See The Light

This article was first published in The Times of Israel.

TORONTO — It begins as a church revival meeting. On stage, there is a pulpit, an icon hung overhead, and a gospel choir dressed in flowing robes. The audience is asked to participate in the service by reading and singing along with prayers and eating communion-type bread that is passed around. As would be expected, there is also a charismatic preacher presiding over the revival.

But things are not quite as they seem. As soon as the preacher announces his name is Matthew Goldberg, all certainty about what we are watching disappears. Just as we come to realize there is a Jew leading a Christian worship session, we also learn that “The Book of Judith,” an innovative theater piece ostensibly about accommodating and including the disabled, is ultimately about something else.

Michael Rubenfeld as Matthew Goldberg in The Book of Judith (photo by Jeremy Mimnaugh)

Ecstatic about his deep admiration for Judith Snow, a 62-year-old Canadian artist and scholar living with quadriplegia since infancy and an advocate for the disabled, Goldberg unilaterally appoints himself her apostle and charges himself with zealously spreading a gospel of inclusion centered on her. Goldberg, with the help of the Greek chorus-like choir comprised of local community members (many of them mentally or physically disabled), tells the story of how he improbably met Snow when she let it be known that she was looking for a lover. Although Goldberg — initially shocked and later intrigued — ultimately did not offer himself to Snow in that way, he did take the opportunity to contact and befriend her. The preacher recounts the ups and downs of his relationship with Snow, and he claims that it was by her grace that he saw the light of inclusion.

The audience follows along with Goldberg’s fervent testimony, referring to quotations from Snow presented as a kind of liturgy in a hymnal titled, “The Thirteen Chapters of the Book of Judith.” He makes a Jewish blessing before the bread is passed out and eaten. All the while, Goldberg gets more and more worked up. He whips himself into a frenzy, and he hopes to do the same for the crowd with his impassioned sermon punctuated by soulful singing and energetic dancing.

“Why does Judith have to live in the name of change?” he asks. “Why does Judith Snow have to advocate for her own existence? You aren’t doing enough to see Judith Snow!” he berates the audience. “Judith Snow is you, Judith Snow is all of us. We all deserved to be loved. That’s what Judith taught me. She loved me and asked me to love her.”

But things start to backfire for Goldberg when he admits to the audience that Snow, who is in actuality a real person, is unwilling to endorse his plans for spreading the word.

Click here to read more.

© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


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