Kaddish: Text and Narration by Samuel Pisar  back to Texts & Notes

This Speaker Text may be performed only by Samuel Pisar. Speaker Text © Samuel Pisar. Any other use in conjunction with Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 3, Kaddish is prohibited without the permission of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc. 


(Mar.21.13)
"KADDISH - A DIALOGUE WITH GOD"
LIBRETTO WRITTEN AND NARRATED BY SAMUEL PISAR
FOR LEONARD BERNSTEIN'S SYMPHONY NO. 3
(WITH ORCHESTRA, MIXED CHORUS, BOYS CHOIR, SOPRANO AND SPEAKER)


1. INVOCATION

SPEAKER:

ETERNAL GOD, OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN:

THIS IS MY PERSONAL KADDISH -- AN ODE TO LIFE
INSPIRED BY THE ANCIENT PRAYER FOR THE DEAD,
WRITTEN FOR THE MONUMENTAL SYMPHONY
OF LEONARD BERNSTEIN
AND DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF JOHN F. KENNEDY,
BOTH MY BELOVED MENTORS AND KINDRED SOULS.

IN OUR AGE OF ANXIETY AND TURBULENCE
THE MAESTRO WANTED MY LIVING TESTIMONY,
DRAWN FROM THE LOWEST DEPTHS OF HUMAN SUFFERING,
AND THE MIRACLE OF MY SURVIVAL,
TO RESONATE IN YOUR KINGDOM WITH HIS CELESTIAL MUSIC. //


>>MINE IS A LAYMAN'S KADDISH, LORD,

ADDRESSED TO YOU AND YOUR TORMENTED CHILDREN:
JEWS, CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS AND ALL OTHERS
-- BELIEVERS AND NON-BELIEVERS --
YEARNING FOR PEACE, FREEDOM AND JUSTICE
IN OUR GENOCIDAL, FRATRICIDAL AND SUICIDAL WORLD. //


>>I UTTER THIS LAMENT WITH GRIEF AND ANGER
WELLING UP FROM MY OWN TRAUMATIC PAST,
AND THE DELUGE OF HATRED, VIOLENCE AND FEAR
THAT IS ENGULFING US TODAY. //

EVERYWHERE, SWORN ENEMIES
MIRED IN BIGOTRY AND TERROR
ARE AGAIN AT EACH OTHERS THROATS,
EVEN IN YOUR HOLY LAND
WHERE THEY WORSHIP THE SAME GOD,
AND IMPLORE YOU TO TURN THEIR SWORDS
INTO PLOUGH-SHEARS.

I WEEP FOR THEM ALL, THE DEAD AND THE LIVING. //
>>MY FIRST TEARS ARE FOR MY FAMILY AND MY PEOPLE,
PERPETUAL VICTIMS OF RELIGIOUS AND RACIAL PERSECUTION
THAT REACHED ITS HISTORIC CLIMAX IN MY CHILDHOOD,
DESTROYING EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING AROUND ME,
WHILE YOU SUPREME RULER OF THE UNIVERSE,
STOOD IDLY BY. //

>>EQUALLY INDIFFERENT WERE YOU WHEN I AGONIZED
IN AUSCHWITZ, MAIDANEK AND DACHAU,
WHERE EICHMANN AND MENGELE'S GRUESOME REALITY
ECLIPSED EVEN DANTE'S VISION OF INFERNO. //

>>TO THIS DAY I AM HAUNTED BY GUILT
FOR HAVING SURVIVED,
WHEN SO MANY OF MINE WERE MURDERED.
NOW I MUST ATONE FOR THE RITUAL
KADDISH I COULD NEVER RECITE.
BECAUSE I HAD NO DATES OF THEIR DEMISE,
NO CLOSURE, NO BURIALS,
NO TOMBS FOR A STONE, A FLOWER, A PRAYER --
A PRAYER FOR THEIR REDEMPTION. /

IT'KADAL V'IT'KADASH SH'ME RABA. //

KADDISH 1

SPEAKER:

>>MAGNIFIED... //

>>AND SANCTIFIED... //

>>BE HIS GREAT NAME. //

>>AMEN! //



CHORUS: FULL ARAMAIC KADDISH


SPEAKER:

>>AMEN! AMEN!

