINO:  Mother, try to be sensible. Do you know what hell Egypt will be for us now? Gaby has already been kicked out. What do you want us to wait for?

REGINA:  For the storm to calm down. Don’t take it so tragically, Abramino. At Gaby’s age, you’d probably have been thrilled to wind up in Paris! Don’t rush things. We Jews have had our ups and downs in this land. Soon the storm will blow over as it always has, and things will return to normal. Just wait, and see, my son.

ABRAMINO:  Things will never again be normal for us here. How can I make you understand? You’re talking nonsense Mother . . . Never before have Jewish lives here been in so much danger!

REGINA:  Then I’ll just have to face it alone. You and Esther can go, but I’m staying right here! I’m too old to start a new life somewhere else! I want to die in my own land—and be buried near my parents in the Jewish Bassatine cemetery. How can I rest in peace away from them?

ABRAMINO (shouting):  Doesn’t any woman in this house obey me? Ma, you ’re going with us and that’s that! I’m not leaving you behind to die!

REGINA:  But Abramino, try to understand me my son, I just can’t go away! I’ve nothing more to live for!

ABRAMINO:  Oh—stop that stupid talk, Mother! You have plenty to live for. I’ve never needed you more than I do now. Tomorrow, please give the servants notice, pay them their salaries and give them recommendations, if they need them.

REGINA:  Give the servants notice? So quickly? But why?

ABRAMINO:  We can hardly afford to take them with us, can we? And, of course, we’ll have to sell everything. The auction dealers will be here tomorrow, and please help them to take charge of everything . . .

REGINA (in a daze):  Auction dealers! Oh my God! What a disgrace! Everything? What do you mean by everything?

ABRAMINO:  What else would I mean—the house, the furniture, the fixtures. . . everything we own, they don’t allow us to take anything with us! I know we’ll only get peanuts out of the auction, as they know we have to go, and are cutting the prices . . .

REGINA (shocked):  Even our precious china and crystal sets, which have been in our family for generations?

ABRAMINO:  Mother, dear, we can’t take them with us! Don’t you understand? We’re only allowed one small suitcase, containing personal things.

REGINA (crushed):  But, Abramino, those sets are very precious, they’ve been handed down to us for generations. I’d rather die than have strangers touch them!

ABRAMINO:  Mother, enough is enough! I have no time for arguments! You’ve just got to realize you have no choice. Beggars can’t be choosers!

REGINA (very hurt):  So I’m a “beggar” now, am I? I, who raised you from diapers to a judge! (She goes up the stairs proudly, aristocratically.)

ABRAMINO:  Ma—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to cause you pain, but. . .

REGINA:  I—a beggar! . . . But it’s true, isn’t it? That’s what it amounts to—a beggar that has no say whatever, anymore! In my worst nightmares I never dreamt something so debasing could happen to me, Regina Mosseri! I didn’t know you could be so cruel, Abramino! (SHE leaves weeping, crushed.)

ABRAMINO (to himself):  How small and frail she is now. Me cruel? Did I speak too harshly? Should I run after her and apologize? No—not this time. The stakes are too high. I had to speak sharply to her. It was the only way to make her realize the times she’s living through! I hope she saw it my way in the end . . .

(The lights fade out on ABRAMINO and come up on ESTHER addressing the audience, while REGINA and SOAD are revealed.)

ESTHER:  The next day my father’s work permit as a judge was cancelled, and the Rabbinate Court was closed. No reason was given. It was a further blow to his dignity, and a clear sign that he couldn’t make his living in Egypt anymore. Our Arab neighbor, Soad, when she heard about it from Nona, couldn’t believe it.

SOAD:  Impossible! Judge Abramino’s work permit cancelled! I can’t believe my ears! But he’s so respected by everybody! There must be some mistake. My husband, Hassan, has many friends in high places. I’ll get him to look into it, I’m sure it’s a mistake, and he’ll fix it in no time!

REGINA:  I’m afraid it’s no use. My son has the same friends. Or had them. I tried to convince myself this was all temporary. But Abramino set me straight. There are forces at work much stronger than we are. The Jews’ “welcomed” visit in Egypt is over; we’re about to be exiled again.

SOAD:  Why do you speak of exile, dear Regina? Egypt and Israel are the oldest of friends. We’re kin, close cousins, ya habibti. If the Sphinx could express himself he’d reveal many glorious truths about our ancient common history . . .

REGINA:  However, he’s as silent as ever . . .

SOAD:  Silent or not, the strong ties of our two nations and cultures are real and alive, and nothing can break them! Since we’re the descendants of the two sons of Abraham, our common ancestors, Isaac and Ishmael—my dear, we’ve been family. We ourselves have been neighbors and friends for more than forty years. Pharaoh, in ancient Egypt, knew the value of your people. Why do you think he didn’t want to let them go?

REGINA:  Because he needed slaves to build the pyramids for him! But the present Pharaoh, King Farouk, is as silent as the Sphinx, and he doesn’t raise a finger to help the Egyptian Jews. We’re being thrown out with our shirts on our backs, and we can’t take anything with us, not even our precious porcelain and crystal sets, which have been in the family for generations!

SOAD:  You can leave your wonderful precious sets with us if you want, until this small storm from the desert turns again into a mild breeze, just give it time and you will see, my dear habibti Regina.

REGINA:  I wish you were right! But on every street corner you hear, “Death to the Jews!” And, “The Jews are the dogs of the Arabs!” We’re in the grip of some frightful volcano of undeserved hatred, and we’re utterly helpless; it will take us all down and disperse us again among strange nations. Why is this happening? Oh God—why? Whose fault is it? Why do innocent, peaceful people all over the world so often have to be cruelly uproot from their homes, and become penniless “beggars who can’t be choosers?”

SOAD:  I know whose fault it is! It’s the fault of the British!

REGINA (taken aback):  The British? Why? What did they do?

SOAD:  The British did everything they could to spoil the peasants with all those high salaries and vacations. Of course it goes to their heads! In the end, they don’t know who the masters are and who the servants! Why should they till the soil for a pittance in their villages, when they can earn so much more by shining Bobby’s shoes? Swarms of these ignorant fellahin country people are pouring every day into Cairo. They’re the ones these rabble rousers stir up to make trouble, telling them they’ll get the Jews’ jobs and houses! Yes, the fault is definitely that of the British. And, also—the professors.

REGINA (smiles in surprise):  The professors? How come?

SOAD:  Oh, yes. The professors are also very much to blame. They’re teaching our young people that all the misery here has been caused by the so-called imperialists, and they include you Jews, as well as the British, the French, the Italians, and the Greeks, among them!

REGINA:  As if we Egyptian Jews are foreigners!

SOAD:  Of course you’re not foreigners—as if you weren’t here from antiquity, well before us Arabs, who came from the Arabian Desert in the seventh century, when Mohammed and his army conquered Egypt. So you see, it’s definitely the professors’ fault too, they put false and absurd ideas into the students’ heads, and they not knowing better, go out into these horrible demonstrations, and shout their heads off, together with those ignorant, spoilt rabble!

REGINA:  You’re right Soad—we’re not imperialists at all; we just want to live in peace with our Arab neighbors, as we always did.

SOAD:  Of course you do. But the professors don’t tell the students that! And the young are so gullible—they swallow up all the rubbish their teachers feed them—and then go out and organize all these violent manifestations . . . But just wait and see, my dear Regina, wait and see; very soon it will all calm down; things will be as they were again—when those British are out of here at last; and those pompous, lying professors, with their facts all confused, are forced to shut up!

(SOAD notices that REGINA isn’t listening anymore, and is concentrating on her own thoughts.)

SOAD:  What is it, Regina?

REGINA:  I’m sorry, Soad . . . it’s just that I’ve lived enough, I guess.

SOAD:  You don’t mean that, ya habibti! Don’t you talk that way. You’re my oldest and dearest friend. You’re as welcome in my home as my own sister. If your son decides to leave, ya Om Abramino, you can always come and live with us. We’d be more than honored to have you!

