David and Sammy Stavner are two brothers, but they have very different views on life. Sammy, almost thirteen years old, finds Judaism interesting and stimulating. Although his family belongs to the Reform Temple Tikvat Yeshurun, he learned most of what he knows from his Release Time counselor, a bochur by the name of Yankel. David, an older boy in his early twenties, finds Judaism burdensome, technical, primitive and barbaric. When he sees some Jews beaten up at a pro-Arab demonstration, he becomes decidedly turned off.
David’s friends didn’t like David’s Jewishness. One day, at a bar, they confronted him, “You better stop wearing that Jewish star and you stop calling yourself a Jew. And that name David. It’s just way too Jewish.” David was hesitant about casting off his culture. Although he felt no connection to Judaism philosophically or emotionally, he felt an obligation to his forbears and his dead mother. His friends decided that they‘d just have to get rid of him. They slipped a pack of stolen diamonds into his back pocket, while one of the friends called the police. David was handcuffed, and taken to jail.
The police called the Stavner residence to inform Mr. Stavner and Sammy of David’s arrest and his $3,200 bail. Needless to say Sammy and his father were heart-broken.
Shortly after this incident, it was time for Sammy’s Bar Mitzvah, which was held in Temple Tikvat Yeshurun. The Rabbi called up Sammy for his aliyah, in English. “Arise, Samuel son of George, be strengthened! He who blessed our forefathers, and our foremothers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, Aaron, David and Solomon, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Tziporah, Deborah and Esther. He/She shall bless this entire holy congregation, and say Amen. Because the honorable George, the son of Fredrick, has pledged charity for the sake of his son, in the amount of $20G’s for Temple Tikvat Yeshurun. May he, his spouse and their offspring be blessed, together with this entire holy congregation, and say Amen.” The rabbi then led Sammy through the Berachot, and read some the Torah, in English, with trop.
The rabbi then delivered the Bar Mitzvah address. “Dear members, paying or not, affiliated or unaffiliated, I stand before you today, on this joyous occasion, of the BarMikvah, of our dear beloved Sammy. Unfortunately, our main rabbi, Rabbi Jennifer was unable to come. She’s attending her niece’s Shalom Zachor. Sammy has been an active member of our congregation since he was 2 ½. He participates in all of our temple’s services, and activities including our volleyball team, our baseball team He attends our Bingo sessions religiously. He is a devoted patron of our Casino. He is a shining example to all our youth – and adults as well. Sammy, as you embark on your life as a Jewish adult, we remind you of the responsibility, and privilege of taking your rightful place in the batting order of our baseball team, instead being just a relief. On this joyous occasion, I call upon darling Samuel to address the assembled.”
Sammy went on to present his Bar Mitzvah speech. “I want to thank the Reverend, my father, and the memory of my mother, Alov Hashalom. Today I am a man by Jewish law, I accept all of my religious obligations, I acknowledge that there are many paths to reaching spiritual fulfillment, and in the spirit of objectivity, I intend to try ‘em all out. In the portion of the torah, the esteemed Reverend read, we hear how g-d speaks to Moses. Again. I hope that G-d will one day speak to me too. I thank you all for coming to share this special day. Especially Aunt Georgina and Uncle Sol who drove up from Mississippi .
A few months later, as David was sitting in the Coleman Correctional Institute, David’s father and brother came to visit him. Throughout the visit, it became apparent that David blames his Jewish identity for getting him into jail. When his father mentioned Sammy’s Bar Mitzvah, David is positively offended.
A rabbi from the Aleph Institute visited David in jail, and the effect was even worse. All that David took out from the meeting is a strengthened conviction that Judaism is for the birds.
Then a priest visited David. The priest carries with him a distinct air of serenity. He reassured David, that G-d doesn’t want the strict religious observance delineated in the Torah. G-d only demands that he accept the salivation he offers us. Then the priest told David of an experience he had. “I once saw a bird. It was a beautiful white bird. It must have been a spiritual bird. The bird told me that there is a boy named David, sitting in jail, in cell 1583, which could use some support and encouragement.” David agrees vigorously to the priest’s assertion. The priest continues serenely to discuss religion, and leaves David feeling spiritually recharged.
After David’s term was up, Sammy and David were joyously reunited, but their feelings quickly turned sour when David found out that it was Sammy who sent the Aleph Institute rabbi to him. “Do you realize you humiliated me in front of the whole group? They all knew I was Jewish!” Their conversation turned to religion and David got so fed up he stormed out while screaming that he is disowning Sammy.
The following Wednesday, Yankel came to teach the Release Time class, as usual. After class, Yankel noticed that Sammy looked a little down. He tried to speak to him, but Sammy pushed him off. Yankel offered to call him, but Sammy refused. In the end, Sammy agrees to call him, when he’s ready.
That night Sammy called Yankel. He told Yankel what was happening with David. Yankel encouraged Sammy not to confront David directly. “It would be better just to act like a Jew, and show him how Judaism is meaningful. This way he won’t feel you’re challenging him.”
The same night David called his priest and informed him he plans to convert. They make a date in the near future.
The next morning David was walking to the Church of Divine Light for a study session with the priest. As he passed by Sammy’s school, he noticed Sammy playing a game of basketball with his friends. Sammy was about to make a shot when his yarmulke fell off. He stopped to pick it up. “What did you do that for?” asked one of his friends.
“What do you mean?” Sammy responded calmly. “My Yarmulke fell off” David was deeply impressed. “There must be something to that religion of his, if he stops a game to pick up his beanie,” he concluded. However, he still plans on converting.
He went to the study session, but seeds of doubt were planted in his mind. Which is the true path, Judaism or Christianity?
That night, David spoke to his father about his troubled childhood, his mother’s death, and finally, religion. “Judaism is just too hard. I’ll go the easy way” David’s father had a heart attack on the spot. An ambulance was called. David cried beside his father. Although he feels terribly shaken that he caused this damage to his father, but he cannot embrace Judaism.
Sammy came home, and found David crying. David informed him of his plans, and loudly told him that he does not want to discuss the matter with him. David called his priest, while Sammy called Yankel. Yankel told Sammy, “Keep on doing what you’re doing. Act as a Jew is supposed to, keep neggel vasser by your bed, and wear your yarmulke and tzitzis even when you sleep. Be careful to make brochos and bentch. By displaying Judaism, not only is it non-confrontational, but this conveys a much deeper message. If you explain something to someone, you speak mind to mind. You give over an intellectual concept, and he gets only an intellectual concept. When you show him what it means to live Judaism, then he sees Judaism as a living religion. He will see that Judaism is meaningful, dear, fulfilling, and moral. So keep on doing what you’re doing, and hatzlacha rabbah.”
The next day David went to convert. The priest and his assistant began the conversion ceremony. In middle of the ceremony, David jumps up. “No! I will not become a Goy! My ancestors were Jews! My grandfather died because he was a Jew! My mother died as Jew! My father lives as a Jew, and my brother is teaching me to live as Jew!” David walked out, leaving the priest and his assistant baffled.
The last scene takes place in Israel, by the Kotel. Sammy is learning in Kfar Chabad, and David is learning in Ascent. The meet at the wall and emotionally embrace, two brothers with a common goal.