Here’s a very short play I wrote for a “Multicultural Jewish” writing contest. I didn’t win. The ending’s kind of abrupt. It was in my earlier days when I wasn’t writing so much. I was trying to give the readers a good indication of what my Shabbat meals were like.
The curtains open to a dining room in the home of the Katz family, Riverdale, New York, in the spring of the year 2007.
There is a large wooden dining table in the middle of the room. The table is covered in a blue table cloth. There are eight chairs. Four of the chairs are folding chairs while the four other chairs are made of wood that matches the table. In the corner of the room, there is a smaller table, no bigger than a stool, covered by a silver tray with two candleholders positioned atop it. The two white candles in the candleholders stand unlit. There is a box of matches on the tray.
As the curtain rises, Moriah Katz, a young woman wearing a hat, a bright pink dress shirt, a long brown linen skirt and matching brown Saucony sneakers, walks into the room towards the candles. Moriah lights the candles, covers her eyes and murmurs the blessing so softly, it is not heard. After she finishes, she fusses with the utensils on the table.
MORIAH, looking up from the table, to the audience: I didn’t realize I was Dominican until I decided to become Jewish. Before that, I was just a boring old, first-generation American with a penchant for arroz con habichuelas with a side of platanos. You know, basically, I was just like everyone else in New York or so I thought. I didn’t realize what I was getting into until I realized that every Shabbat, I was the strangest person at the table.
A young man, Moriah’s husband, Moishe Katz, wearing a colorful kippah and a black suit with a bright blue shirt, enters the room. He walks behind Moriah who seems so lost in thought that she does not seem to see or hear him walk into the room. He hugs Moriah from behind.
MOISHE: Honey, I think the Weissberger-Bergers are hungry. Is the table all set?
Moishe leads a young couple about the same age of the Katz couple to the table from the living room (off stage). The young woman, Bracha Weissberger-Berger, is wearing an elaborate large black hat, a stylish white blouse, calf-length black and pink silk skirt and black four-inch open-toed heels. Her wedding ring and engagement ring are prominently displayed on her left hand. The young man, her husband, Yaakov Berger, is wearing a black suit with a white shirt, black shiny shoes and a black knit kippah.
MORIAH: Thank you so much for coming over for Shabbat dinner! We finally got everything unpacked and it’s so nice to have everyone over.
MOISHE: Yes, well, we’ve washed and said hamotzi so let’s get this show on the road. Wait until you see what we have for dinner!
YAAKOV: Those are some great sketches in your living room, by the way. That drawing of the man, though….
BRACHA: …the naked man!
MORIAH, smiling: Well, he’s not completely naked, is he? He is wearing a leaf!
Yaakov and Moishe laugh.
BRACHA: Oh, Moriah, it all smells so great. What is it?
YAAKOV: Yeah, Moishe, what’s that funny thing I saw next to the washing cup?
MOISHE: Oh, that? That’s yucca! If it looks like a big brown root thing, that’s because it is. By the way, we’re having yucca with some garlic and onions tonight.
Moishe leaves the room to bring in a dish.
BRACHA and YAAKOV exchange a glance.
BRACHA: Wait, so what’s Yoooou-kaah?
MORIAH: Don’t worry, you don’t eat the outside raw or anything because it’s laced with cyanide. The inside’s okay though once you boil it. It’s just something my mom used to make me all the time growing up in Washington Heights.
Bracha and Yaakov are quiet for a moment before anyone speaks.
YAAKOV: Well, I didn’t know that you grew up in Washington Heights. Do you know Rabbi Levy at Breuer’s?
MORIAH: Uh, I grew up on the other side of the Heights.
BRACHA: Oh, then you must know Rabbi Lamm who teaches at Yeshiva University?
MORIAH: Well, no, you see, I grew up on the other, other side, you know, like those streets between Audubon and Broadway.
Bracha and Yaakov both widen their eyes and shake their heads.
Moishe walks in holding a white tray filled with food.
MOISHE: Well, here’s the first course.
YAAKOV: What is it?
MORIAH: Well, it’s gefilte fish, Yaakov.
YAAKOV, pointing at his dish: No, I mean, that thing on the side, it looks like a banana.
MORIAH, looking up into the air and shaking her head in exasperation: IT IS NOT A BANANA!
MOISHE: Excuse my wife, she gets upset when people call platanos, bananas.
MORIAH: Because they’re not!
MOISHE: Platanos. You know, plantains? They’re like green or yellow starchy, um, almost bananas. MORIAH can fry them, bake them, boil them. It’s amazing! They’re even Kosher for Pesach.
MOISHE: Oh, yeah, Moriah eats tons of yucca and plantains over Pesach. You know, she has a really hard time giving up rice and beans.
MORIAH: I just don’t understand eating that much potato in one week. Moriah sighs dramatically. We need to move to Israel so I can eat rice and “legumes” over Passover.