REGINA:  Thank you, shokran, darling Soad, but I’d never dream of bothering you and your family. I would prefer to die than to bother you!

SOAD:  Don’t speak of dying Regina! It doesn’t suit you! You could never bother us, you’ll always be welcome here. (Looking at her watch.) Well—I’d better be on my way now or my family will say I starve them. Au revoir, my dear Regina, and remember—our home is yours always. (SHE exits.)

REGINA (to herself):  Dear Soad, she’s a real friend—we have so many wonderful Arab friends, but they can’t help us, and they can’t stop this from happening . . . No, I definitely can’t start a new life somewhere else again, not even in Zion! My bones are too rusty. They’re chained here to the Nile Valley. I have nothing to hold anymore, all is dissolute, all is disappearing, melting away . . . Oh God! Collect me in your arms, end my suffering . . . Gather my old bones to you, I’m ready my Lord—Hineni . . .Here I am!

(Lights fade out on REGINA and come up on ESTHER and NAIMA.)

NAIMA (to ESTHER):  Miss Esther—Judge Mosseri has sold the house today. What will become of us servants? Could I come with you to France? I could have my passport ready in no time. Please take me with you, Miss Esther, I have nowhere else to go!

ESTHER:  Naima, we may not be staying in France, we may be going on to Israel. I might even be living on a kibbutz—that collective farm I was telling you about.

NAIMA:  Then I’ll come with you to Israel. You’ll surely need someone to press your dresses there in the kibbus. I love farms. I was born in one of them. Please take me with you to the kibbus, Miss.

ESTHER:  I’m afraid the members of the kibbutz wouldn’t like that at all—my coming from Egypt with a maid!

NAIMA:  But why not Miss Esther? I bet when they see how well pressed your dresses are—they’ll like it!

ESTHER (chuckles):  “It’s just not done!” I’m sure you’ll find another place in no time, Naima; Nona Regina will give you an excellent reference, which you well deserve.

NAIMA:  I’ll never find a place like this one! I’ve been with this family almost all my life! I never got married to stay with you. How can you throw me out now? Ya Allah!—what will become of me? What will I do? The Cohens have left, the Sabortas, the Levis—all the Jews are leaving! Where am I supposed to find work? (SHE exits, sobbing and wringing her hands in woe.)

ESTHER (calling after her, pathetically):  But Naima—we’re being thrown out, too!

(MOUNIR, the Cook, enters.)

MOUNIR:  Have you seen your grandmother Regina today, Mademoiselle?

ESTHER:  No, not yet. Why do you ask?

MOUNIR:  I’ve never seen her in such a state. When she heard that your father had sold the house she went into a frenzy. She collected and took up all the precious china and crystal sets to her room. I tried to help her, but she wouldn’t let me touch them!

ESTHER (alarmed):  Where is she now?

MOUNIR:  She’s locked herself in her room, and won’t open the door for anybody. Your father tried several times, but she just won’t answer. She seems to have fallen asleep, it’s all quiet up there. But don’t worry—I’m sure she’s all right now . . .

ESTHER:  I’ll go and check soon . . . To whom did my father sell the house?

MOUNIR:  To a Dr. Khoury—for his brother and family, whom I gather have fled from Palestine. They have nine children. They were all here this afternoon. What a regiment, all heights and sizes. They ran all over the house, and made such a noise!

ESTHER:  Khoury? Do you know if they have a daughter my age called Salima?

MOUNIR:  Yes, as a matter of fact, I heard the mother calling that name when a tall, strong girl stopped in the garden to look at the mangoes. She has short, straight hair, and looks more like Tarzan, than a woman, if you ask me. Do you know her, Mademoiselle?

ESTHER:  Uh-huh. That’s Salima, all right. She’s in class with me. (Smiling.) Yes, she does look a bit like a man, but she’s really very gentle and sweet. I help her with her English and maths.

MOUNIR:  Do you? Really? How come?

ESTHER:  Why not? You seem surprised. She has difficulties with those two subjects, and as we have our London matriculation soon, I’ve decided to help her, and she’s very grateful.

MOUNIR:  But her father hates Jews!

ESTHER:  Oh? How do you know?

MOUNIR:  He told me he hates you and all the Jews, for what you did to them and their people—driving them out of their land, and making them refugees . . .

ESTHER (upset):  Me? . . . Us?—We didn’t drive anybody off any land! You know that’s not true! It was the Palestinians who didn’t want the Jews to come back to their land, and share the country with them. The United Nations decided on two states in Palestine—one Jewish, and one Arab. The Jews accepted this, but the Arabs didn’t! Then in the War of Independence, they tried to destroy the newly born state of Israel. The Israelis, despite the fact that they were only half a million, against four Arab states who tried to drive them into the sea, won, and several Palestinians fled; that’s how they became refugees. But many remained, and now they are citizens in the State of Israel. And that’s the true facts. But this has nothing to do with Salima and me, I help her with her studies because she’s kind and sweet, and needs help.

MOUNIR:  Well I’m sure you’re right—but I try to stay out of politics . . . What concerns me more is that I’ve been offered a job as cook at the Shepherd’s Hotel in town, and I’m not sure if I’m up to it . . .

ESTHER:  Of course you are Mounir, you’re a wonderful cook! You should certainly accept that job.

(Then unable to contain herself.) Refugees . . . Mr. Khoury should talk! Can’t he see we’re being kicked out of the land we were born in, and that we’re forced to become refugees too! Whose house did his brother buy for him at less than a tenth of its value? Everything we own and cherish is being taken away from us, for no reason at all, can’t he see somebody else’s tragedy too, but only his own? Why can’t he see that war is the culprit, and that all of us—Palestinians, as well as Jews from Arab countries—we’re all innocent prey in war’s terrible claws? He’s not the only victim! We all are!

MOUNIR:  I surely agree with you, Mademoiselle . . . I hate nothing more than hatred! Still, they say these Palestinians are our brethren, and we ought to help them and support them. Though what brethren they are to me I can’t fathom. I swear at first I couldn’t understand a word of their Arabic. It sounded like they were gobbling hot potatoes!

ESTHER (bitterly):  That’s exactly how we must all sound to each other! We’re gobbling hot potatoes at each other all the time!

(She looks through the window and sees SALIMA waving to her, under the mango tree. She waves back and calls out.): Hey. Salima! I’m coming!

(Under the mango tree, with SALIMA.) Mabrouk Salima! I hear your uncle, Dr. Khoury, has bought our house for you and your family. I’m so glad it’s you who’s going to live in my home, which I Iove so much! I feel a hazy sort of justice in this, you lost your house and everything else in Yazur, and we are losing everything here, and might perhaps be going to Israel—so I guess, it’s a kind of sad exchange of population . . . And I’m glad it’s with you Salima, that I’m exchanging . . . Anyway, I think you and your family will be very comfortable here.

SALIMA:  I’m sure we will, it’s a much grander house than the one we owned in Yazur. But I’m so sorry you’re leaving, Esther! You’re my best friend here, what shall I do without you? Who will now help me pass my matriculation exams? I’ll miss you so much!

ESTHER:  I’ll miss you too Salima, that’s for sure. But don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll pass your exams, you’ve made such progress! And, the truth is, that we’re not leaving, Salima . . .

SALIMA:  You’re not leaving? Wonderful! So you’ll stay?

ESTHER:  No, no, we’re not staying, what I meant to say is that we’re not actually “leaving,” but rather, we’re being “kicked out!”

SALIMA:  Kicked out? By whom?

ESTHER:  By the authorities.

SALIMA (looks suspiciously behind her):  But why?

ESTHER:  Because we’re Jews.

SALIMA:  That’s so unfair! You kicked out of here, because you’re Jews, we kicked out of Palestine because we’re Arabs! What an unjust world! (Looks behind her and whispers.) You know, my father didn’t want me to come and say goodbye to you. He said you’re part of the bad people who kicked us out of Yazur . . . but I ran away without him seeing me, and came anyway . . . I had to see you before you leave, and to thank you for all you did for me . . . Without your generous and kind help, dear Esther, I wouldn’t have a chance of passing my exams.

