by Yaffa Gottlieb - art by dave berg

Twisting his script nervously, Ari glanced around our basement playroom. Five pairs of eyes looked back at him. “Who will be the Greeks?” he exclaimed.

No one answered.

Benny waved his cardboard sword in the air. “I’m Yehuda Maccabee. I’m going to fight against the Greeks, and drive them from the Temple.”

“I’m Mattisyahu,” said Dovie, “father of the Maccabees. ‘All who are for Hashem, follow me!’ I can’t be the Greeks.”

“Don’t look at me,” Chaim protested. “I get to find the one jar of pure oil that burned for eight days. That means I’m Jewish, right? Not Greek!”

Little Laizar, my kid brother was the only one left. “Oh no,” he cried as Ari turned in his direction. “I can’t be any Greeks. I’m going to be myself - Elazar the Maccabee, who killed the huge elephant with the general on top. Take that, mmmmhff,” he shouted, thrusting with all his might at the unseen elephant’s belly. “Arghh!” he cried, falling to the floor, crushed as the imaginary mammoth fell.

“I’m glad you all like your parts,” said Ari, “but if no one is going to be Antiochus, we’re left with no play.”

Everyone stared back at him with blank faces.

“What will everyone say?” he moaned fretfully. “They’ll just laugh that we make clubs and meetings, but nothing ever lasts. If this play is a flop, our club is a joke, a laughing stock. We have to make it succeed!”

“Maybe the girls could be the Greeks,” Elazar piped up. He always has these brainstorms.

“No way,” said Shari, my best friend. “We have enough to do, thank you. We are making the costumes, the scenery, and the latkes. And we already play Chana and her seven sons, refusing to bow down to idols. Isn’t that enough? You can’t expect us to be the Greeks too!”

Just then we heard a car pull into the driveway. “Yea, it’s Daddy,” shouted Sholom, my three-year-old brother, who was watching the rehearsal.

“Maybe he’ll be the Greeks!”

We all rushed to the top of the stairs. The front door opened and in walked my father. Ari rushed over to him. “Uncle Saul, will you be the Greeks?”

“Pretty please,” pleaded Benny, Dovie, and Chaim all together.

“What do you mean, will I be the Greeks?” my father laughed.

Just then, Mr. Asher, the next door neighbor, appeared. Mr. Asher is a very nice man. Very nice...

and... well, he’s very… big.

This time I spoke up. “Mr. Asher,” I said excitedly. “will you be the Greeks? It’s for our play. We need some one to act the part of the Greeks.”

“What a great idea, Yehudis!” my cousin, Ari, exclaimed. “Yes! Mr. Asher, you would be perfect!”

“Perfect? For what? You’re putting on a play?” Mr. Asher laughed, in his booming voice.

“Yes. A Chanukah play,” Ari replied, “but we have no one to play the Greeks.”

“We are rehearsing downstairs,” said Benny. “Will you come down?”

“Well, all right,” said Mr. Asher in his huge voice, “but only for today.”

“Hurray!” everybody cheered.

“Okay, rehearsal right now,” Ari announced. On cue everyone went crashing down the stairs like a herd of elephants.

It wasn’t easy for Mr. Asher to get downstairs. It’s very narrow, and the ceiling is kind of low. But he made it.

“All right,” he boomed happily. “What do I say?”

“Let’s practice the part where you read out the evil decrees against the Jews,” said Ari. “You can sit on this chair.”

“Good,” Mr. Asher laughed loudly. “I can use a chair. There’s hardly room for me to stand up down here.”

Ari handed Mr. Asher a script. “Where are the evil decrees?” he asked, turning the pages.

“I’ll tell you what to say,” said Ari. “First you have to announce that the Jews are not allowed to keep kosher.”


“Not allowed to keep Shabbos,” Ari whispered.


“Not allowed to learn Torah,” Ari prompted softly.

“AND YOU JEWS BETTER NOT LEARN TORAH!” His voice blasted like a foghorn. He was really scary.

My mother looked down the basement stairs. “I thought you were making this club so that you could learn Torah,” she called.

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Rosen,” Ari explained. “It’s just part of the play.”

