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The Gospel According to Chaim

A rare contemporary play written in Yiddish about timely subject matter.

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Josh Horowitz and Melissa Weisz in a scene from the New Yiddish Rep production of Mikhl Yashinsky’s “The Gospel According to Chaim” at Theater for the New City (Photo credit: QiXin Zhang)

[avatar user=”Joel Benjamin” size=”96″ align=”left”] Joel Benjamin, Critic[/avatar]

There are few issues that raise the ire of the religious as a member changing religions.  Apostate is the mildest term used for such a person.

Mikhl Yashinsky’s The Gospel According to Chaim at Theater for the New City tells of such a person, the eponymous Chaim Einspruch, played with beatific authority by the author, himself.  This is a true story and a rarity: a contemporary play written in Yiddish. (Supertitle translation is provided.)

Chaim Einspruch wrote the first Yiddish translation of the New Testament, a shanda of the highest order since this acknowledges the existence of Jesus as “the Savior.”

Gospel begins innocently enough in the early years of World War II, in Baltimore, Maryland.  Chaim, frustrated by the refusal of Yiddish publishers to print his book, decides to have his Gospel in Yiddish self-published.  He brings his manuscript to the printing shop of Gabe (s solid and gruff Josh Horowitz – alternating with Sruli Rosenberg), an immigrant, like Chaim.

Josh Horowitz and Mikhl Yashinsky in a scene from the New Yiddish Rep production of Yashinsky’s “The Gospel According to Chaim” at Theater for the New City (Photo credit: QiXin Zhang)

They banter about their pasts.  Gabe—Gavril in Yiddish—arrived as a youth while Chaim—Henry in English—was educated and has a Ph.D.  Chaim even jokes that the O’Henry candy bar was named after him and they manage to devise a new blessing for the eating of chocolate.

As Chaim slowly reveals why he came to Gabe’s printing shop, Sadie (Melissa Weisz, tough, yet feminine) brusquely enters.  She is an anti-Fascist activist.  Her childhood pal, Gabe, is her printer of choice for her fliers and posters.

After gently arguing about which of the three is the better Jew, Sadie angrily goes into a diatribe about how the American press is ignoring what is happening to the Jews in Poland.  Chaim admires her passion, but raises her ire even higher by wondering why so many Jews advertise their religion wearing yarmulkas and acting different than others.

Melissa Weisz and Mikhl Yashinsky in a scene from the New Yiddish Rep production of Yashinsky’s “The Gospel According to Chaim” at Theater for the New City (Photo credit: QiXin Zhang)

The play becomes a continual contest of wills between Sadie’s remonstrations against Chaim’s passive, philosophical view of the world inspired by his new-found belief in Jesus and Gabe’s spiritual dilemma about whether or not he should print this Yiddish New Testament.

Their passions spread out into the audience as each character delivers a spiel: Sadie tries to deliver her message of the Holocaust to blasé Baltimoreans while also warning them to avoid Chaim Einspruch, the apostate; Gabe strives to advertize his struggling business; and Chaim calmly proselytizes for his new Savior.

Sadie suggests that Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier and that Mary was a whore which makes Chaim apoplectic as does the egging of Gabe’s store by anti-Semites.  Chaim, nevertheless, proves dauntless and ends ever faithful to his new Lord.

Mikhl Yashinsky and Josh Horowitz in a scene from the New Yiddish Rep production of Yashinsky’s “The Gospel According to Chaim” at Theater for the New City (Photo credit: QiXin Zhang)

What sustains The Gospel According to Chaim is Yashinsky’s ability to create three-dimensional characters while also having them stand for something—symbols that are full of real life.  The three actors do justice to their characters.

The main problem with Gospel is the reason for Chaim’s newborn gentile spiritual changes is never revealed.  He not only translates the New Testament into Yiddish, but also Christmas carols.  But, why?

Mengyi Liu’s barebone, but evocative set, Alex Bartenieff’s moody lighting, Gail Cooper-Hecht’s character and period-perfect costumes and QiXin Zhang’s informative projections give life and emotion to Yashinsky’s play.

Dmitri Barcomi has directed giving each character their sway.

The Gospel According to Chaim (through January 7, 2024)

New Yiddish Rep

Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.newyiddishrep.org

Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission

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About Joel Benjamin (561 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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