ESTHER:  I’m glad you came Salima. I would have been so sorry if I had to go without parting from you. But as to being kicked out, you told me yourself, that you were not thrown out of Yazur, but that it was your family who preferred to run away.

SALIMA:  That’s true. There was a panic, we were afraid and fled in fear . . . as well as many other families.

ESTHER:  It’s exactly what’s happening now to the Jews here, even those who still have their work permits are afraid of what might happen to them, and they’re running away in a panic, leaving everything they own behind . . . Out of the hundred thousand Jews in Egypt, I hear that half of them have already fled, and so many others are preparing to do so . . .

SALIMA:  All this uprooting, all this misery, what for? You uprooted and exiled, we uprooted and exiled, it’s so sad, and one feels so helpless before this tide of tormenting events which we cannot control, and which are destroying our lives! O God why?

ESTHER:  There’s a lot of fear involved . . . People are afraid of each other, and instead of recurring to the things in common, they hurt each other—we’re one humanity after all, and this shouldn’t happen . . . We should think of ourselves as one unity, war is bad for all of us, for the whole human family . . .

SALIMA:  My father and Uncle blame the bad Zionists in Tel Aviv for all that’s happening. They say that the Jews are responsible for all our troubles . . . I tried to explain to them that you and your family, and the other Jewish friends I met here, and before that in Palestine, are different, but they wouldn’t listen. However, I’m sure my mother understands, and is on our side. Do you know how she responded to my father and uncle? She bravely said to them: “Who is the enemy? I’ll tell you who is the enemy—the enemy is he to whose story you have not listened to!”

ESTHER:  Your mother is a very wise woman. Those “bad Zionists” from Tel Aviv, as your father calls them, are just people like you and me. They’re not bad, they’re pioneers, who are building the State of Zion again, as in the time of the Bible. This is why they’re called “Zionists.”

SALIMA:  “Zionist” isn’t an evil word?

ESTHER:  No. Not at all! Zionism just means going back to Zion. And a Zionist is someone who yearns to go back to Zion.

SALIMA:  Doesn’t Zionism mean imperialism?

ESTHER:  Not at all!

SALIMA:  So why do my father and uncle refer to it in this way?

ESTHER:  You see, dear Salima, you Palestinians have tasted the bitter taste of exile for the first time, and this is why it seems to some extremists that it’s the end of the world, and they’re the only ones who have suffered, and they have to blame somebody for it, so they blame the Zionists. But with the Jews, to be uprooted and exiled happens in almost every generation, for more than two thousand years, and all over the world . . . So, instead of hating and declaring war on those who have caused their exile, they just climb another roof, just like the fiddler in Shalom Aleichem’s “Tuvia the Milkman,” and start playing their fiddles again . . .

SALIMA:  But why does it happen so often to the Jews?

ESTHER:  Good question. (Sadly.) I’m almost sure it’s because we had no state of our own to defend us . . . We thought the countries we were living in would do so, but unfortunately they didn’t. You see what happened in Nazi Germany, where six million Jews, men, women, and children were mercilessly suffocated in gas chambers and burnt in crematories!

SALIMA:  How could humans do that to other humans?

ESTHER:  They could and they did, and that’s a fact. This is why it’s so crucial to the Jews to have a state of their own. And you see again what’s happening to us here in Egypt, where the Jews have been living for more than 2500 years! It’s not to be compared with what the Nazi Germans did to the European Jews, but the fact is that we’re being exiled again, just like you, and not only from Egypt, but from all the Arab countries, where Jews have been living for centuries, and we don’t even have the right to take any of our belongings with us . . .

SALIMA:  You mean to say, you’re not even allowed to take your books, or your beautiful albums?

ESTHER:  Nothing! Just a small suitcase with personal things.

SALIMA:  This is exactly what happened to us when we ran away so quickly, but at least I hid one of my albums and my autograph in my suitcase . . . You know what, you can leave your books and albums with me Esther, if you want. I’ll cherish them like my very own, and take good care of them for you, until you come back . . .

ESTHER:  Thanks Salima, you’re a dear, I’ll send them to you with Naima, this afternoon, at least they’ll be in good hands. But I don’t know if I’ll ever come back . . .

SALIMA:  I hope you do! But why is all this happening to us Esther? Why do innocent people all over the world have to be so cruelly exiled, to be uprooted, immigrate, and suffer so much? So much misery, so much sorrow! Why do we have to separate Esther?

ESTHER:  I have my own thoughts about that, which have been influenced by Wilfred Owen’s moving poetry . . .

SALIMA:  I too love the poetry of this wonderful British poet, who himself died in the trenches during the First World War. I remember his poignant poem which we studied in class: “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” about the poor soldiers who are killed on the battlefield:—“Who will mourn for those who die as cattle—Only the booming of the guns . . .” And he means soldiers on both sides! But whom does he accuse?

ESTHER:  He accuses humanity for upholding the thwarted and devilish conception that war and killing each other, can solve conflicts . . . and I fully agree with him! It can’t, war only brings more misery, more destruction, more hatred! War is not democratic—the majority of the people of the world don’t want wars, and yet we have them! So it’s the whole concept and practice of war we have to kill, and not the millions of innocent people who are killed in wars all over the world . . .

SALIMA:  How true! How wise you are Esther! We have indeed to do away with the whole concept and practice of war . . . we have to outlaw war. I’ll look up Wilfred Owen’s poetry books again, as soon as I can. But do you know what all this reminds of, too?

ESTHER:  What?

SALIMA:  It reminds me of the last Greek play we studied in class: Lysistrata, by the satirical Greek playwright Aristophanes. And to think he wrote it about two thousand and four hundred years ago, is so surprising! It’s as if he had written it today! This wonderful woman Lysistrata, who together with the women of both Athens and Sparta, succeeded in stopping the Hundred Years War, without killing anybody, but just by not sleeping with their husbands—it’s a real feat! She has become a role model for me . . .

ESTHER (laughs):  Yes she was cool, if she indeed existed at all . . . or even if she didn't! Anyway, thanks to Aristophanes, she exists for us now, even after all those years . . . But I hope we don’t have to use the same method! What those Greek and Spartan women did by joining forces together to stop the war—is what I call non-violent action . . . and what all humanity should do . . .

SALIMA:  We can’t count on the men, we women have just to do what Lysistrata did—Arab and Jewish women should join hands together, and with all the women of the world we should banish war . . .

ESTHER (laughing):  I agree with you Salima, in principle, but it’s not as easy as that in practice! We have indeed to outlaw the whole concept and practice of war, but how do we do it? Governments and people fight wars in the name of “justice,” but as in Joan Baez’s song, “Justice” is just perceived on each one’s own side, “With God on our side . . . ” as the song goes. You poor Palestinian refugees have indeed suffered; but so have we! As your wise mother says, we have to listen to each other’s “story,” really listen to it and not just hear it through one ear, and out it goes through the other . . .

SALIMA:  This reminds me of an old Arab proverb: “Words from the lips, go to the ear—Words from the heart, go to the heart.” . . . For instance, if we had really “listened” to each other, with our hearts too, as my mother implied, and had accepted the decision of the UN to divide the country in two and to create two states: one for the Jews and one for the Palestinians—as a basis for discussion and negotiations—all this destruction and misery, and all this bloodshed on both sides, wouldn’t have happened!

ESTHER:  This is indeed the spirit of the message that emerges from Wilfred Owen’s beautiful and humane poetry. A second tragedy, happening to an additional exiled people, doesn’t cancel or pay for the first tragedy that befell another people before—but at least it should give us some sense of perspective—show us the stupidity, and the pity of all this useless misery and destruction caused by wars! It’s not each other we should hate, it’s WAR itself that is our common enemy! It brings poverty, utter misery and destitution on both sides, and not just on one! In all wars. All this hatred of each other is so superfluous. Conflicts among people cannot be resolved by killing each other, but only by pacific negotiations, concessions on both sides, and wise and humane conflict resolution. All wars end with a peace treaty, so why not start with negotiating the peace treaty, before we force our soldier sons to kill each other?

