Der vaser-treger

[The Water Carrier]


Act I. Exterior of Reb Yosele’s village inn. Simkhe Plakhte is a water carrier and an orphan. He brags that he was born from a rock, big and strong, and that immediately he became a water carrier. He supplies the entire town with water in exchange for bits of bread, kitchen scraps, and tattered, old clothes. Yosele Parnos, the chief beadle and proprietor of the town hotel, exploits Simkhe more than anyone else. Still, Simkhe carries water for Reb Yosele’s household without complaint because he is in love with Tsipe, Reb Yosele’s beautiful servant. Although Tsipe returns Simkhe’s affections, she realizes he is too poor to get married. Simkhe eventually marries Beyle, an orphan who mothers him and does not mind his poverty.

One day Beyle tells Simkhe she dreamed her deceased mother and father returned to tell her that her husband is destined to become a great rabbi and that in her attic there is a caftan and a shtreimel (fur hat women by Hasidic men) which have been awaiting him for thousands of years. Simkhe accepts this prophetic dream. The Jews of the town initially refuse to accept Simkhe’s claims of rabbinic status. Then the local nobleman’s prize horse strays from him, and he threatens to confiscate Jewish property until his horse is returned to him. Simkhe tells the nobleman to look for his horse in the words. Miraculously, the nobleman finds the horse in the woods, and both he and the villagers recognize him as a great rabbi. Reb Yosele and a petty Lithuanian merchant decide to exploit Simkhe’s alleged powers for economic gain, and appoint themselves his beadles. Tsipe regrets that she did not marry the water carrier when she had the chance. Beyle, on the other hand, snubs the village elites who mistreated her.

Act II. Interior of Reb Yosele’s village inn. Word of the miracle man spreads through the surrounding countryside and men, women, and children trudge for miles to seek his aid. Reb Yosele and the Lithuanian make the unsuspecting pay well for the Rabbi’s assistance, meanwhile pocketing the money for themselves. Whatever solace Simkhe finds in his new position comes chiefly through the delicacies prepared for him by the beadles. But the Rabbi still loves Tsipe and he begs for an opportunity to once again carry some water to Reb Yosele’s household so he can see her again. The beadles refuse this request, since it is in their interest to avoid a scandal. Tsipe, unknown to Simkhe, makes several desperate attempts to see him, but is turned away from the Rabbi’s door by the wily beadles. The situation becomes so unbearable, that Reb Yosele and the Lithuanian decide to grant the Rabbi a divorce from his wife so he may marry Tsipe. Beyle, now ruling with an iron hand, scoffs at the thought of divorce and adds a few threats of her own, making the position of the beadles more untenable than ever. When the pious crowd into the Rabbi’s study for his daily blessings, Tsipe manages to elude the guards and rushes to Simkhe’s outstretched arms. The outraged beadles attempt to remove her, but Simkhe protects her and announces he is ready to run off with his beloved, come what may. The beadles decide that this match may have been made in heaven, Beyle notwithstanding. The nobleman, steadfast in the belief in Simkhe’s supernatural powers, thinks he can drive out the ghosts who haunt his castle, and for this purpose brings a golden chair with which to convey him to the palace. As they lift Simkhe onto the chair, he cries out in pain and runs off to his private study. The Rabbi has been overstuffed with delicacies, but Reb Yosele, to continue the duplicity, convinces the townsfolk that the Rabbi received a sudden message from heaven to teach the Torah to the angels. Beyle cannot be fooled, however. She fears she is going to lose her husband and discloses the truth about him and his position as Rabbi. The crowd is horrified to learn Simkhe is a rank imposter, but no more so than Simkhe himself. Sadly he discards his rabbinical attire, dons his old clothes again and walks off a beaten, broken-hearted and disillusioned man. When the people finally discover that much of the deceit was planned by the beadles as a grandiose money-making scheme, the irate nobleman orders them whipped for their heinous sins. Simkhe returns a little later in the regalia of the water carrier and promises to serve the townsfolk henceforth without thought of pay for the delicious food given him when he was their spiritual advisor. Further, he tells them he found his greatest happiness as a lowly water carrier. He declares that he will pursue this occupation for the rest of his life, although he still hopes to marry Tsipe.

Synopsis adapted from a Yiddish Art Theater program by Sonia Gollance.