“Mr. Asher, you’re hired. You were great. Now for the dreidel scene. Come on Sholom. This is your scene.”

“Sholom’s too little,” Chaim protested.

“What do you mean?” Elazar insisted. “Dreidels were made for little kids, you know…”

Our rehearsal went on the whole afternoon. We were sure it was an excellent play, especially with Mr. Asher as the Greeks.

We even heard applause. It was my father. We hadn’t seen him come downstairs. “Well done, all of you,” he exclaimed. “When is the opening performance?”

“Uh, we don’t have any bookings yet,” said Ari.

“How about if I speak to Mr. Berman at the Jewish Senior Center? They’ll enjoy the play there,” father said.

“Great,” we all cried.

“It could be on the Sunday of Chanukah,” father added.

“Super,” exclaimed Elazar. “And then we could light a giant Menorah outside.”

“Hold on, hold on,” father laughed. “Let me check it out first.”

“Wait a minute,” Mr. Asher said, “I won’t be here that Sunday. Sorry kids, I’ve got to be out of town.”

“Oh no,” everyone groaned. “So who will be the Greeks?”

- - - - - - - - -

“Everyone is looking forward to the performance,” Mr. Berman said, as he welcomed Ari to the Senior Citizens Center. “It means a lot to all the people here.”

Ari coached Mr. Asher who bellowed out his lines.
His voice blasted like a foghorn. He was really scary.

My father smiled with approval. He had gotten the whole idea approved. It was official. Our Tzivos Hashem Club was going to put on a grand Chanukah play at the Senior Citizens Center.

“I’ve even called the press,” Mr. Berman went on. “They love the idea of lighting the Menorah outside. They’re sending a photographer!”

“Thanks to my uncle,” Ari said, turning to father. “He designed it, and he got the carpenters and the lumber.”

“You didn’t give me much choice in the matter,” father laughed.

“Let me show you the stage,” Mr. Berman said. “We really have a very fine auditorium in this building, and I’m sure your actors will want to rehearse.”

Mr. Berman led the way. We met a lot of people as we went, sitting around in chairs. Mr. Berman introduced us to each one of them in turn.

“Mr. Schwartz, Mrs. Levine, Mrs. Edelman, Mr. Kindlestein - these are the children from the Tzivos Hashem Club. They’re here to present the Chanukah play.”

Everyone smiled, and said how glad they were to meet us. The ladies treated us as if we were heroes. We kept telling them what a privilege it was for us, and how much we were looking forward to the play. They smiled and smiled.

No one guessed that we still had no one to play the part of the Greeks.

“Don’t worry,” Ari had said. “Our job is to put on the play. If Hashem could help the Maccabees to find some oil, He’ll help us find someone to play the Greeks.”

“Maybe Mr. Asher will come back,” my friend Shari sighed.

“Feel free to use the stage any way you want,” Mr. Berman said to us. “I’ll be in my office if you have any questions. And don’t worry, no one will be allowed to watch your rehearsal. Were all looking forward to the grand opening.”

What a stage it was! It had real curtains - a big red velvet one in front, and a lot of different curtains further back, that you could close and open for different scenes. And there were red, blue and yellow footlights, and all kinds of overhead lights, and spotlights hanging on rods way up high.

Ari got busy right away showing everybody where they should stand, where they should come in, and where they should go out.

Shari and I were busy measuring the stage and figuring out where our scenery would go.

“Hey,” someone yelled. “Hey, what’s going on here! What are you girls doing on the stage?”

We turned around. A thin elderly man stood there straight as a flagpole. He had a lot of curly white hair growing over his ears, and a little beard on his chin, that twitched when he became excited. It was twitching now.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” he said. “Who do you think you are?”

“We’re making the Chanukah play,” Shari said bravely. “We’re allowed to be here. Mr. Berman let us in. This is Ari. He’s the director. And this is my friend, Yehudis. She’s Ari’s cousin. But who are you? What’s your name?”

“Eh, my game? What? What’s my game? I’m not playing any game!”

“No, no,” Shari said. “I asked what’s your NAME.”

“My name? Oh. My name is Avigdor, Mr. Avigdor. What’s your business here?”