SALIMA:  How true! I agree with every word you said. But how do we get people and governments to see it this way? It’s so complicated all that! But one thing I’m sure of, if women like my mother and your wise grandmother Regina, and young women like you and me, were more in key positions, and in charge of running important things, the state of the world would have been much better! We women are more than half the world, I hear we are fifty-four percent of the world’s population, so, we’re the majority, and if the women of the world unite, we could abolish war and pass an international law to outlaw it!

ESTHER:  I agree with that, we would have the chance, to give peace a chance, and to do it “the women’s way”—finding the golden mean that satisfies both sides, without killing each other.

SALIMA:  But some of those women leaders, when they got to power, did it the men’s way, by taking out the gun and shooting—and not the “women’s way,” which was so disappointing!

ESTHER:  You’re right. However, I think that most men too hate war, just as much as women do, but somehow, they get caught in its clutches, all over, again, and again . . .

(Enter MR. KHOURY, Salima’s father in a fury, he slaps SALIMA on the face, and clutching her by the hair, he starts pulling her out.)

KHOURY:  So here you are Salima, you impudent girl! I guessed so! Didn’t I warn you not to dare talk to those evil Jews? (SALIMA cries out.):

SALIMA:  Ouch! Father you’re hurting me!

KHOURY:  And you’re hurting me much more when you talk to those Jews!

SALIMA:  Esther is not evil . . . she’s my best friend (He drags her out, and she calls out to ESTHER.), Write to me, and I’ll write you back . . .

KHOURY (addressing ESTHER):  If you dare write to my daughter, I’ll burn your letters! And you Salima, if you dare write to Jews, I’ll burn your fingers!

ESTHER:  Adieu Salima, God be with you my friend . . .

KHOURY still dragging SALIMA by the hair, leaves.

(Suddenly a terrible noise is heard from the hall of the house—as if the whole house was crumbling. It is accompanied by a woman’s cry, the sound of smashing crockery, clanking noises, and something heavy rolling down the stairs. ESTHER and MOUNIR rush toward the sound. THEY see REGINA lying motionless. All around her are bits of smashed crystal and china.)

ESTHER (to MOUNIR):  Call for an ambulance, quick—call my father from his office—and Dr. Mizrahi, next door.

MOUNIR rushes out as NAIMA enters.

NAIMA:  In the name of Allah—Miss Regina, Miss Regina! (To ESTHER.) What happened?

ESTHER:  She fell down the stairs.

NAIMA (to ESTHER):  Oh my God! Shouldn’t we take her up to bed, Miss?

ESTHER:  No. The doctor should check her first. (Takes REGINA’s pulse.) Thank God—her pulse is beating.

NAIMA:  Was it an accident or . . .

(REGINA opens her eyes. SHE tries to raise her head and looks fixedly at ESTHER.)

REGINA (manages to whisper audibly):  Dear Esther, go to Jerusalem for me . . . (Her head falls back and SHE dies.)

ESTHER:  No, Nona, No—don’t leave me now! I need you more than ever! We’ll go to Jerusalem together . . . I promise. Please don’t leave me!

(ESTHER desperately tries to revive her through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation—to no avail—as ABRAMINO and DR. MIZRAHI rush in.)

DR. MIZRAHI (bending over REGINA.):  Too late. I’m afraid she’s not with us anymore, may she rest in peace. (He gently shuts NONA’s eyes.)

(ABRAMINO and ESTHER burst into tears.)

ABRAMINO (guiltily):  Oh, Mother, forgive me—I didn’t mean to be so harsh—but there was no other way! You’re not a beggar, Mother, you’re a queen, you’re a real Regina, and always have been! Oh, Mama, forgive me, forgive me. . .Oh Lord! forgive me!

ESTHER (tearfully):  I’ll go to Jerusalem for you, Nona, and for my mother Isabelle—I’ll go! I promise.

(The lights fade out on all but ESTHER as SHE addresses the audience.)

ESTHER:  There were thousands of mourners at Nona Regina’s funeral. They understood that with the burial of the revered, loved and respected Regina, the Jewish community was burying itself, and its glorious past in Egypt. . .

MOURNING CROWD (before the grave):  Shalom, Regina, may you rest in peace . . . see you in heaven. Pray for us in heaven, Regina . . .

ABRAMINO:  Forgive me mother, Oh! please forgive me, I meant no harm, I only wanted to prepare you for our Second Exodus . . . O Lord! Oh God! How can I live with this terrible knowledge that I caused her death? God in heaven, punish me . . . take me too . . .

ESTHER (whispers, sobbing):  I’ll go to Jerusalem for you Nona, it’s a promise . . .

(They all sorrowfully leave the grave.)

(Spotlight on ESTHER.) We left for France immediately after. The Egyptian authorities only allowed us twenty pounds each, and one small suitcase per person. Everything else—amassed through generations—was confiscated. My father, however, managed to deposit some money in a Swiss bank in Cairo. But when he went to retrieve it in Marseilles, he was told that his money had been seized by the authorities.

(ABRAMINO and ESTHER are revealed confronting the BANK DIRECTOR.)

ABRAMINO:  But it’s outrageous! It’s against all laws and reason! Monsieur, what do you mean I have nothing? I put my money in a Swiss bank, not an Egyptian one!

BANK DIRECTOR:  Yes, but your account was opened in Egypt, and the authorities have confiscated all the Jews’ deposits. These are our latest instructions, Monsieur. I’m sorry.

ABRAMINO takes hold of the director’s lapels and shakes him with all his might.

ABRAMINO:  You’re sorry. You have the cheek to tell me in my face you’re sorry! What does your sorrow have to do with me? How can it help me, you thief! I’ve been robbed of all I have, all I’ve toiled for all my life, and you tell me you’re sorry!

ESTHER:  Papa, it’s not his fault. He can do nothing about it! He’s not responsible for what happened to us.

(A GUARD enters, seizes ABRAMINO, and throws him back against the wall.)

GUARD (to the BANK DIRECTOR):  Shall I call the police, Sir?

BANK DIRECTOR:  No. There’s no need. Leave him alone, he’ll soon come to his senses. (To ESTHER.) Take your father home, Mademoiselle, or we’ll have to call the gendarmes.

ESTHER (pulling ABRAMINO away gently):  You’d better come now, Papa. Let’s go, there’s nothing more for us to do here . . .

ABRAMINO (as HE leaves with her, HE shakes his fist at the DIRECTOR):  I’m not finished with you or with your bank yet, Monsieur. We’ll meet again in court!

(Lights fade out on ABRAMINO as ESTHER addresses the audience.)

ESTHER:  But all father’s efforts to recoup his money were in vain. All Egyptian Jewish accounts abroad had been confiscated. He was penniless now, and the shock proved too great for his heart. He fainted in painful convulsions at the Zebulon camp, in Marseilles, where we were staying, and was rushed to the hospital. His life was in danger for some time, and when he left the hospital at length, he was not proud Judge Mosseri anymore—but a broken old man. It was so sad to see the change in him! Our tragedy had broken him. In addition, as hard as he tried, he could not find a job. Despite his vast knowledge of international law and his command of five languages, the only job he could get was the one which Gaby finally found for him, that of a part-time hotel night watchman in Paris . . . He took the job, as we were penniless, but soon after, a second heart attack proved fatal, and poor papa died.

(We see ESTHER at her father’s grave, planting.)

ESTHER:  Dear papa, I am planting a garland of naana mint around your grave with the scent which you so loved—for you to have a blessed “gomaa khadra”—a “green week”—dear papa, may you rest in peace . . .

(Song: “A Green Week” is played. ESTHER freezes in the act of planting, as ABRAMINO is revealed addressing ESTHER, who unfreezes and responds to him.)

ABRAMINO:  You want to go to university you say? What business does a girl have at a university? I suggest you rather take up something useful, take a secretarial course for instance, this would be much more practical, and then you can come and work in my office. I need someone smart and reliable like you.

ESTHER:  You gave me a first-class secondary education, papa, and I love studying. My teachers say I should go to university, and I want so much to go! I’ll never be a secretary! I want to be a writer some day. Don’t you want me to use the fine education you’ve given me?

