1: Play excerpt, Sholem Asch’s “The God of Vengeance," 1907, Yiddish with English translation.
This excerpt is from the final scene of The God of Vengeance, in which the young Rifkele’s father, Yekel, and mother, Sarah, confront the girl about her relationship with Manke, one of the sex-workers employed by the parents. Yekel owns the brothel underneath the family's home, and Sarah formerly worked as a sex-worker herself, before her marriage to Yekel.
Suggested Activity: First, have students read the plot overview from “Ten Things You Need to Know about God of Vengeance” by David Mazower. Alternately, for teachers with more time to devote to this topic, they may read the entire play, freely available in English translation on Google Books and in the original Yiddish here, digitized by the Yiddish Book Center.
Then have students read the scene silently and write down their initial impressions of the characters.
Next, in small groups, have students mark each character’s major emotional shifts over the course of the scene.
Then, have groups work to stage the scene, paying close attention to and foregrounding the emotions of one character (assign each group a different character to focus on). Discuss: how does staging this scene alter your perception of the characters and the story? What lines bear the potential for the strongest emotional outlets for the characters? How did focusing on certain characters alter the scene?
Going further, ask students to discuss the sexual politics of the scene. How would they characterize the characters' attitudes to sex—in particular, same-sex relations, conventional sexual relations between a married man and woman, and sex-work? What is said and what is left unsaid? How does the way sexual issues are discussed or weaponized in the scene seem similar or different to how these matters are engaged with in the students' own environment today?
Source: Sholem Asch, Got fun nekome: a drame in dray akten (God of Vengeance: A Drama in Three Acts) (Warsaw: Ferlag gezelshaft "Tsentral" ["Central" Society Publishing House], 1913), 99-101, digitized by the Yiddish Book Center as part of its Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library, <www.yiddishbookcenter.org/collections/yiddish-books/spb-nybc203692/asch-sholem-der-got-fun-nekome-a-drame-in-dray-akten>, accessed January 23, 2015.
Sholem Asch, The God of Vengeance, trans. Isaac Goldberg (Boston: The Stratford Co., 1918), 93-95.