This time Ari answered. “We’re here to put on a play for Chanukah, Mr. Avigdor. It’s Chanukah next week. We won’t be too long.”

“Wrong? No. There’s nothing wrong, just don’t break anything,” Mr. Avigdor said with excitement. “It’s an excellent theater. It’s just a shame it isn’t put to more use.”

“Yes,” we agreed. “It looks like a wonderful theater. We only wanted to see how it looks before we finished making our scenery and props.”

“Stop? What? There’s no need to stop!” Mr. Avigdor shouted. “Do you want to rehearse? Do you all have parts?”

“Yes,” Chaim piped up. “We have parts. We have costumes. Now we have a theater. The only thing we don’t have is the Greeks.”

“Creaks? You say it creaks! I don’t think so. No one ever said the stage creaks!” Mr. Avigdor answered heatedly.

“No, no, you don’t understand, Mr. Avigdor,” Benny tried to explain, shouting as loudly as he could. “We need someone to take a part in our play!”

“Oh!” Mr. Avigdor exclaimed. “There’s a part you want me to play! Why didn’t you say? I used to love theatricals. That’s why I take care of the stage. We still have some costumes put away in the back. I have the key. I’m sure I could find a costume to fit. Do you want me to be the good guy or the bad guy?”

“Bad,” said Elazar.

“Good,” exclaimed Mr. Avigdor.

“No BAD!” Elazar shouted.

“The real star of the show was Mr. Avigdor, rasping out his evil decrees, like the worst villain....”

Mr. Avigdor beamed. “Believe me, when I used to do theatricals, if I wasn’t being the good guy, I was playing the bad guy. And I was good. Now let me see the script. You want me to be the Greeks. Greek I will be! Ha Ha, my little child. Jerusalem will be ours, and then what will be with your religion? Ha Ha.”

We couldn’t believe how he memorized his whole part in only five minutes. Then he scurried off to the side, and came back in a few minutes with his “costume” - a long black cloak, a tall black hat, and a long black moustache that curled up at the ends.

“Do I look like a bad guy?” he cackled. “Don’t let me catch you learning Torah!! Ha Ha Ha!”

Finally the big day came. Shari and I set up all the scenery. Benny was a thrilling Yehuda Maccabee. Dovie found one little jar of pure olive oil hidden under a chair, untouched by Greek hands. Elazar was terrific, fighting his way through hundreds of Greek soldiers to kill the elephant. And little Sholom outdid himself spinning wildly like a dreidel without once losing his balance.

But the real star of the show was Mr. Avigdor, rasping out his evil decrees, like the worst villain you ever imagined.

“Just like himself,” said someone in the audience, “always bossing everyone around.”

“You’re just jealous, because you’d like to be up there with those darling children,” scolded a grandmother.

“I remember when I used to be in Chanukah plays,” sighed someone else.

At the end, everyone clapped. We all came out and bowed. Sholom did one last extra-special spin. “Bravo!” shouted an elderly voice.

Then, Mr. Berman announced that the moment everyone was waiting for had arrived. He invited us all to put on our scarves, hats and overcoats, and come to the front of the building for the lighting of the Menorah. Shari and I gave out a candle to everybody. Then father and Benny went round with a torch and lit everyone’s candle. It was beautiful. Then Ari and Mr. Avigdor took the torch and climbed into a cherry-picker that my father had arranged beforehand. We held our breath as it hoisted them up to the top of the giant Menorah.

Mr. Avigdor took a microphone and said the blessings. Everyone answered ‘Amen,’ as he and Ari lit the Chanukah lights. Ari took the microphone and led everyone in singing the Chanukah songs, “HaNeiros Hallolu,” and “Maoz Tzur Yeshuasi - Rock of Ages.” There wasn’t a dry eye around.

As the cherry-picker lowered them gently to earth, all of us gathered round excitedly. We had done it! We had made the Chanukah play. Lots of children were there who had come to see their grandparents and great grandparents. Everyone wanted to know about our Tzivos Hashem Club.

Mr. Avigdor looked around at all the smiling faces of his old friends, and the beaming smiles of all his new admirers. “Was I good as the wicked Greeks?” he asked. “Was I really good?!”