Mendy Weisgal, a 75 year old Jewish sentimentalist, arrives to Berlin for the first time and passes the sites of the German capitol; the Holocaust memorial, the Reichstag; a restored synagogue. Near the Opera House, a worker puts up a poster for the revived opera ‘The Eternal Road’
As head of the Zionist Organization of America and an early pioneer in the call for a Jewish State in Palestine, his father was concerned about the Jews of Germany and their new government. Mendy's father Meyer could only imagine what it was like to be a Jew in Germany. In the streets of Berlin that night, Nazi stormtroopers marched goose-stepping, arms outstretched.
Back in New York, Meyer was reading about the exodus of Germany's Jews and the headline, ‘DIRECTOR MAX REINHARDT FLEES BERLIN’ . On the walls in his office hung photos of recreated scenes from the bible. There was Moses raising the tablets of the Ten Commandments over the terrified Israelites; Isaac about to be sacrificed by Abraham. These were scenes from ‘Romance of the People,’ a Jewish spectacle Meyer produced for the Chicago World's Fair. Now he wanted to stage the biggest Jewish show ever, on Broadway. Its purpose would be to tell the world about the fate of the Jews of Germany.
Meyer sent a telegram to Reinhardt: ‘If Hitler doesn't want you, I'll take you’ and explained to the great showman about his plans to stage a large-scale drama ‘as a Jewish response to Hitler's Germany.’ He wanted Reinhardt to join him and help capture this historic moment in Jewish history for the stage.
Meyer was introduced to the exiled composer Kurt Weill. Franz Werfel joined them. All four men soon understood one thing: Meyer was fighting for a message. He argued that they needed to create a Jewish play and nothing else. A story with a warning of what was unfolding here in Europe. He challenged Max, Franz and Kurt to summon their mastery, their creativity, their genius, and their artistry that came out of their roots in Berlin's golden era of theater.
They agreed to create a theatrical spectacle that symbolized the threatened condition of their people in Germany. A biblical morality play that would express the spiritual origin, the mystical history and the eternal destiny of the Jewish people to whom they belonged. It was centered around the fate of a contemporary Jewish community about to be expelled from its homeland. Trapped inside their synagogue, the Rabbi consoled his congregation by reading passages from the Old Testament The congregation is ultimately exiled onto the eternal road of Jewish history that will lead them to their Jewish homeland.
On January 7th, 1937, after ten postponements in over a year, the show was sold out. All of New York's nobility, Jews and Gentiles, were in attendance. When the stage lights came on, a small synagogue was brought to life. The Jewish congregation was huddled in fear. To console them, the cantor began to chant from the Holy Scriptures. ‘And the Lord God said unto Abraham....’ Slowly, the entire stage was illuminated. Five ascending tiers were revealed rising up, one higher than the next. At the top, nearly six stories high was the choir; one hundred singers dressed in the robes of angels. It was a spectacle of biblical proportions. Meyer Weisgal could see the audience catch its collective breath. The evening was a triumph.
Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times wrote, ‘Out of the heroic stories of old Jewish history is a glorious pageant of great power and glory. Opera, spectacle, fantasy or profound religious teaching, The Eternal Road is all these things in equal measure.’