MAY ABUNDANT PEACE DESCEND ON US ALL.
AMEN! //

CHORUS: HUMMING


>>THE LOVED ONES I MOURN ARE MANY:

MY HEROIC FATHER,
TORTURED, EXECUTED BY FIRING SQUAD,
AND TOSSED INTO A MASS GRAVE.

MY BEAUTIFUL MOTHER,
DEPORTED IN A CATTLE-TRAIN TO DIE
WITH MY ANGELIC LITTLE SISTER,
WHO HAD HARDLY LIVED.

MY SCHOOLMATES, AND ONE AND A HALF
MILLION OTHER CHILDREN. /

WHY THEM, AND WHY NOT ME, O LORD?
WHAT CRIMES, WHAT SINS
COULD THEY HAVE COMMITTED
AT SO TENDER AN AGE? //


>>ALL WIPED OUT, IN ONE FELL SWOOP. //


>>ACCORDING TO THE UNFATHOMABLE LOGIC
THAT REIGNS IN YOUR REALM. //


CHORUS: KADDISH



II. DIN TORAH


SPEAKER :

>>LORD, TODAY I REACH OUT TO YOU
WITH THE SAME VISCERAL VOICE
I ONCE RAISED AGAINST YOU BLASPHEMOUSLY,
AS A SKELETAL KID WITH SHAVED HEAD AND SUNKEN EYES,
TREMBLING AT THE THRESHOLD
OF A BIRKENAU GAS CHAMBER. /

TREMBLING AND DEMANDING TO KNOW:
WHY DO YOU ABANDON US?
HOW CAN YOU ALLOW SUCH CARNAGE?
DO YOU EVEN CARE? /


AT THAT CURSED PLACE AND TIME,
WHERE I SAW THE BARGE OF CIVILIZATION GO UNDER,
WHEN I ENDURED ENDLESS HORRORS AND HUMILIATIONS,
YOU FAILED ME, FATHER.

AND IN MY ABYSMAL DESPAIR, I LASHED OUT AT YOU,
LIKE MOSES SMITING THE ROCK IN THE SINAI DESERT,
LIKE JOB PROTESTING HIS UNDESERVED PUNISHMENT. /

HALLUCINATING FROM HUNGER, ANGUISH AND PAIN,
WHILE THE CREMATORIA SPEWED FIRE AND SMOKE,
I GAVE UP PRAYING.

HOW COULD I GO ON MURMURING THAT GOD IS GREAT,
AND THE OTHER PIOUS VERSES OF ADORATION
I HAD ABSORBED WITH MY MOTHER'S MILK,
LIKE ALL THE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM
SINCE ISAAC AND ISHMAHEL,
SINCE MARY AND JESUS?

NO. I COULD NOT. I WOULD NOT.
NOT THERE. NOT IN AUSCHWITZ ! /

CAN YOU PARDON MY SINS, LORD?
CAN I PARDON YOURS? /

I CAN FORGIVE, BUT I CANNOT FORGET.
THE WOUNDS OF MY FLESH AND MY SOUL
MAY HAVE HEALED LONG AGO.
BUT WOUNDS OF THE HEART
THAT BLEED FOR LOVED ONES, NEVER HEAL. /


NOW ONE OF THE LAST LIVING WITNESSES
OF THE GREATEST CATASTROPHE
EVER PERPETRATED BY MAN AGAINST MAN,
MY LIFE IS NO LONGER MY OWN.
THEY ALSO LIVE WITHIN ME,
AND MY MEMORY IS THE ONLY TOMB THEY HAVE.

I MUST TRANSMIT THEIR AWESOME LEGACY
TO YOUNGER GENERATIONS
-- OF EVERY RACE, COLOR AND CREED --
LEST NEW CATASTROPHES DESTROY THEIR WORLD,
AS THEY ONCE DESTROYED MINE.

