“JONAH, or GOD’S MERCY”
(copyright 2009 David C. Sobelsohn)
CAST OF CHARACTERS
[All these parts, even JONAH, are open to both men & women (although if a woman reads the part of JONAH you might rename her “JOAN” or “GINA”). For the part of GOD, it would be good to have an older person, or at least someone who has an authoritative commanding voice. And for THE VINE, it would be best to have a young person, preferably someone with acting experience (although young is way more important).
People could take multiple characters. For instance the person playing the KING could also play the CAPTAIN. If you have more people interested than you have parts, you could split the role of the KING & have a HERALD announce the decree of the KING. But changing the number of participants might require modification of the dialogue, especially the introductions.
Presenting “JONAH, or GOD’S MERCY” during Yom Kippur services does not require anyone to memorize lines, although of course it would be nice.
Personally, I believe this presentation is a reasonable substitute for chanting the haftarah, & far better than having someone chant just a portion of the haftarah, a common practice in many congregations. I have written an adaptation, not an abridgement: the whole story is here.]
Paper crown for the King
Caps for the Captain and both Sailors (3)
Play money that looks like cash but isn’t
NARRATOR: Good afternoon! I’m [real name]. In this adaptation of “Jonah,” I’m the narrator.
GOD: For the next ten minutes you can call me the All-Seeing, the Almighty, the Omnipresent, or the Eternal. Or you can just call me “God.” Afterwards you can go back to calling me [real name].
JONAH: You all know me--I’m [real name]. I play Jonah, the son of Amitay [pronounced AH-mee-tie].
THE CAPTAIN: You all know me, too--I’m [real name]. (Puts on cap.) I play the captain of Jonah’s boat to Tarshish.
SAILOR ONE: I’m [real name]. (Puts on sailor’s cap.) I play a sailor on Jonah’s boat.
SAILOR TWO: I’m [real name]. (Puts on sailor’s cap.) I play the other sailor on Jonah’s boat.
THE KING: I’m [real name]. (Puts on crown.) I play the King of Nineveh.
THE VINE: My name is [real name]. Near the end of the story, I play the vine. For a day, I shade Jonah from the sun and keep him cool. (Waves fan.)
NARRATOR: We’re about to read a version of the haftarah “Jonah.” So first we’ll chant the blessings before the haftarah. Anyone who’s reading a part in “Jonah” can join in.
[TOGETHER, ALL IN THE CAST WHO WANT TO: chant the blessings before the haftarah in Hebrew or English, whichever the congregation usually uses.]
NARRATOR: Like many Bible stories, this one starts with the word of the Almighty.
THE BOOK OF JONAH
GOD (progressively more stentorian): Yo, Jonah! Get up! Go to Nineveh! Shout it in the streets: I know all about their wickedness. I KNOW. AND I WILL DESTROY THEM.
JONAH (to him/herself): Now what? I don’t want this job. It’s a set-up! Compared to this, anointing Jehu [pronounced “YEH-hoo”] king of Israel was a piece of cake. But Nineveh’s not part of Israel. They don’t even believe in God! (Pause.) They’ll chop my head off! (Pause.)
And what if they do repent? That will just make Israel look bad!
I gotta get away. (Pause.)
There’s a ship. (Calls out.) Hey! Where you sailing?
SAILOR ONE (calls out): Tarshish.
JONAH (to him/herself): Far enough, I guess. (calls to SAILOR ONE): When?
SAILOR ONE (calls): About to leave. Why?
JONAH (calls): Got room? I’ll pay.
SAILOR ONE (calls): Hold on! (Turns to CAPTAIN.) Guy wants to sail with us. Says he’ll pay. (Pause.)
CAPTAIN: OK, let him on. AFTER he pays.
SAILOR ONE (calls to Jonah): Cap’n says come on. But pay first.
(JONAH pays SAILOR ONE, sits down, closes his eyes, nods off.)
GOD (head tilted, to himself, as if hearing a report over an earpiece): A boat to TARSHISH? I told him Nineveh. NOT Tarshish. (Raises both arms, and waves them, just a little.)
