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A Prayer for New York


ISSUE:  Fall 2005

(A lawyer with a letter, standing, and his mother sitting nearby.)

 

ELMER (reading from a letter:)

From the Law Offices of
BERNSTEIN, RICE, GANTRY AND FUDD
1500 Madison Avenue 25th Floor
New York, NY 10122

Elmer K. Lefkowitz, Attorney at Law
REPRESENTING OUR CLIENT: THE CITY OF NEW YORK

To: God
AKA Allah, Vishnu, Jehovah, Jah, Dao, Buddha, the Lord, Our Father Who Art in Heaven, Avenu Malkenu, Blessed Mother Gaia, Ops, The Big Sky, Mystic Sea Turtle, Zeus, Jupiter, Unmoved Mover, First Principle, Alpha, Omega, etc., etc., etc., and all other aliases, licenses, franchises, appurtenances, legal instruments, devices, monikers, and accouterments pertaining thereunto in perpetuity throughout the Universe.

SUBJECT: A PRAYER FOR THE CITY FROM THE PEOPLE OF NEW YORK DELIVERED BY MESSENGER
RECEIPT REQUESTED
November 1, 2004
Dear Sir or Madam:

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
This is how you talk to God? This is how you pray?

ELMER
The 8,008,278 citizens of the great city of New York address a prayer to You. In order to do so, given the miraculous complexity of our city’s demographics, and given as well the overwhelmingly secular if not to say, at times, and we make no apology for this, the profane character of our city—

MRS. LEFKOWITZ (to the audience:)
Profane! Are you hearing this? And anyway you think he believes in God? He doesn’t believe in God. Ganz is what he believes in. (To God:) No fooling around, I raised him religious. Hebrew lessons! Jewish summer camp! Bupkes! Bupkes is what he believes in.

ELMER
I believe in the law.

MRS. LEFKOWITZ (to the audience:)
True. He does.

ELMER
And I believe in doing my job.

MRS. LEFKOWITZ (proudly, to the audience:)
He’s a very smart lawyer. Very smart! Medals he’s gotten! From the ACLU!

ELMER (to the audience:)
This remarkably well-preserved 87-year-old Upper West Sider is my mother.

MRS. LEFKOWITZ (To Elmer:)
Do your job, who’s stopping you? Ignore me. Pretend I’m dead.

ELMER
Thank you.

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
After, you want to get sushi?

ELMER (back to the letter:)
Dear Sir or Madam:

MRS. LEFKOWITZ (whispering, to Elmer:)
God!

ELMER
Yes. OK. GOD. Shah. Please.
Dear . . . Divine Being:
In order to pray to You, given our hard-earned concrete-hardened callouses, given our intelligent irascibility if not to say pugnacity if not to say at times and we make no apology for it our exuberant open-handed evenly distributed democratically expansive bellicosity, given the thrust of our chins and the arrogance of our sidewalk strut and the splintering noise of our traffic and the sandpaper inflections of our polyglot dialects, given that we have never at any point in our history agreed to speak with an entirely singular voice on any subject, never agreed on anything, given the joy we derive from our own cacophony, given the central importance we place in our estimation of ourselves on our steadfast refusal of the establishment of a center, given that we have always chosen toughness, the secular, the diverse, and the dissonant over false pieties, false harmonies, pablum, and palliatives, given the unapologetic pride we take in our ability to survive the punishing difficulty of this impossible uninhabitable place we choose voluntarily to inhabit, AND YET wishing in this terrifying time of perturbation and vexation of civic body and individual soul to pray to You, the people of the City of New York have retained legal counsel.

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
They should get a rabbi.

ELMER
And where does that leave everyone else, Ma? For you a rabbi is fine, but how about everybody else?

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
So a rabbi and a minister.

ELMER
And the Sikhs? Or, or the Catholics?

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
OK, a rabbi and a minister and a priest and, and . . . someone in a turban.

ELMER
And the atheists?

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
Feh! Pooh! Atheists got no business talking to God.

ELMER
In America, at least in New York, atheists may talk to God. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The separation of church and state. I refer you to the Supreme Court’s 1962 decision in Engel v. Vitale.

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
And I refer you, Mr. Knowitall Q. Showoff, to Justice Potter Stewart’s dissent in Engel v. Vitale, in which he cites Zorach v. Clauson (1952): “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”

ELMER
In the temple of American democracy, what’s sacred is the secular. There’s altogether too much talk these days about God. We are a democratic people whose secular institutions presuppose reticence and respect.

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
You notice Mr. Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter of blessed memory, the Jewish Supreme Court justice, Frankfurter sat it out in Engel v. Vitale. He didn’t participate, he understood, he saw trouble ahead! Let the goyim work it out. It’s their country.

ELMER
Ma! It is not their country! How can you say that! It’s everyone’s country!

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
Sure, and a gefilte fish is really creamed chipped beef on a china plate!
Dear God: My son Elmer wishes to speak with you!