Moishe glances at Moriah sympathetically.
MOISHE: It’ll be okay, honey. So, Bracha, Yaakov, tells me that you’re a teacher? Moriah’s a teacher, too.
BRACHA: Yes, I teach Judaic Studies at the SAR Academy in Riverdale.
MORIAH: Oh, really, I hear they’re great. Very child-centered.
YAAKOV: Where do you teach, Moriah?
MORIAH: 11th Grade English at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School. Bracha and Yaakov look at Moriah blankly. You know that giant building behind Lincoln Center? It’s a public high school but it resembles a prison actually, what with the metal detectors and all….
BRACHA: Oh, so you teach in…(Bracha gulps dramatically.) a public school?!
MORIAH: Oh, yeah, it’s great. I mean, the kids are amazing. Some of the gang members are a little scary but some of them are actually very nice. We invited a whole bunch of my kids to the wedding. You ever seen Rabbi Avi Weiss break-dance?
MOISHE: Yeah, one of her students, Reggie, was break-dancing with Rabbi Weiss at the wedding. It was so great. Reggie’s long dreads would fling up and down, all over the place, as he was dancing.
YAAKOV, incredulously: Er, well, um, wow! That must have been some wedding.
MOISHE, wistfully: It was, it was.
BRACHA, in a worried tone: But the school’s safe, right? I mean, most of the kids you work with are from the Lincoln Center area near the school?
MORIAH: Oh, yeah, well, the metal detectors keep most of the weapons out but most of the kids are from Harlem and Washington Heights. I mean, I’ve only been attacked once and the girl was really just a deranged Honors student. There is one kid who lives right behind the school…in the projects.
YAAKOV: Wow, the projects! That’s scary.
MORIAH: Oh, the projects are okay. I lived with my grandmother in the projects for two years. It was a great two-bedroom apartment right off Chelsea Piers, downtown. The only problem is people, or maybe their dogs, peeing in the elevator. That can get really nasty. Plus this one time, this kid was kidnapped.
Yaakov and Bracha exchange a glance. Moishe shakes his head and rolls his eyes.
MOISHE: Well, anyway! My four-year-old sister did the cutest thing yesterday. She sent me these cookies in the mail the other day that she had baked with my mother.
YAAKOV: Wow, a four-year-old sister. There are four of you, right? You must be twenty years older than your sister!
MOISHE: Yeah, I am. There’s little Necia, the four-year-old and then there’s Batya and Joseph, who are a little closer to my age.
BRACHA: What’s that like? Having a little sister so young?
MORIAH: Well, in Spanish, Necia means “brat.”
YAAKOV: Doesn’t it mean miracle of G-d in Hebrew?
MORIAH: Trust me, we accept the Spanish translation in Necia’s case.
MOISHE, nodding: Necia likes to scream.
MORIAH: Yeah, honestly, in my family, you were lucky if they allowed you to talk. If you screamed like that, you didn’t make it to your fourth birthday. Actually, my nickname was Necia. I didn’t scream. I was just trying to talk here and there.
MOISHE: Moriah has a hard time with Jewish kids.
MORIAH: I’m just that I’m having a hard time processing. So, if the kid dances around at shul and screams at the top of its lungs to get its point across, you call the kid “creative”? That stuff doesn’t fly at a Catholic church. If you whisper at church, you’ll probably be labeled a future prison inmate or be reminded that there is a fiery hell awaiting you in the future.
BRACHA: Oh, um, so, how many siblings do you have, Moriah?
MORIAH: Oh. Moriah pauses dramatically. I have, I guess, about ten siblings. I’m the oldest of eleven or is it ten? I can’t remember.
BRACHA: Wow, so am I, isn’t it great living in such a big family?
MORIAH: Well, I wouldn’t know, I haven’t met them all.
Yaakov and Bracha share a confused look.
YAAKOV: Oh, why not?
MORIAH: Well, I only have three sisters on my mother’s side. Everyone else is on my father’s side. I told him I was going to give him condoms for his birthday.
Bracha, who was taking a sip of water, chokes on her water.
YAAKOV, loudly: You did not!
MORIAH: Oh yes, I called him in the Dominican Republic and I said, “Papi, you need to stop having kids. You’re not even sure how many you have anymore. You lost count. This needs to stop.”
Moishe sighs with a smile as he gets up from the table. He starts taking some bowls away to the kitchen.
MOISHE: Anyway! I think I’ll bring out the rice and beans. Moriah’s arroz con habichuelas are amazing. She makes this green goo for the beans that is really delicious.
MORIAH, laughing. It is not GREEN GOO! It’s called recaito but Goya sells it without a hecksher so I make it fresh.
YAAKOV: Oh, really? What goes into it?