ABRAMINO:  You’ll use it plenty on your children and in my office, my girl.

ESTHER:  I don’t want to use it only for my children. I want to plant “blossoming green weeks,” like you taught us, for the whole world. Why should Gaby go to the university and not I?

ABRAMINO:  You have too many wants, my girl; men don’t like stubborn women, or too learned women either, it may compete with them and make them unsure of themselves.

ESTHER:  Then I’ll just have to wait for one who does, won’t I?

ABRAMINO (this gets to him—laughing):  One like me, I suppose. I married your mother, didn’t I? She’d be the first to enroll you at the American University, where she herself studied. (After a pause.) Well—why not? At least it will keep your tongue wagging in a class and not here in my office.

ESTHER:  Oh thank you papa! (Kisses him joyfully.) I promise, you won’t regret it.

ABRAMINO:  I hope not. What would you like to study?

ESTHER:  Literature and philosophy, it would help me with my own writing.

ABRAMINO:  Try to study languages, too. It’s useful for a girl. Come to think of it, a university education could make you perhaps an even top secretary . . . but less philosophy, and more languages, would make you more useful, and then I’ll allow you to come and work in my office . . .

ESTHER:  There you go again, Papa. I’ll never be a secretary! I won’t play second fiddle to any man. I want to be a writer, I said—you of all people should recognize that—you were the first to encourage me, remember? You rewarded me with a sumptuous ice cream at Groppi’s when I wrote my first poem . . .

ABRAMINO (turning to PASSERBY):  Would you like to hear my daughter’s poem, sir?


ABRAMINO:  It’s my daughter’s poem—her first. Would you like her to recite it to you? She’s just eight, and has already written a beautiful poem . . .

PASSERBY (rushing off):  Crazy people!

YOUNG ESTHER:  Papa please, don’t do this! See—they think we’re out of our minds!

ABRAMINO:  Let them! They’re the losers. This is how people react to culture when it’s given to them free!

YOUNG ESTHER:  But papa, you can’t force people to listen to things they don’t want to—they don’t care about my poem!

ABRAMINO:  Force? Who’s forcing? I’m offering a fresh sprig of naana-mint to these clods, and they spurn it!

(ABRAMINO freezes as YOUNG ESTHER becomes ESTHER again and returns to planting the mint around the grave.)

ESTHER:  Naana-mint—in memory of you dear papa—like the sprig you’d bring back from the Gate of Heaven synagogue on Shabbat, to bless us with a “green week”—a week of peace, creativity, and love.

ABRAMINO (unfreezing and holding up the sprig, blessing ESTHER with it):  “A week like fresh mint—a green week spreading its fragrance to the roots of being. Gometek Khadra! Have a green week—but give it back to the world fully blossoming . . . Shalom, peace be with you, my darling Esther!”

ESTHER:  Oh! Don’t leave me! Papa don’t leave me, I need you!

(A Ladino Song is heard in the background.)

El Pasharo vola, El Korasson yora, Yora mi alma yora, No te deshan vivir,
Tenemos Mala Gentes, No te deshan vivir (bis)

ESTHER (recites passionately):  “The bird flies, the heart weeps, weep my soul, weep, for there are bad people who do not let you live . . .”

ESTHER:  The naana mint sprigs danced a requiem with the music for my father in the cold French breeze, and sent their fragrance which he loved so much, deep down to his bones . . . Who will give me a green week, now that he’s gone? Now that the Gate of Heaven is shut? I wept, but it did not bring him back. With my father dead, I was even more determined to keep my date with Rafi in Israel. But try to tell that to my brother Gaby. . .

(GABY appears.)

GABY (addressing ESTHER, incredulous):  Israel? Can you really be serious? That dream was all right for our childhood. Grow up now, Esther, we’ve just escaped from hell! We’re now in Paris, let’s make the best of it! This is the queen city of the world! What do you want to go to Israel for? Do you want to take off for another battlefield?

ESTHER (to him):  At least I’ll be living in a nation we can call our own.

GABY:  What—this nation’s not ours? French was our first language. We’re steeped in its culture. France is ready to give us the citizenship which Egypt denied us. In many ways we’re more French than Egyptian—and much more than Israeli. You don’t even know how to speak Hebrew! Do you know how long it takes to acquire a new culture? If at all—if ever? Now be reasonable Esther, here you can fulfill your dream of going to university, you can study at the Sorbonne, whatever you like. With your brains and education, you could surely get a grant in no time!

ESTHER:  I don’t care how long it will take me to acquire an Israeli culture. Gaby, I’ve made up my mind, I’m going to the kibbutz in Israel, to join my friends from the Maccabi, and to look for Rafi.

GABY:  But to do what?

ESTHER:  To be free.

GABY:  To be free? Where else but here? Land of “liberty, equality, fraternity?” The first country in Europe to give us freedom!

ESTHER:  A country that sent its Jewish citizens to the Nazi death camps—whose present authorities won’t bring to trial Hitler’s Vichy henchmen—where anti-Semitic remarks are still heard . . .

GABY:  Come on now! . . . World War II’s over. And the French have learned their lessons quite well. There are Jews who are enjoying life here and prospering on all levels. I venture to say if we work hard enough we’ll soon be among them.

ESTHER:  Sure, as we were in Egypt, until the next crisis, when they’re after us again. No—enough is enough, Gaby, I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to Israel; and, perhaps, I’ll find Rafi there.

GABY:  Perhaps. You searched all over France and couldn’t find him. And through the Jewish Agency, you’ve searched all over the world. Doesn’t it occur to you Esther that they may have killed him instead of exiling him?

ESTHER:  No, no! Don’t say that! I’m sure he’s alive! I can’t stay here Gaby.

GABY:  But why not?

ESTHER:  An incident happened last week which made me definitely decide to go to Israel.

GABY:  What was it?

ESTHER:  I was hitchhiking to the Cote d’Azure the other day. I was wearing my Jewish star—my Magen David. A truck driver passing by took one look and shouted: “You kikes—get out of this country!”

GABY:  And so you’ll oblige him. You’ll just take off and go. And where to? Where you’ll be more a foreigner than you’ll ever be here. A Sephardi in a country built and ruled by Ashkenazis. An urban young lady among socialist farmers—surrounded by a multitude of Jew-haters who would love nothing better than to sink all the Israelis into the sea.

ESTHER:  We won’t always be at war with our Arab neighbors, one day they will accept us and understand that Israel has to exist, and that we can flourish together in a peaceful, harmonious, and blossoming Middle East.

GABY:  How can you be sure about that? I see war after war, until one day they will indeed succeed in throwing Israel into the Sea. Let’s face it, the Arabs are one hundred and fifty million people, and the Israelis are not even three million. One day they will buy enough sophisticated arms, with their petro-dollars, and succeed to throw all the Israelis into the sea, as they keep declaring.

ESTHER:  Why are you so pessimistic Gaby?

GABY:  Because I fear for you, dear Esther, there in Israel alone. Papa would have wanted me to take care of you. Why don’t you give France a chance? Many Egyptian Jews have decided to stay here. I’d take my chances in France, if I were you, despite their bigoted truck drivers. I can’t leave my studies and come with you to Israel. Their medical school here is wonderful, and I’m enjoying every minute of my studies, and also of the intellectual and cultural life in Paris. I’m sure you’d love it too!

ESTHER:  No Gaby, I want to be really home by now. In a small land of my own, like Yaffa Yarkoni sang about. . . I just can’t take any anti-Semitic attitudes and remarks anymore. After more than two thousand years of exile—I want to be home by now. Yom Assal—Yom Bassal: A Day of Honey, A Day of Onions—we’ve had our day of onions, now I’m headed for my day of honey . . . in a land of milk and honey . . .

GABY:  Milk and honey! You’ll be glad if you get bread and onions! At least they don’t try to kill me here! Just shut your ears, Esther, and don’t listen to those stupid anti-Semites. Give France a try! This is a wonderful place to live in, if you don’t take every silly remark you hear to heart.

