12-37

Paul, Cecil and Henry Green are three Dublin Jewish medical students. The play opens in 1935 as they draw lots to see who will deliver the fatal morphine dose to their father who is dying of cancer. 

After their father’s death, their widowed mother is forced to go to London to find lodgings for them all and to keep their studies alive as young doctors at the London Hospital. However transplantation into England means that Paul is forced to leave behind the love of his life, Eileen Reilly. Her father is an antisemite and will never accept their union. Paul leaves with a heavy heart and a hatred for religious divide.

In London the young men get caught up in the struggle against Mosley’s fascists at the Battle of Cable Street. When war is declared they are all mobilized. The experience of Hitler’s Europe turns them into fervent Zionists and in 1946 they go to Palestine to fight the British. There Paul meets Rina Goldberg, a former Yiddish theatre actor who has been traumatized by her incarceration in a concentration camp. She and he are involved in the bombing of the King David Hotel. Rina and Paul remain in Palestine as the British leave and as it transforms in to a Jewish state. 

Does a Jewish nation state fulfil the promise of their dreams or has political violence utterly damaged them? At the end of the play their common experience both unites and separates them and foreshadows a present and future that can never promise peace.

SCENE ONE

DUBLIN

1935. A bedroom in a poorly furnished house. A man is in the bed. He is in his sixties, thin and dying. Three sons are in the bedroom with him.

CECIL

Shema Yisroel Adenoi Elohanu--

PAUL

It won’t help.

CECIL

Adenoi Echod.

PAUL

‘Hear O Israel. The Lord is One ‘ What the hell is Israel of the Lord for da?

CECIL

We can pray.

PAUL

Sure, and I’m going to marry Marlene Dietrich.

HENRY

Now you’re talking.

PAUL

Let’s get it over with. The poor bastard is in agony.

CECIL

We all agree. (Beat.) That’s certain?

HENRY

Agree or not agree, it’s all a lot of bloody nonsense.

PAUL

Like your bloody stupid prayers.

CECIL

What about ma?

PAUL

What about her?

HENRY

Should she be asked?

PAUL

What’s the point?

HENRY

Cecil’s right. We should ask her.

PAUL

Look, you eejits. They give him three weeks at the most. That’s three weeks of vomiting blood and screaming in pain. You want more of that?

CECIL

What’s the hurry?

PAUL

You know what that pain is like? It’s not like one of your bloody migraines, you know.

HENRY

You’re in an awful rush. Sure you haven’t got a pretty nurse to see?

PAUL

And if I have, what’s it to you?

CECIL

Eileen Reilly. You want to get in her knickers, is that it?

PAUL

Jaysus, will you give me a bit of peace? Do we or don’t we?

HENRY

Let’s vote?

PAUL

Sure. We could ask Dev if he wants to count the vote if you like.

CECIL

A vote’s a good idea.

PAUL

Right.

CECIL

Suppose he can hear us?

PAUL

Of course he can bloody hear us. And he’s wishing we’d put him out of his misery now. He can’t eat, his bones are sticking out worse than a Friday night chicken after you lot’ve been picking at it. Is that a life worth living?

HENRY

When there’s life, there’s no hope?

PAUL

Stomach cancer is no hope.

CECIL

But is it allowed? What does the Talmud say?

PAUL

Jaysus, who cares what the bloody Talmud says, do we go ahead or not?

CECIL

We vote.

PAUL

Who’s for putting him out of his misery?

HENRY

Suppose we ask him again?

PAUL

You meschuggah? He’s been begging for out for the past week.

HENRY

He might not be ready.

PAUL

Ready. Ready? Who is his right mind is ever ready? You want me to call a priest for the last rites?

CECIL

He was so proud when we all graduated. Sitting so proud, like a little Litvak. And you remember how he pulled out four cigars from his pocket. We sat there smoking. Saying nothing. Like he was Abraham with three new sons. (Beat.) You know, every night, I dream I am back there taking finals. Sitting, looking at the bloody question, and not knowing the answers. Every morning, I wake up sweating.

HENRY

Me too. Only I am in surgery. The patient is ready. And suddenly my mind is blank. Is it an appendix I have to do, or a hernia?

CECIL

I never wanted to be a doctor.

HENRY

I never knew that.

CECIL

A chazan. Just to sing in the synagogue would have done me fine.

PAUL

A cantor! Jaysus, will you get that head out of the shtetl and into the twentieth century?

HENRY

I didn’t want to be a doctor, either.

PAUL

Jaysus, now it’s confession time?

CECIL

What then?

HENRY

A pilot.

PAUL

Yes, and I wanted to be Johnny Weissmuller in ‘Tarzan.’

CECIL

God help you.

PAUL

Well then, God or no God, do we take this great bloody democratic vote or not?

HENRY

We vote. But if one of us disagrees, then we don’t do it.

CECIL

Done.

PAUL

Gentlemen and gentlemen, we are gathered together tonight to vote on whether we shall allow our beloved father to suffer in agony for several more weeks until the good Lord takes him and turns him into dust, or whether we shall set aside our Hippocratic oath and inject a fatal dose of morphine. All who wish to help our father, soon to be in heaven, raise their right hand.

CECIL

Shema Yisroel adonai elohainu adonai echad. (Beat.) As long as it’s not me that does it.

Henry lifts his hand. Cecil lifts his hand while praying with his eyes closed. Henry looks at Paul.