FOR THE UNIMAGINABLE IS AGAIN POSSIBLE.
WHEN RAMPANT CRISES, UPHEAVALS, INSECURITY,
AND FREE-FLOATING FEAR DROWN REASON,
POPULIST FOLLY EMPOWERS DIABOLIC "SAVIORS". /

THIS IS HOW DEMOCRACIES PERISH,
AND THE HUNT FOR SCAPEGOATS BEGINS. //


>>LORD, DO YOU RECALL THE BLOOD-CURDLING CRIES
OF THE INNOCENT MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN
THAT SHOOK YOUR HEAVENS DAY AFTER DAY,
AS THE GAS CHOKED THEM TO DEATH?

I HEARD THEM WITH MY OWN EARS.
THEY DIED WITH THEIR LAST PRAYER,
AND YOUR HALLOWED NAME ON THE LIPS:
"SHEMA ISRAEL, ADONAI ELOHEINU, ADONAI EHAD!"
(HEAR O, ISRAEL, THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE!). //

>>AFTER THE STEEL DOORS WERE SHUT
THEY HAD ONLY THREE MINUTES TO LIVE.
YET THEY FOUND ENOUGH STRENGTH
TO DIG THEIR FINGERNAILS INTO THE WALLS
AND SCRATCH IN THE WORDS: "NEVER FORGET!" //


>>THOSE CRIES, THOSE WORDS IMPOSED ON US ALL
SACRED OBLIGATIONS TO REMEMBER THEIR FATE
AND BE EVER VIGILANT ABOUT OURS. /

THE AUSCHWITZ NUMBER ENGRAVED ON MY ARM
REMINDS ME OF IT EVERY DAY,
AND TODAY, LORD, I REMIND YOU. //

CHORUS: CADENZA

SPEAKER:

>>HOW CAN ONE EVEN BE SURE
THAT THE SHOAH WAS TOTALLY MAN-MADE?
WE KNOW FROM THE BOOK OF GENESIS
HOW WRATHFUL AND VENGEFUL A GOD YOU CAN BE
WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR NOTORIOUS TEMPER. /

IS IT ANGER OR INDIFFERENCE
THAT EXPLAINS YOUR PERPLEXINGLY SILENCE
WHILE WE WERE BEING DEFAMED,
DEHUMANIZED AND DECIMATED? /

I DREAD THE THOUGHT, LORD,
BUT THIS SILENCE MAY HAVE CONVINCED
MANY A DEMON, AND A LARGELY UNCARING WORLD,
THAT THE HOLOCAUST, AND MORE RECENT GENOCIDES,
AGAINST VULNERABLE PEOPLES,
WERE AND ARE ACCEPTABLE - EVEN TO THIS DAY. //

KADDISH 2

SPEAKER:

>>I CAN STILL HEAR MY GRANDMOTHER'S SWEET VOICE,
SINGING ME LULLABIES ABOUT HOW GOOD,
HOW LOVING, HOW MERCIFUL A GOD YOU ARE.
HOW YOU WOULD ALWAYS BE THERE
TO PROTECT AND COMFORT ME IN NEED. /


I HAVE OFTEN TRIED TO SUMMON HER VOICE
WHEN I NEEDED YOUR PROTECTION AND COMFORT. /
THAT SWEET VOICE, SO CRUELLY SILENCED,
IN THE OVENS OF TREBLINKA. //


SOPRANO SOLO AND BOYS' CHOIR: KADDISH:

>>THE MEMORY OF MY GRANDMOTHER'S LULLABIES
HAS ALWAYS SOOTHED ME TO SLEEP,
EVEN WHEN I BECAME AN ADULT.
BUT IN MY NIGHTMARES, ALL I COULD SEE
WERE HER EYES, RAISED IN PRAYER TO YOU,
AS THE KILLERS TOOK HER AWAY. /

YT'KADAL V'ITKADASH SH'ME RABA! //

SCHERZO

SPEAKER :

>>O LORD, HOW FULL OF SORROW
IS THE HISTORY OF YOUR "CHOSEN PEOPLE." /
LOOK AT THE CALAMITIES THAT HAVE COME DOWN
UPON US SINCE TIME IMMEMORIAL: //

>> THE SLAVERY IN EGYPT,
THE BABYLONIAN EXILE,
THE ROMAN CONQUEST,
THE MARAUDING CRUSADES,
THE SPANISH INQUISITION,
THE TSARIST POGROMS,
THE NAZI GENOCIDE,
AND NOW THE SPECTER OF JIHAD.