ESTHER:  Dear Gaby, I’m sorry to leave you and France, but I can’t shut my heart and ears. Now I fully understand, that we can only be a normal people again, if we have and build our own land. Besides, I have promised Nona I’d go to Jerusalem for her . . . A promise to Nona, and a date with Rafi—and I mean to keep both of them.

GABY:  Goodbye dear sis, take care, au revoir, shalom . . . (kisses ESTHER goodbye.)

(Fade out on GABY and ESTHER.)

(Lights up on
PAULA—with plants and grafting equipment.)

ESTHER:  I joined my friends from the Maccabi at Kibbutz Degania, called “Mother of the Kibbutzim,” as it was the very first one settled in Israel. It was near the Sea of Galilee—and the Haverim were glad to have been sent there. Despite Gaby’s doubts, I learned Hebrew quickly, and fell in love with Israel and its culture, and with farming.

PAULA (to ESTHER):  Did you ever live on a farm?

ESTHER (laughing):  No, Paula, I’m afraid I’m as urban as they come. I was born and brought up in Cairo. We also owned a house in Alexandria, where we spent all our vacations, but lived most of the year in Cairo.

PAULA:  Cairo. I was there during World War II, in the Jewish Brigade. The Egyptian Jews impressed me very much. What a wonderful community, they had such a warm and hospitable attitude toward us. They possessed on the one hand a rich modern culture and on the other, they had such beautiful ancient traditions and heritage. They were also very well-off, and so well-organized, with their modern schools, hospitals, clubs, youth centers, health services, beautiful ancient synagogues, and they knew so many languages!

ESTHER (laughs):  For all the good that it’s going to do me here! I’m fluent in four languages, but at this field work I’m totally “illiterate.”

PAULA (laughs too):  Let me be the judge of that. Today we’re going to graft peach buds on almond shrubs.

ESTHER:  That’s exciting! . . . May I ask why?

PAULA:  Good question. The roots of the almond tree are stronger than those of the peach. We graft a peach bud onto an almond shrub so that a peach branch can sprout from it. Then we cut the almond branches and just leave the peach, which in time will become a tree, but with strong almond roots.

ESTHER:  But doesn’t it affect the taste of the fruit?

PAULA:  Slightly—but for the better. Our peaches have an aftertaste of almond flavor, but it only enhances them. I started this research at Warsaw University and completed it here. We’re all excited about the new brands of delicious fruits and vegetables our experiments have produced, such as the affarshezif—a grafting of plums and peaches, and the gambo—tomatoes and pepper.

ESTHER:  Yes, I tasted gambos at dinner last night, and they’re truly delicious! How glad I am to be working with you, Paula! (To the audience.) I was thrilled by what she told me. To be able to invent a new kind of fruit or vegetable fired my imagination! It was like creating a new masterpiece, which nobody had ever read or seen before!

PAULA:  Here—let me show you. (SHE mimes doing so.) I’m the surgeon; see that little T I cut on the stem? But you’re the nurse; you have the more important job; you hold the raffia, introduce the bud into the cutting, and then bandage it up. You are the one to control the life of our baby plant. If you tie the raffia well, it will live and flourish; if not, it will wither and die.

ESTHER (works with PAULA, addressing the audience):  I went at the job of grafting with great zeal—to Paula’s satisfaction. (Tying the raffia.) Paula’s baby, my baby, live! Our baby sprouts—I give you life!

PAULA:  Excellent! Astounding! You got them all exactly right! I’m amazed at how professionally you tie those graftings! Are you sure you’ve never done this before?

ESTHER:  Sure and certain! (To the audience.) She gave me such a sense of fulfillment, I was simply delighted. It was almost as good as writing my first novel. I was creating life—not just mimicking it!

PAULA:  I’ll leave you now, Esther. I know my buds are in good hands. I’m going to graft another group over there. Then we’ll go back habaita together.

ESTHER:  Habaita? I love the sound of that word, but what does it mean?

PAULA:  Home.

(PAULA exits.)

ESTHER (to the audience):  Habaita—home! One of my first words in Hebrew, one of the most cherished. Habaita—the word had such a good taste on my palate. Paula’s cheerful welcome made me feel so “habaita,” so already Israeli! Together with the peaches and almonds, I planted my roots deeply in the new soil, and they bore fruit . . .

PAULA (coming back):  Habaita Esther! (Examining the transplants.) This is wonderful! It’s as if you’ve been doing this job all your life! Let’s go.

ESTHER:  Habaita, (whispering to herself.) but habaita without Rafi is not yet fully home.

PAULA:  Esther, you looked so happy before, and now you look sad. Why is that?

ESTHER:  Oh it’s nothing.

PAULA (trying to make her smile):  Have our new baby buds told you a sorrowful secret I do not know?

ESTHER (laughing):  Paula, it has nothing to do with the plants. What do you mean by “told you?” I’ll start believing people who say we have to talk to plants . . .

PAULA:  Yes, some people say you should talk to plants so that they can blossom better, but the secret is not to talk to them, but to listen to what they have to tell you. What have they told you Esther which has made you so sad of a sudden?

ESTHER (walking back with her):  Well, it’s not the plants Paula. I long for my friend Rafi. I wish he could have seen me tying those baby buds . . . I wish he could be “habaita” with me. The Egyptian authorities said they expulsed him to France, but I’ve lost him! And despite all my efforts to find him here and abroad, he seems to have disappeared in thin air . . .

PAULA:  Have you looked for him through the Jewish Agency in Israel?

ESTHER:  Yes, I’ve also tried them, and they helped me to look everywhere! My search for him in Israel has proved as hopeless as in France. I also tried, through the Jewish Agency there, to locate him throughout the world. That, too, was in vain. He’s a survivor from Hitler’s concentration camps, and we also checked all the lists of survivors that have been published until now, and no sign of him! I’m starting to believe they might have killed him, like his aunt, and my brother said, instead of banishing him! (She has a catch in her throat.)

PAULA:  Don’t worry Esther, if he’s here, you’ll surely find him—as I myself found my boyfriend after the war. I have good contacts all over Israel, and we’ll all do our best to help you. You’ll have to give me more details about him, I’ll also tell the members of the kibbutz to look for him. I’m sure you’ll find him at last, so don’t worry.

ESTHER:  Thank you dear Paula. I’ll give you every single detail I know about him.

PAULA:  That’s it, be hopeful Esther, you have to have Tikva. You say he made a date in Israel with you, didn’t he? . . . Then as he’s a Yekke, a German Jew, he’ll surely keep it!

(Both laugh joyfully.) I’ll race you to the kibbutz dining room.

(They run.)

ESTHER:  God be praised for people like Paula. In her, habaita and hatikvah became one—home and hope.

(Lights come up on PESSIAH.)

ESTHER:  But not so with some other members of the kibbutz. (PESSIAH and ESTHER sit on low stools, weeding the rows in a planted field of tomatoes, both wearing kibbutz “tembel” caps.)

PESSIAH (to ESTHER, in broken English):  How come you not black?

ESTHER:  Black? Why should I be, Pessiah?

PESSIAH:  Because you Egyptian, not all Egyptians black?

ESTHER:  No, not really. Not the Jews anyway. They’re more or less like me. But the Egyptian Arabs are darker, not black though; the color of their skin is probably close to yours.

PESSIAH (angry):  Pardon to me—I’m no shvartse!

ESTHER:  What’s shvartse?

PESSIAH:  Black. You don’t know Yiddish?

ESTHER:  No. But I know Ladino.

PESSIAH:  What language this—Ladino?

ESTHER:  It’s the language the Sephardic Jews speak. It’s a version of old Spanish mixed with some Hebrew. Many Jews fled from Spain to Egypt to escape the Inquisition. I have such ancestors, and my grandmother and father spoke that language when they did not want me to understand, until I understood. Ladino is our own Jewish language.

PESSIAH:  There’s only one Jewish language—Yiddish—no other!

ESTHER:  How can you say that, Pessiah? Hebrew is certainly a Jewish language, indeed the first. And Yiddish and Ladino, are Jewish dialects too.