ELMER
Ma, please let me read from the—

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
But he has gone to law school, which I paid for—

ELMER
I was on scholarship!

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
Believe me, Elmer, one way or another, I paid for it! In law school he forgets how to speak, with the neshomah, with the Jewish soul, to You, King of the Universe—

ELMER
And you haven’t been to shul in—

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
Yom Kippur Services! Every year, every year!

ELMER
For like, an hour maybe—

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
I go for Yizkor! Every year, every year I go to Yizkor! To LAMENT! Don’t interrupt! In order to speak to You he has to pretend he was retained by the People, because he wants to believe in the People, in their Goodness. I think I raised him too soft, but I like that he has a soft heart, so let me, his mother, pray for him:

SAVE US, GOD! SAVE OUR CITY! WE’RE SCARED, GOD! WE’RE SCARED TO DEATH! WHO WOULDN’T BE!? YOU GOD YOURSELF MUST BE SCARED TO DEATH! THE CRAZIES! THE CRAZIES HAVE TAKEN OVER! THEY’RE EVERYWHERE! DID YOU READ THE TIMES THIS MORNING!!!???? SUCH MADNESS! SUCH WICKEDNESS! VEY IZ MIR! SAVE US, GOD, WE’RE ASKING YOU TO SAVE NEW YORK! SAVE AT LEAST THE UPPER WEST SIDE, SAVE ME, SAVE ELMER, SAVE THAT NICE BLACK LADY MARTINIQUE FROM THE VISITING NURSES SERVICE OF NEW YORK, WHO COMES WHEN ELMER IS TOO BUSY AND I AM HAVING ONE OF MY BAD DAYS, WHICH COME A LOT MORE OFTEN THAN THEY USED TO, SAVE HER, SAVE US ALL, EVEN THE PEOPLE ON STATEN ISLAND, WHERE I HAVE NEVER SET FOOT, SAVE THEM, SAVE US, SAVE NEW YORK! THE REST OF THE WORLD I DON’T KNOW ABOUT, BUT NEW YORK YOU MADE IN YOUR OWN IMAGE, SO SAVE OUR TOWN, SAVE OUR BEAUTIFUL TOWN. (Rhythmically beating her left breast with her right hand and KEENING, bloodcurdling keening:) AIIIII! AIIIIIIII! VEY IZ MIR! OY VEY IZ MIR! AIIIIIII!

(Mrs. Lefkowitz wears herself out.)

ELMER
Ma? You OK?

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
I’m OK.

ELMER (holding up his letter:)
So then I’m just going to—

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
I’m OK I said.

ELMER
Dear Sir or Madam:

Recognizing a general dismal tilt in public discourse and public office towards American theocracy, which God forbid a million times, the people of the City of New York, whose stony multicultural urban soul is the soul of American pluralist democracy, have retained counsel, in order to ask You: Hear our prayer.

We offer it up from the depths of our city, up from the bedrock our prayer emerges, up through the strata of ice-striated granite and glittering schist, up from the darkness, our bedrock and riverbeds, coursing through waterpipes, steam ducts, and subway tunnels, down cables and third rails, with every beat of our grid-arrayed arteries, the people of New York are asking You, Sir or Madam, for safety and peace. We pray for Peace. For Justice and Understanding.

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
 Omayn.

ELMER
We ask for a unity that comes from understanding.

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
 Omayn.

ELMER
We pray for the capacity to be kind to one another, we pray for love, for the faith that makes us able to sacrifice for one another. We ask to be free of the evil of poverty.

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
Double omayn.

ELMER
We ask for the courage to pursue understanding. We pray for the patience to pursue understanding. We people of the very vulnerable City of New York, emblem of life’s durability and fragility, beset by the world’s troubles—

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
Terribly beset!

ELMER
We pray for the patience to pursue understanding, we pray for the faith that understanding shall save us. For the courage to pursue salvation not through violence but through understanding—

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
 Omayn.

ELMER
For the courage to pursue our salvation through justice, our salvation through the salvation of all people; for leaders who are worthy to lead us, for the strength we need to make our leaders worthy to lead us—

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
Omayn omayn omayn!

ELMER
For the revival of our faith in ourselves, not faith in ourselves as shoppers or bullies or tourists or tyrants but as people who make history, whose job it is to make and remake our country and our world, Your world, in the image of Justice, with understanding, with humility, and with courage, in Your Image, Sir or Madam, whether or not You are there, for Salvation and for Succor, for Justice and for Peace, we pray! And in the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, if You cannot answer our prayer, make us at least worthy of having our prayer answered!

MRS. LEFKOWITZ
Omayn, but go on and answer it, what would it hurt?

ELMER
 Omayn.

Sincerely,
Elmer K. Lefkowitz, Attorney at Law
Representing the People of the City of New York
Of the Durable and Fragile City of New York
of the United States of America
in these Difficult Days.

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