THE LIST IS ENDLESS, LORD.
AND NEW, INCENDIARY DEMAGOGUES,
CALLING THE SHOAH A "MYTH",
ARE AGAIN THREATENING TO WIPE US OUT. /

IN THEIR EYES WE ARE ALWAYS GUILTY. /
GUILTY, WHEN WE RECOGNIZED YOU
AS THE ETERNAL AND ALMIGHTY GOD,
PROCLAIMED YOUR LOFTY COMMANDMENTS
TO A PAGAN WORLD,
AND ENGENDERED OTHER GREAT MONOTHEISTIC FAITHS.

GUILTY IN THE DIASPORA
WHEN PEACE LOVING AND UNARMED,
WE WERE SLAUGHTERED LIKE LAMBS.


GUILTY IN THE PROMISED LAND WHEN WE TOOK UP ARMS,
SO WE WILL NEVER BE SLAUGHTERED AGAIN. /


TRUE, WE HAVE NO MONOPOLY ON SUFFERING.
TODAY RELIGIONS EXTREMISTS OF VARIOUS STRIPES
KILL AND MAIM INNOCENTS AT RANDOM,
INCLUDING THEIR OWN KIN,
AND EVEN THEMSELVES,
AS IF POSSESED BY A PERVERSE LONGING FOR DEATH.

IN THE SANCTIFIED NAME OF YOU?
OUR COMMON GOD?
WHO ORDERED US TO CHERISH LIFE??? //

>>SOMETHING IS SERIOUSLY AWRY
IN YOUR HEAVENLY KINGDOM,
AS IT IS HERE, IN OUR GLOBAL BABEL. //

>>ALBERT EINSTEIN HAS ASSURED US
THAT YOU DO NOT PLAY DICE WITH THE UNIVERSE.
BUT WHY DO YOU TOY WITH OUR DESTINY? /


ARE OUR SINS SO GREAT THAT WE MUST NOW
BRACE FOR THE "FINAL SOLUTION" OF MANKIND,
WITH PLAGUES OF TOXIC GAS,
NUCLEAR MUSHROOM CLOUDS
AND BALLISTIC MISSILES,
IN THE MURDEROUS HANDS OF CONTEMPORARY
DESPOTS, FANATICS AND LUNATICS? //

>>THE WRITING IS ON THE BIRKENAU WALL, LORD.

REPEAT AFTER ME:
"NEVER FORGET, A-MEN!"
"NEVER AGAIN, A---MEN! //



>>FATHER, IN THE COURSE OF MY TORTUOUS ODYSSEY
YOU HAVE TESTED ME BEYOND THE LIMITS
OF HUMAN ENDURANCE. /

BRUTALLY SEVERED FROM MY FAMILY,
MY NATIVE SOIL, MY SPIRITUAL ROOTS,
I WAS BRAINWASHED BY STALIN, WHO WANTED ME RED,
MUTILATED BY HITLER, WHO WANTED ME DEAD.


IN THE WAKE OF THE NORMANDY LANDINGS,
AS THE U.S. ARMY APPROACHED DACHAU,
I ESCAPED IN A HAIL OF BULLETS
AND WAS LIBERATED BY TANKS WITH WHITE STARS,
YELLING: "GOD BLESS AMERICA!"

REBORN IN THE WARM EMBRACE OF DEMOCRACY,
I WENT ON TO STUDY, WORK AND THRIVE
AT THE HUBS OF WESTERN CULTURE.