PESSIAH:  I’ve no heard of Ladino, but I read in book that you Jews of Egypt, live with camels and sheep in tents of mud in desert, no houses, heh?

ESTHER (laughing):  My home was like a small palace, Pessiah—at least that’s what my friends said.

PESSIAH:  A palace, heh? So why did you come here to a kibbutz? Nowhere to go heh?

ESTHER:  I came because I’m a pioneer, just like you, and I want to help build this new state of ours.

PESSIAH:  You came cause you have no place go, and we took you, not like Arabs not take Palestinians, and throw them in camps in Lebanon and Jordan.

ESTHER:  I could have stayed in France like my brother. So could Clara and Daniel and Yossi; but we’re here because of our love for Israel, we’re pioneers who want to build their land, just like you Pessiah.

PESSIAH:  It’s not at all same. We Jews from Polin and East Europe invented and built land this. You Arab Jews nothing do it! You come when all ready.

ESTHER:  That’s not true. There was an active Jewish movement in Egypt well before the one in Europe, since the nineteenth century. And there’s so much more to build in Israel! We have to build not only roads and buildings and factories and kibutzim and moshavim, but also a rich culture and literature, poems and songs, from all the branches of the Jewish heritage, including the beautiful traditions and heritage of the Jews of the countries of the Middle East too, not only from Eastern Europe . . .

PESSIAH (sarcastically):  Really? So why you not here in War of Independence? Where you are when we dry swamps, settle land and fight for state? Who knows you? Who hear you?

ESTHER:  Pessiah—why are you being so mean? Have I hurt your feelings or something? Is it because I said your skin is dark? In the Song of Songs, dark is referred to as beautiful, remember? Let me tell you—I’ve always suffered from my light skin, because it’s so easily sunburned. How I wish I, too, had the color of your skin, and look like a Bohemian.

PESSIAH (furious):  I no Bohemian! I come Polin, not Rumania. I’m no thief. Enough! I not want talk you! (SHE runs out.)

ESTHER (to the audience):  One more faux pas on my part with that woman. At first I didn’t know what she was referring to, but later I learnt that “Rumanians as thieves,” was another of this country’s stereotypes—like the one against “Jews from Arab lands.” Gaby was right. Israel had its own brand of bigotry, there were not only Paulas, unfortunately, there were Pessiahs too . . . Anything coming out of Arab countries, including their Jews, seemed somewhat marred to these bigoted people. However, I didn’t take it too much to heart, my really great concern was finding Rafi.

Where was Rafi? Despite Paula’s contacts, not a sign of him! His aunt Stephanie was sure the Egyptians had killed him. And, despite myself, at times I feared it might be true.

(PAULA rushes in.)

PAULA:  Esther, I have wonderful news. My contacts have at last come through. A man has been found in Jerusalem, who might be your Rafi! Here’s his address, go there and try to find him.

ESTHER:  No—I can’t believe it. I’ve been misled too often . . . Is his name Rafi Lipsky?

PAULA:  No, his name is Rafi Amehad—but he’s a survivor, and he was in Egypt.

ESTHER:  Amehad?

PAULA:  It means “one people.” . . . But it well could be he; so many immigrants take on Hebrew names. He’s from Berlin, and he was in Majdanek!

ESTHER:  What? In Majdanek? (Excited.) Do you have his phone number? I don’t dare hope again . . .

PAULA:  Only his address. Esther—but it’s really worth looking into.

ESTHER (in a quandary):  Oh Paula, I don’t know! So many searches, so many times—and nothing, nothing. I simply can’t bear another disappointment. I’ve even started to believe Stephanie, and Gaby—to believe he was murdered. I feel I myself am being killed over and over, when I go on these wild goose chases. I just can’t take it anymore!

PAULA (handing her a piece of paper):  Here’s the address. Go to Jerusalem Esther, go for your Nona and for your Rafi. I have a strange feeling he does indeed live near Mount Zion, and that’s where he’s waiting for you. You had a meeting with him in Zion didn’t you?

ESTHER (affected by this):  Zion, Jerusalem . . . (whispers to herself.) I’ll go to Jerusalem for you Nona . . . I’ll go to Mount Zion for you Rafi . . .

(In a garden overlooking Mount Zion, RAFI, who has lost a leg in the War of Independence, is sitting on a bench, with his crutches next to him, ESTHER comes in and approaches him, without noticing the crutches.)

ESTHER:  Rafi . . . ?

RAFI:  Esther . . . ?

ESTHER (staring at him in disbelief):  Rafi—is it really you? Are you really alive?

RAFI:  My doctor assures me so! Esther! My darling, it’s you at last! I can’t believe it! Esther my love . . .

(SHE laughs in joy and THEY embrace and kiss.)

ESTHER (suddenly notices his crutches. Music is heard in the background, and the song “Johnny I Hardly Knew You!”—is heard. In fear.)  Why do you have crutches Rafi? Did you have an accident?

RAFI (shows her his stump, as the song in the background becomes louder):  You haven’t an arm, you haven’t a leg—Hurrah! Hurrah! (3 times.) . . . Johnny I hardly knew you! . . .

ESTHER:  Oh my God, what have they done to you? Rafi, my darling, what happened?

RAFI:  At least I’m better off than poor Johnny, in that song. I’ve kept my arm, but lost my leg, in the War of Independence. My doctor assures me I’ll get a brand new leg soon, and I’ll still dance with you again my Esther. But perhaps you don’t want to dance the tango of life with a one-legged partner?

ESTHER:  I’ve looked for you all over the world Rafi, and now that I’ve found you, I’ll dance the tango of life with you anywhere, in any situation, all my life . . . Oh my God! My poor Rafi! How it must have hurt! How could they do this to you?

RAFI:  They could, and they did! This was already more than three years ago . . . I’ve got used to it by now.

After the Egyptians banished me to Marseilles, I took the first ship I could and came to Israel, and registered in the Haganah. I lost my leg in the second week of the war. But don’t worry, all the rest of me functions perfectly . . .

ESTHER:  I hate war still more for having done this to you! I vow to you Rafi, I’ll dedicate my life, in addition to loving you and taking care of you, to kill war! It has now become my personal enemy.

RAFI:  It will need at least two to kill war, won’t it? So we’ll love each other, and kill war together!

ESTHER:  Dear Rafi, you’re still such a sceptic . . . but I love you anyway!

RAFI:  Esther, how did you find me?

ESTHER:  I searched for you everywhere, but could only find you in me, in every cell of my being—until I almost gave up, and almost stopped believing you were alive . . . Oh, I’m so glad I found you Rafi!, my darling (She kisses him passionately.)

RAFI:  And I looked for you, every day of my life too . . . I even wrote you to your address in Cairo, through a friend of mine in Greece, but he told me the letters were all returned to him, with “address unknown” over them.

ESTHER:  We were in France, first in Marseilles, and then we went to Paris, to be with Gaby. He’s still there—he’s studying medicine, and doing well. He wanted me to stay in France, but I told him we two had a date on Mount Zion, and I just had to go . . .

RAFI:  How’s your father and your grandmother?

ESTHER:  They’re both dead.

RAFI:  What? How? When? Oh, Esther, I’m so sorry . . .

ESTHER:  How could they survive? All they lived for was gone.

RAFI:  They died in Israel?

ESTHER:  No. Nona died in Cairo, and father died in Paris. I wish he had died here, he wanted so much to be buried in Israel, but we had no money to bring his body over, and to fulfill his wish.

RAFI:  How sad for Judge Mosseri to be buried in a foreign land. How did he die?

ESTHER:  My father’s heart was ruptured, then finally stopped, by all the disasters that befell us: the cruel exile, the death of his mother for whom he felt responsible, and also by his becoming a pauper overnight, when everything we had was confiscated.

RAFI:  Poor man, Judge Mosseri deserved a better end. And how did your grandmother die?

ESTHER:  Nona, like your sister Maya, made her own departure, she too committed suicide. She threw herself down the stairs to her death, not wanting to leave Egypt. I tried to revive her mouth-to-mouth and failed. I can still taste again her bitter blood on my lips . . . So much suffering! What does it amount to? Why is it necessary?