NARRATOR: Suddenly, a great wind started to blow, and a huge storm (CAPTAIN and SAILORs start swaying) rocked Jonah’s ship back and forth. The boat seemed about to break into pieces. (While they continue to sway, CAPTAIN and SAILORs look at each other, then at ceiling.) These were not Jews.
SAILOR ONE: Baal, my life is in your hands! Baal, save me! Baal, my life is in your hands! Baal, save me! (Continues repeating sequence in undertone.)
SAILOR TWO (after SAILOR ONE’s second “Baal,” overlapping): Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Hare Rama Hare Rama Hare Hare Hare Hare Rama Rama Rama Rama. (Continues repeating sequence in undertone until partway through SAILOR ONE’s next line.)
CAPTAIN (after SAILOR TWO’s second “Hare Rama,” overlapping, to him/herself): The gods help those who help themselves. (Shouted to the SAILORs) Throw the cargo overboard! (SAILORs pause praying, mime throwing cargo overboard. JONAH continues to sleep. Pause. CAPTAIN continues.) Aaah, that didn’t work. We’d better go back to praying. (SAILORs resume praying aloud, but quieter than before. CAPTAIN shakes JONAH’s shoulder.) Get up! Get up! We’re sinking and you’re sleeping?? Pray to YOUR God. Maybe YOUR God will save us. (JONAH stretches, yawns, stands, immediately sways with the others. SAILORs continue praying quietly. CAPTAIN now prays, louder than the SAILORs.) Amon [pronounced “AH-moen”], hear me. Amon, save us and this ship. Amon, hear me. (CAPTAIN continues in undertone until after SAILOR TWO’s next line. JONAH remains silent. While SAILORs continue praying, they start staring at JONAH until--)
SAILOR ONE (to JONAH): Hey, why aren’t you praying to YOUR God? (SAILOR TWO now stops in mid-chant.)
SAILOR TWO (to SAILOR ONE): Maybe HIS God caused this storm! (CAPTAIN stops praying.)
SAILOR ONE: Who are you?
SAILOR TWO: What’s your job?
SAILOR ONE: Where d’you come from?
CAPTAIN: What’s your country? Who are your people? And (slowly, accusingly) why aren’t you praying??
JONAH: My name is Jonah. I’m a Hebrew. From Israel, where you picked me up. We worship the God of Heaven, who made the sea and the land. And . . . and . . . (sighs) I’m a prophet. God told me to preach in Nineveh. But in Nineveh they’ll string me up! I’m going to Tarshish instead.
SAILOR TWO: What have you done?
SAILOR ONE: We don’t want to drown because of you!
CAPTAIN: What should we do with you? This storm just gets worse!
JONAH: I know, it’s my fault. (Pause.) You could throw me overboard.
CAPTAIN: Row, sailors! Row!
NARRATOR (as CAPTAIN and SAILORs all mime rowing): The ship’s crew struggled to get the ship to shore. But the storm continued. The ship took on more water. (CAPTAIN stops rowing.)
CAPTAIN (to the SAILORs): We have to do what he says. (to GOD) Please, God of Israel, don’t punish us for taking the life of this man. Don’t blame us for shedding innocent blood. (SAILORs stop rowing, breathe heavily.) We’re doing your will, oh God!
NARRATOR: So they threw JONAH overboard. (CAPTAIN and SAILORs mime doing so.) At once the sea got still. (CAPTAIN and SAILORs stop swaying.)
CAPTAIN and SAILORs (in unison): Thank you, oh God of Israel!
(JONAH mimes swimming. CAPTAIN and SAILORs move aside.)
NARRATOR: God then made a large fish to swallow Jonah. (JONAH sits down, looks around, stunned by where he is.)
ENTIRE CAST EXCEPT JONAH (sings from “Porgy & Bess”): He made his home in/Dat fish's abdomen. [optional line]
NARRATOR: From inside the fish, JONAH prayed.
JONAH: In my distress, I called to the Eternal One. You answered me. From Sh’ol I cried. You listened. First, you cast me into the deep. Waves passed over me. Seaweed wrapped around me, and the waters nearly drowned me. But I believe, once again I will see your holy Temple! Oh Redeeming One, you have raised my life from the underworld. Other people cling to vain and empty things. They forsake their loyalty. But I will offer you devotions. And yes, if you let me, (in a resigned tone) I’ll do what I promised. All help comes from you. (a bit slower) You are EVERYWHERE.
