Playing Dreidel with Judah Maccabee excerpt


(JONATHAN is once again playing dreidel and singing.)

JONATHAN: …I made it out of clay
and when it’s dry and ready
Then dreidel I shall play.

(JUDAH enters.    He is carrying an extra sword, a smaller one.)

JUDAH: Don’t you get tired of that song?

JONATHAN: A little.  By the end of Hanukah. 

(JUDAH slides the sword towards JONATHAN.)

JUDAH: Here.

JONATHAN: What’s this for?

JUDAH: You said it was your tradition to give out presents on this holiday of yours.

JONATHAN: Hanukah.

JUDAH: Yes, that one.  Well, this is for you.

JONATHAN: For me.  Really?


JONATHAN: Cool!  I’ve never held a sword before.

JUDAH: Never?

JONATHAN: Not a real one.  It’s beautiful.

JUDAH: It is not beautiful.  It is a weapon.  It is necessary.

JONATHAN: Will you teach me how to use it?

JUDAH: You remind me of my own son.  His name is Jonathan, too.


JUDAH: Yes.  He was excited when he held his first sword too.  So was I.  Before I saw my first battle.  That is your first lesson.  The sword is just a tool.  It is not beautiful.  It is not ugly.  It just is, and if it is well made, and you use it correctly, it can save your life.


JUDAH: Remember that.


JUDAH: Be careful how you hold it.  Look at my hand.  You see how I grip mine.  Try to use that same hold.

(JONATHAN tries.  JUDAH places his fingers correctly.)

Keep the sword at this angle, point up.  Don’t let it drag down towards the ground.

JONATHAN: It’s heavy.

JUDAH: Mine is much heavier.  Do you want to try to hold mine?

(JONATHAN hoists JUDAH’s sword, experimentally.)

JONATHAN: It is heavy.  You make it look so light.

(JONATHAN gives the sword back.)

JUDAH: I have been doing this for a long time.  Too long.  Now, look at my stance.  Do you see how I am standing?  See if you can stand like that.

(JONATHAN tries the stance.)

Watch you back foot.  Look at me.  Keep your knees bent.  It’s important to keep balanced at all times.

(JONATHAN adjusts.)

Now this is how we take a step forward.  You move your front foot, then your back, keeping the same position.  Go on, start.

(JONATHAN begins going forward, in position.)

Keep your sword up.  You can use your other hand for balance.

JONATHAN: It’s hard.

JUDAH: Yes, it is.  What happened to your father?

JONATHAN: My father?

JUDAH: Sword up.  Keep moving.  If you can’t go any further, turn around and come back the other way.  Let the same foot lead you, however.

(JONATHAN follows his instructions.)

Was he killed in battle?

JONATHAN: No.  I mean, I hope not.

JUDAH: Sword up.  Your feet should stay is the same position as you move.  Keep the same distance between then.  Imagine that there is a long slab of wood you can’t step on.

(JONATHAN follows his instructions.)

You hope not?  Is he missing, your father?

JONATHAN: He’s missing here.  He’s missing Hanukah.  And…

(JONATHAN stops moving.)

JUDAH: Okay, you can stop for a moment and rest.  And what?

(JONATHAN rests, sword still in hand.)

JONATHAN: I haven’t heard from him.  He usually sends a letter every week, and then he calls, or emails—they’re sort of modern letters, but they travel fast.  And the telephone—well, I just haven’t heard from him, that’s all.  I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t at least wish me a Happy Hanukah, unless…

JUDAH: Unless?

JONATHAN: I don’t know.

JUDAH: What sort of war is your father in?

JONATHAN: It’s complicated.

JUDAH: Yes, war is.

JONATHAN: But when you went to war, you knew you were doing the right thing.

JUDAH: You never know you’re doing the right thing.  You hope.

JONATHAN: Who have you been fighting?

JUDAH: The Seleucids.

JONATHAN: Seleucids?


JONATHAN: I’ve never heard of them.

JUDAH: Truly?  Whom did you think we fought?

JONATHAN: I don’t know.  The bad guys.  Who are the Seleucids?

JUDAH: They are one of the most powerful empires in the world.  Far more powerful than the Jews.


JUDAH: I suppose I should take comfort from the fact that you’ve never heard of them.

JONATHAN: Anyway, those…Seleucids, they’re pretty bad, right?

JUDAH: They have not been good to us.  They took over our Temple, and without the Temple, there is no Judaism.

JONATHAN: Of course there is.

JUDAH: What do you mean?

JONATHAN: Never mind.  Nothing.