MORIAH: Oh, a little bit of everything! Onions, garlic, green peppers, cilantro, basil, um, parsley…. I can’t remember what else but we put onions and garlic on pretty much everything.
BRACHA: Wow, that’s a lot of stuff. Sounds kinda spicy.
MORIAH: I don’t know if it’s spicy, but I store it in the fridge for when we make beans.
BRACHA: Do you eat rice and beans often?
MORIAH: Oh, yeah, it’s amazing. When I was growing up, if my mom didn’t make rice and beans, I didn’t even consider it food. I said mom, soup is not food, salad is not food, and spaghetti is not food. I never understood Americans eating salad as a meal. Actually, I never understood eating salad BEFORE the meal, either. We eat salad on the side.
BRACHA: Wow, so a lot of things must be really new for you.
MOISHE, laughing. Oh, you have no idea. She just had squash for the first time last week. Now, she’s addicted!
MORIAH: It’s definitely a culture shock. We had to go to premarital counseling because Moishe and I weren’t communicating. I would ask him constantly, “Are you sure you’re angry?” You know, because when Dominican people are angry, we yell, we throw things, we jump up and down, you know? You can’t miss it. I would say, “Moishe, you don’t even look angry.” I mean, he really didn’t. He would just say, really calmly, “I’m upset.” I mean, who announces that they’re upset?
Moishe laughs and Yaakov joins him.
BRACHA, shaking her head: Oh, that’s terrible.
MORIAH: Oh, yeah, it was pretty bad but we got through it. We meet each other halfway.
YAAKOV: How did you do that?
MOISHE: Well, you know, instead of saying, “Honey, is there anything for dinner?” I will say, “Honey, did you make dinner?” If I asked, “Is there anything for dinner?” She’d say, “I don’t know, look in the fridge.”
MORIAH: I don’t understand all those indirect questions. I mean, why not just get it all out? I can’t even talk to his Bubbe. Everything’s an indirect question. Moriah mimics an accented voice, impersonating Bubbe. “So, what do you think about children?” Just ask me if I’m pregnant and have out with it!
YAAKOV: Well, isn’t that a little blunt?
MOISHE: I used to think it was blunt, apparently, it’s just being direct.
The doorbell rings.
BRACHA: Who would be ringing your doorbell on Shabbos?
MOISHE: Oh, it’s probably Moriah’s sister and Moriah’s friends from college.
Moishe disappears to answer the door off stage.
BRACHA: But it’s so late. Why didn’t we wait to make Kiddush?
YAAKOV: Are they staying over? Isn’t this a one bedroom?
MOISHE: Don’t worry, BRACHA. They’re not Jewish. Moriah’s little sister just loves challah. The friends…I think it’s the grape juice.
MORIAH: Yeah. It may seem pretty strange but actually, my friends that are coming over are Christians. My sister, well, she’s Wiccan.
BRACHA: What’s a Wiccan?
MORIAH: Well, I guess it means she’s a witch.
YAAKOV, drops his silverware with a large clang: OH.
MOISHE: Yeah, I was telling my rabbi about how we were having all these people over. He was so surprised and he asked, “But where are you going to put them all?!” I told him, Rebbe, they’re not even Jewish. They just take the subway up and back down. Inviting non-Jews over for Shabbat dinners is great because you don’t have to worry about how they’ll get home or where to put them.
YAAKOV, in a surprised tone: Do you have non-Jews for Shabbat dinners often?
MOISHE: Of course, her students and friends come over all the time.
BRACHA, breathlessly: You mean, the gang members?!
MORIAH: Oh, they’re not ALL gang members but let me tell you about the time, I ran into two of them with little bandanas on with five of their friends. They were in the big elevator with me and a whole bunch of people at 181st Street. I was really annoyed because they were calling each other gay.
MORIAH: Yeah, I told them to stop and that as far as I was all concerned if they were talking so much about being “gay,” they were probably all “gay.” I also asked them politely to stop embarrassing all Dominicans by acting so stupid in public.
YAAKOV: Weren’t you scared?
MORIAH: Of what? They all laughed. I keep telling them to stop calling each other gay. Don’t even get me started on the “N” word. They do it on the subway in front of other people and I know what people are thinking.
BRACHA: What are they thinking?
MORIAH: “Oh, look at those black and Hispanic kids, they can’t control themselves!” People think it says something about the whole “race,” not just these specific teenagers. I think people would respond the same way if they saw someone with a kippah doing something inappropriate, “Oh, look at those Jews” but I don’t know if people see that often.
BRACHA: Well! This has been quite a Shabbat meal.
MOISHE: Oh, but we’ve only just gotten started! We still have to bring the yucca out!
Moishe hurries out to the kitchen.
From the kitchen off stage, running water is heard. Moriah’s sister, Mar, is washing her hands.
MAR, loudly: Did you guys sing Shalom Alechem yet? There better be some challah. You guys better not have eaten all the challah!