GOD: OK, fish, it’s three days and three nights. Get to shore. Cough him up. (CAPTAIN and SAILORs cough. JONAH stands up, shakes as if shaking off water. CAPTAIN and SAILORs may now return to their seats in congregation. KING moves forward. GOD continues.) Yo, JONAH! Get up! Go to Nineveh. Shout out my warning!
JONAH (resigned, to himself): I’m stuck. OK. (Pause. Walks in place. Wipes brow.) Three days across--what a big city! Here goes (proclaims loudly): People of Nineveh! You have offended God. You have forty days to repent or Nineveh gets destroyed!
KING: Eh? What’s he saying?
JONAH: People of Nineveh! You have sinned! The God of Israel will punish you! You have forty days. Repent or be destroyed! (JONAH moves off a bit, and calling somewhat more softly towards the windows, repeats these five lines until indicated. Early in JONAH’s repeat--)
KING: Uh oh, I’ve heard of this God. This one don’t fool around. (Jonah now quiet.) Better change these robes for sackcloth and, yick, sit in ashes. (Pause.) Later. (Pause. Announces.) Order of the King: no eating, no drinking! Not by woman, man, or beast! Not by herd or flock! No one eats or drinks! Everyone put on sackcloth--beasts too. Call out to God! Give up evil, forsake violence! Order of the King: no eating, no drinking! Everyone wears sackcloth! (to himself) Let’s hope that works. Maybe God will repent also, and spare us. Now, where are those ashes?
NARRATOR: GOD saw their repentance. And JONAH saw nothing bad was happening to Nineveh. He got impatient.
JONAH: Nothing’s happening! I tell them their wickedness will get them destroyed. And nothing happens! (to God) Hey, aren’t you the God of justice? When will you wipe out Nineveh? (Pause. Angry.) I knew this would happen. That’s why I took that boat. You’re gracious, it takes forever to get you angry, and then you forgive everyone. You love too much. (Mutters under his breath.) “Gods Who Love Too Much.” (Pause. Loud again.) If you’re not punishing Nineveh, punish me! I’d rather die than see this.
GOD: Are you right to be so angry?
JONAH (to him/herself): I’m going to the east side of town and watch. (Walks to other side of bimah.) Maybe Nineveh repented too late, and God really will destroy them. (JONAH sits and watches. Pause. Wipes brow.) It’s hot out here.
NARRATOR: God grew a vine up over Jonah to shield him from the sun. (VINE stands, with one hand shades Jonah, with the other hand fans Jonah.)
JONAH: What a relief! At least there’s this vine. It’s hot enough in the shade. I couldn’t stand it without this vine.
NARRATOR: Next morning, God sent a worm to attack the vine. The vine withered and died. (VINE crumples. Pause.)
JONAH: That sun is soooo bright! I can’t take it. Even the wind is hot. What happened to that vine? What happened to that vine?? (Pause.) This is impossible. I can’t live like this; I’d rather die. It’s too hot! Where’s that vine???
GOD: Are you right to burn with rage about the vine?
JONAH: I’m burning up anyway! I loved that vine. I needed that vine.
GOD: You loved the vine. But you didn’t grow it, you didn’t water it, you didn’t take care of it. It sprang up overnight and died the next day. Shouldn’t I love even more a great city like Nineveh, with huge herds of cattle and 120,000 human beings, most of whom can’t tell their right hand from their left?
NARRATOR: On page [ ] of your Mahzor. Everyone together.
ALL: Who is a God like you? Forgiving sin, absolving the transgressions of the remnant of your heritage, you who do not cling to anger, but desire only kindness, you who act mercifully once again, subdu¬ing the effects of our transgressions, casting to the ocean waters all our wrongs. You show faithfulness to Jacob, love to Abraham, as you have sworn to Abraham from days of old.
[TOGETHER, ALL IN THE CAST WHO WANT TO: chant the blessings after the haftarah in Hebrew, except at the end--]
NARRATOR: All together, the last blessing. Baruch atah adonay maevee shalom la-ad.