JUDAH: We fought them because we knew that without the Temple, Judaism could not survive.


JUDAH: And we won.  And Judaism has survived.  Or so you tell me.

JONATHAN: Yes, it has.

JUDAH: That’s good to hear.  OK, enough, back to work.  I’m going to teach you a few quick cuts you can do with that sword.  Do you want to see?

JONATHAN:Yes.  Sure.

JUDAH: Keep in mind that only one side of the blade is sharp, and the other dull.  So any cuts you do will have to be with this side of the sword.

(JUDAH shows him.)

Do you understand?


JUDAH: I’m going to show you two ways to cut.  We’ll keep it at knee level.  Aim for my knees.


JUDAH: Not yet.  Let me show you.

(JUDAH demonstrates.)

You can come at it this way, or this way, you see.  But either way, the sharp side of the blade leads you.


JUDAH: You can try it, if you like.

JONATHAN: Won’t I hurt you?

JUDAH: I’ll be able to defend myself.  I’m going to be blocking you, as you cut.

(JONATHAN tries.)

And again, from the other side.

(JONATHAN cuts from the other side.)

Good, keep going.

(JONATHAN continues.)

JONATHAN: This is tiring.

JUDAH: There’s no time to be tired in a battle.  You get tired, and you die.

JONATHAN: Do you think that’s what happened to my father?  He got tired and he…

JUDAH: I’ve seen a lot of men appear who have gone missing, for a while.  But I won’t lie to you. I’ve seen others who haven’t.

JONATHAN: My father is going to be OK.

JUDAH: Good.


JUDAH: Good, then.


(JONATHAN attacks with force.)

JUDAH: You’re getting a little wild there.  Control, you need control.

(JONATHAN cuts high, JUDAH parries.)

Careful!  That’s getting high.

(JUDAH disarms JONATHAN, who falls to the ground.)

JONATHAN: I think I’m done playing.

JUDAH: I never was playing.  I just came from days on the battlefield.  It wasn’t a game.

JONATHAN: What was it like, on the battlefield?

JUDAH: I have spent so long on battlefields, I don’t know if I can describe it anymore.  I’m a general, so my job is to give my troops hope, even when I don’t have any hope myself.

JONATHAN: But you won, didn’t you?

JUDAH: Yes.  It’s a miracle.  When we won, one of my soldiers said to me, only you had faith, General.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had spent the last year walking out onto the battlefield sure that day would be my last.  And then that day passed, and then the next.  And then…victory.  Who would have thought it?  To be always on the verge of defeat, and yet never to be defeated.

JONATHAN: The other day, I thought, my father never wrote down the recipe for latkes.

JUDAH: Then you’ll have to make him write it down, when he comes back.

JONATHAN: Yeah.  I guess so.

JUDAH: What else did your father do with you, during this holiday of yours? 

JONATHAN: Sing, mostly.  He taught me all the songs.  He has a really nice voice.  Well, he doesn’t always sing all the notes right, but I like to hear it.  His voice is very deep and…I don’t know, it’s nice.  He used to sing to me when I was going to sleep.

JUDAH: I sang to my son, Jonathan, too.  Not so well, but I sang.

JONATHAN: Every evening, during Hanukah, I got to choose which songs we would sing together.

JUDAH: Is that what all families do during Hanukah?

JONATHAN: Sort of.  Probably not exactly like we do, but sort of.  Some of the things we do are Jewish traditions, and some are just traditions that my family made up.  Like, I would always ask my Dad to sing “Who Can Retell,” first.  That was kind of our own tradition.  It’s, you know, a fast song, so while we sang it I would spin around and dance in circles.  My father would clap.  It’s pretty stupid, really. 

JUDAH: Would you sing the song for me?

JONATHAN: Sure.  I guess.  Sure.

(JUDAH claps as JONATHAN sings.)

Who can retell the things that befell us,
Who can count them?
In every age, a hero or sage
Arose to our aid.
In days of yore in Israel's ancient land
Brave Maccabees roamed the land—

(JUDAH stops clapping.)

JUDAH: Brave Maccabees?  You mean us?  You mean me?

JONATHAN: Oh.  Oh.  I shouldn’t have sung that.

JUDAH: Why not?

JONATHAN: It’s just—I don’t think I should have sung that.

JUDAH: What is this holiday about?  What is Hanukah?

JONATHAN: I’ll see you tomorrow, OK?

(JONATHAN quickly gets up to leave.)

JUDAH: Wait!

JONATHAN: Goodbye!

(JONATHAN runs off.  JUDAH notices that JONATHAN has left his sword.  He picks it up.  Blackout.)