RAFI:  Now we’re both orphans . . . but life must go on, and I’ll take care of you, dear Esther . . . I promise! I’m here now. I’m here to love you and protect you, with one leg, as well as with two arms . . . (After a pause.) Do you see the Haverim?

ESTHER:  Yes, some of them. First we were in Kibbutz Degania, then we joined Kibbutz Ein Shemer, with some of them—Daniel, Clara, Yossi, and some others; but remember Moshe and Sammy?

RAFI:  Of course—the two who refused to be exiled—who worked for the underground, helping people who wanted to leave.

ESTHER (nodding):  They’re dead, too.

RAFI:  What? Dead? How? They were so young . . .

ESTHER:  They were caught during the Parasha—the “mishap,” when they were given a suitcase by a rascal double agent from Israel, named Eldad, with bombs in it, who told them nothing about it, and who betrayed them! Those innocent, idealistic two young boys were hanged in the Public Square Midan El Tahrir, in Cairo, near where I used to live! They were accused of being traitors, can you imagine! Yes, the Second Exodus took its toll—and poor, idealistic Sammy Azar and Moshe Marzuk, died as martyrs.

RAFI:  How sad! Yes, we heard about that when Ben Gurion’s government fell because of the “mishap,” but I didn’t link it with our Moshe and Sammy from our youth group at the Maccabi! I still can’t imagine how it happened, they were so young and innocent . . .

ESTHER:  The two poor boys were duped by that double agent. They were ready to do almost anything for Israel, and were told by Eldad, who lied to them, that there were Hebrew books in the suitcase, for the haverim to learn Hebrew. Hebrew books were illegal in Egypt at that time. Now Eldad, who was a paid agent, and not like Sammy and Moshe, who were just idealistic pioneers—is himself in prison in Israel, after they caught him in Bonn, doing his dirty double agent work. Eldad still lives, but we cannot bring back the dead Moshe and Sammy. Neither can we bring back my father, or Nona. I remember now, a phrase that Moshe Marzuk coined at our last meeting at the Maccabi, when he said that we, the Jews of Egypt, and from the other Arab lands, are paying the highest price for the State of Israel, as our communities will be destroyed, while other Jewish communities in Europe and the USA, and all over the world, will go on flourishing! Moshe and Sammy themselves paid the highest price of all—they paid with their lives!

RAFI:  Unfortunately, Moshe was right. Both he and Sammy were both so smart . . . what a waste of lives! However, we hope to have a reconciliation and peace with our Arab neighbors soon. I didn’t give them a leg for nothing!

ESTHER:  I’m glad to see you’re not the pessimistic Rafi I knew in Egypt anymore. And who cured you of your “morbid apathy,” I’d like to know?

RAFI:  A woman.

ESTHER (frightened):  A woman? In Israel?

RAFI:  No. A woman in Egypt. (Looking straight into her eyes.) Can’t you guess? . . . The years without you, Esther, have made it clearer and clearer to me: I’ve been too obsessed with brutality and death. You’ve taught me so much with your laughter and your hope . . . Your joy and love of life were so contagious that I caught it at last, even when we were separated. And it’s so strong in me now, that I’ve even kept it after I lost my leg.

ESTHER (pleased—laughing):  What may I ask have I “taught” you?

RAFI:  What this survivor should have known: not to let the monsters of cynicism win—not to wallow in our grief; to hold on to whatever happiness we have with all our strength, and bring it however we can to others. No one more than you should have proof of this now—because you yourself are a survivor.

ESTHER:  I’m a survivor? How come?

RAFI:  Of course you are, Esther. You have survived the exile from the Land of Egypt, you have survived the death of most of your dearest ones, you have survived the Second Exodus . . .

(ESTHER considers this—as we see REGINA, SALIMA, and PAULA in spotlights.)

REGINA:  A survivor—a descendent of Maimonides—the Harambam. A woman of knowledge and wisdom. You’ll go to the university, just like your brother. You’ll be the writer that you hoped to be. You’ll fulfill my dreams for you, and those of your mother—and of all the women who have been behind you, and before you.

SALIMA:  A survivor—a teacher of friends and students who need you. I’ll never forget what you taught me in maths and literature, and most of all, about peace and life, and about the human heart. I pray I won’t forget what you taught me in maths, while I’m taking my matriculation exams! I’m so grateful for your help! We share a common cause, the cause of peace. You know I don’t agree with my father, nor with my uncle. They just don’t understand! There’s no reason why we Palestinians and Israelis can’t live in peace! If only they left it to us women, we would have peace in no time, just like Lysistrata!

PAULA:  A survivor—a creator of new life—as you did in our Kibbutz orchard. You have the gift, Esther, to create, to inspire us to cut away the cancer of violence, hatred, and war, and graft love-buds on the aytz ha-hayim—the tree of the love of life and joy, the tree of peace and creativity. Peace be with you Esther and Rafi, Shalom—Salam.

(Lights fade out on REGINA, SALIMA, and PAULA.)

ESTHER (to RAFI, smiling):  So, I’m—a survivor—like you, Rafi.

Out with your survival kit Esther . . . take out your rafia and start grafting peace buds again . . . Do you know Rafi that just like in the Bible where it is written that we have to “turn our spears into ploughshares,” in the Koran it is written that: “He who walks with Peace, walk with him?”

RAFI:  Is that so? I didn’t know that! So why do people just stress the Jihad and not this crucial peace precept?

ESTHER:  Because people just don’t know! They just listen to their own stories, and not to the stories of the “others,” and never of the “enemy!” Our own stories are so better known to us, and especially more handy! (She laughs.)

RAFI:  I’m so glad to hear your bell-like laughter again Esther! It gave me life then, there in Egypt, and it fills me with joy and vitality again now . . . It’s part of the balm that has caused my metamorphosis.

ESTHER:  Is this why you changed your name to Amehad. instead of Lipsky?

RAFI:  Just one of the reasons, but there’s another more important one, can you guess?

ESTHER:  One people? Ashkenazi and Sephardi joined together in Israel? Is that the idea?

RAFI (nodding):  Oh yes! Especially you and me. Remember—we were and are joined.

ESTHER:  Yes—grafted, into each other, like almond and peach, growing into a sturdy tree—a tree of life.

Will you come and live with me on the kibbutz?

RAFI (laughs):  Esther you’re part of me, don’t you understand? We can’t be separated again. We’re one people—Amehad!

(Facing her intensely.)

Now we will always be together, everywhere: on the kibbutzim, and the moshavim, in the cities, in the towns and in the villages, we’re the people, joined at last, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, and we’ll always be together now.

ESTHER:  One world, one humanity, all living in peace?

RAFI:  We will try to make it so. With you at my side, Esther, both of us working together, creating together—

We could do anything . . . Will you grow with me, Esther?

ESTHER (playfully):  As an almond tree with peach roots, or a peach tree with almond roots? And what about our buds?

RAFI:  I don’t care—as long as they have those lovely fragrant flowers, with pealing silver laughter bells ringing and fully blossoming, over Mount Zion, and over the whole world.

(THEY both laugh and again embrace.)

ESTHER (to the audience):  We were up all night hugging each other, talking, laughing and kissing, despite his lost leg, which I couldn’t forget for one moment. It felt as if part of my own body had been cut away, and uselessly discarded.

The golden rays of dawn appeared upon Mount Zion. A choir of early birds burst the silence in an exalted song to welcome the new multicolored glory pouring over the world. They hailed other stirring sounds from afar. The sound of a Shofar was soon answered by the prayer of a Muezzin, crying “God is great!” These sounds were soon followed by the ringing of bells from churches and convents: Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Catholic, Protestant, Anglican. All joined in the symphony enveloped in the fragrance of my love for Rafi, and of orange and almond blossoms, pouring in through Rafi’s window.

With Rafi at my side, I was stronger, ready to share my dream of world peace with the rest of humanity. Life was well worth living . . .

translated from the Hebrew by Ada Aharoni