YET I HAVE NEVER DESERTED YOUR FOLD.
NOTHING COULD EVER SHAKE
MY ANCESTRAL VOW TO WORSHIP YOU,
IF ONLY IN MY OWN UNORTHODOX WAYS. /

THAT VOW EMBOLDENS ME
TO SAY TO YOU TODAY: //

>>BEHOLD! A GRAVE SPIRITUAL CRISIS
IS INVADING OUR MINDS AND HEARTS.
MANY SUSPECT THAT YOUR HEAVENS ARE EMPTY.
OR WORSE, THAT THEY BREED SUPERSTITION,
DISCORD AND CHAOS ON EARTH.
THAT WITH OR WITHOUT YOU,
WE MUST COUNT ONLY ON OURSELVES. //

>>IT IS HIGH TIME THAT YOU REAFFIRM
OUR EVERLASTING COVENANT. //

>>THAT YOU RENEW YOUR PROMISE
OF A MESSIANIC AGE. //

>>RENEW YOUR PROMISE!!! //


KADDISH 3

CHILDREN'S CHOIR:


>>IT IS SAID THAT IN ANCIENT GREECE,
WHEN GODS WERE MORE HUMAN,
MEN WERE MORE DIVINE. //

>>LORD, CAN'T YOU BE A LITTLE MORE HUMANE,
SO WE CAN BECOME A LITTLE MORE GODLY? //

>>WE STRIVE TO HONOR THE TEACHINGS
OF YOUR VENERABLE PROPHETS.
WE WANT TO, WE CAN BELIEVE IN YOU.
BUT CAN YOU BELIEVE IN US? //

>> GRANT US A TOUCH OF YOUR INFINITE WISDOM,
SO WE CAN CHANT IN UNISON AND HARMONY
ARDENT HYMNS AND JOYOUS PSALMS
TO YOUR GREATER GLORY.//


CHILDRENS' CHOIR:
SPEAKER:

>> MAJESTIC, ENIGMATIC DEITY:
WHOEVER YOU ARE, WHEREVER YOU ARE,
YOUR OMNIPRESENCE IN OUR MIDST IS SO OLD,
SO IMMENSE, SO INGRAINED,
THAT I ASK NOT IF IT IS REALITY OR ILLUSION.

EITHER WAY YOU ARE AN INDISPENSABLE
SOURCE OF CONSOLATION AND HOPE FOR US ALL. /

STILL, MY KADDISH IS NOT A CONFESSION
OF RELIGIOUS REAWAKENING.
LIKE MOST OF MY FELLOW-MEN,
I REMAIN TORN BETWEEN FAITH AND REASON,
REVELATION AND ENLIGHTENMENT,
TRADITION AND MODERNITY.

AFTER MY COMEBACK FROM THE VALLEY OF DEATH,
A RAGE TO LIVE, TO LEARN, TO SERVE,
HELPED ME TRIUMPH OVER A CRUEL FATE. /

YES, PROVIDENCE HAS SMILED UPON ME,
AND TODAY MY CUP TRULY RUNNETH OVER. /

BUT IN THE END, WHAT AM I,
IF NOT A HUMBLE MESSENGER
FROM A WORLD THAT ONCE COLLAPSED,
ALARMED TO SEE THE PRESENT WORLD
HEADING FOR ANOTHER COLLAPSE?

AND WHAT IS MY MESSAGE, IF NOT THAT MAN,
THOUGH CREATED IN YOUR IMAGE,
AND ENDOWED WITH FREEDOM TO CHOOSE
BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL,
REMAINS CAPABLE OF THE WORST, AS OF THE BEST,
OF HATRED, AS OF LOVE,
OF MADNESS AS OF GENIUS.

THAT UNLESS WE HEED THE LESSONS OF THE PAST,
RESPECT THE SANCTITY AND DIGNITY OF HUMAN LIFE,
AND UPHOLD THE CORE VALUES
OF ALL GREAT CREEDS-- SACRED AND SECULAR --
THE FORCES OF DARKNESS WILL RETURN WITH A VENGEANCE
TO DOOM OUR CHANCES FOR A BETTER FUTURE. //


FINALE


SPEAKER:
< DO YOU REMEMBER THAT WONDROUS SPRING DAWN,
WHEN AMERICAN GI's APPEARED,
LIKE ANGELS FROM HEAVEN,
TO RESCUE ME FROM HELL? /

I WAS STILL A BOY,
ALONE IN THE CAULDRONS OF HITLER'S EUROPE,
LIKE THE YOUNG JOSEPH
IN THE DUNGEONS OF PHARAOH'S EGYPT.

BUT I NO LONGER FELT ABANDONED BECAUSE
YOUR GODLINESS SUDDENLY BECAME
SO SUBLIMELY HUMANE.

YOU PERFORMED DAZZLING MIRACLES
ON A BIBLICAL SCALE,
DELIVERING THE OPPRESSED, THE ENSLAVED
AND THE DISPERSED
FROM THE CLUTCHES OF TYRANNY,
TO REBUILD YOUR TEMPLE.

YOU PERFORMED MIRACLES FOR ME, TOO,
REKINDLING FROM THE ASHES
MY WEAK FLICKER OF LIFE INTO A FLAME. /


YOU OPENED MY SHATTERED MIND
TO THE MAGIC OF KNOWLEDGE,
CULTURE AND BEAUTY.
YOU EVEN TAUGHT ME HOW TO LOVE
AND DREAM AGAIN.

ABOVE ALL, FATHER,
YOU BLESSED ME WITH A NEW
AND HAPPY FAMILY.
A WIFE, CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN
WHOSE SPARKLING FACES
AND STERLING CHARACTERS,
RESURRECT EVERY DAY THE MEMORY
OF THOSE I HAVE LOST. /

ONE DAY - MAY THEY - SAY - KADDISH - FOR ME... //

>>THUS, O GREAT AND UNIQUE GOD OF ABRAHAM,
IT IS WITH RESPECT FOR THE BELIEFS OF ALL,
AND WITH MALICE TO NONE,
THAT I BOW TOWARD ETERNAL JERUSALEM;
ITS SYNAGOGUES, CHURCHES AND MOSQUES,
ITS WAILING WALL AND SHRINE OF YAD VASHEM,
TO SING FOR YOU THIS FERVENT PRAYER OF HOPE
DRAWN FROM RIVERS OF BLOOD.

BOND WITH US AGAIN, LORD,
GUIDE US TOWARD RECONCILIATION,
TOLERANCE AND SOLIDARITY
ON THIS SMALL, DIVIDED, FRAGILE PLANET --
OUR COMMON HOME.

AMEN !
AMEN !
A -- MEN ! ! ! //


SOPRANO SOLO, MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN'S CHOIRS: KADDISH.


SAMUEL PISAR, Author and Narrator

Samuel Pisar was 10 years old when Hitler and Stalin invaded his native Poland. After 2 years of Soviet captivity and 4 years Nazi slavery, in Auschwitz and other death camps, he emerged, at the age 16, as only survivor of his family and his school.

He resumed his education in Australia, and went on to earn doctorates from Harvard and the Sorbonne. In 1961, he was made a U.S citizen by special Act of Congress.

Today, a world-renowned international lawyer practicing in Paris, London and New York, he has served as a member of President Kennedy's task force on foreign economic policy and adviser to the State Department, United Nations agencies and the International Olympic Committee.

Pisar is the founder-president of Yad Vashem France, administrator of the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah, trustee of Washington's Brookings Institution and director of other cultural and humanitarian organizations.

He has lectured extensively throughout the world, testified before Committees of the U.S Senate, the House of Resentatives and other Parliamentary bodies, and addressed the Economic Forum in Davos, the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, the Commission on Human Rights in Paris, the Young Presidents Organization in London and Kyoto and the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm.

Pisar's widely read books, published in 20 languages, include "Of Blood and Hope" and "Coexistence and Commerce" which, in the 1970ies inspired President Nixon's policies toward China, Russia and Eastern Europe.

He is a Knight-Officer of the French Legion of Honor, an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters, an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia, a Commander of Poland's Order of Merit, a receipient of the Elie Wiesel Award, and of other distinctions recognizing his contributions to peace, tolerance and human rights.

In 1989, Leonard Bernstein, a life-long friend of Judith and Samuel Pisar, invited him to write and narrate the international concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, broadcast globally from the Warsaw Grand Opera.

In 1995, at the 50th commemoration of the Allied Victory in Europe, President Bill Clinton related the saga of Pisar's tragic adolescence, dramatic escape from Dachau and miraculous liberation by the U.S. Army, while President Jacques Chirac cited him in his historic speech acknowledging France's responsibility for the Vichy regime's crimes against the Jews.

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