Zaddik by Terry Swartzberg

The greatest and longest-running play of all time

performed by

THE Zaddik – blessed and cursed with eternal life

Now in its 301st and last performance – after 5874 years of being staged


ZADDIK: synopsis[embeddoc url=““]

God will destroy humanity during this generation.

Unless this generation produces 36 Zaddikim. 36 people who – in one key moment – do the right, righteous thing: sacrifice themselves for another, for others.

That’s what the Torah states. In Genesis.

Needed actually are only 35 Zaddikim. Because one person – THE Zaddik – has appeared in every one of the 300 generations since God wiped out humanity. With a flood. Except of course for Noah and family and descendants.

THE Zaddik has been blessed and cursed by HeSheItWhatever with eternal life.

So that he can bear witness to every one of the 100,000 wars that humanity has waged.

So that he can write the names of the wars and their 100 million victims in his Torah, in his Book of Death or Book of Life.

So that the Zaddik and his “mini-minyan” – the Rabbi, Kibitzer and Yenta – can read these names to each generation of humanity.

300 readings from Zaddik’s Torah. Spiced up with slapstick, klezmer and everything else Zaddik and the Mini-Minyan can think of to gain and keep their audiences’ attention.

And, by doing so, avoid being attacked and pursued (which is what actually always happens).

And tonight – the 301th and last performance. The last time that Zaddik will write names in his Torah. The last chance for humanity to realize why Zaddik has been doing such.

Zaddik started out as a moment of horror.

At around 7 p.m. of August 18, 1977, Sinhalese attacked Tamils in Colombo. I was there. Purely by accident.

I was an investigative journalist on a stopover between Delhi and Bangkok.

On my way home from a (bad) Chinese meal, I blundered into the attack – which mostly consisted of Molotov cocktails being hurled into slums.

The sounds of humans in absolute agony have never left me. Nor the smell of burning flesh.

I later learned that “only” 100 or so people had been killed in the attack. Several hundred more were badly burned.

The world quickly forgot about the attack – to the extent that it had noticed it all. I didn’t forget.

Zaddik became an inquest into humanity.

I was born 8 years after the Holocaust and its six million victims – 69 of which were members of my family.

I spent my teens demonstrating against the war in Vietnam – in which I very nearly had to fight. Three million people were killed in the war.

Spurred by what I had experienced and what I knew, I decided to determine how often humanity had waged the horrors called “wars”. To prove how violent we are. And to reveal the patterns enabling this violence.

I selected – quite randomly – a decade of which even I – a history buff – knew little about: 1850 – 1860.

For several years, I compiled a dossier on the 1454 wars – including the second bloodiest of all time – waged in this decade.

I went to libraries in Berlin – where I was working as a reporter – and worked my way through history books, making endless photocopies. Which I still have.

And that’s where it ended. I had proven my point. Humanity is utterly violent – and utterly and purposely and innately forgetful. That’s why and how it is always prepared to kill once more.

Zaddik meets Leonard Bernstein

In spring 1986, I met Lenny. I had moved to Munich, and was working for a media company that had Lenny under exclusive contract. As a young Jewish member of the public relations department, I was assigned to babysit Lenny whenever he jetted into Munich.

Enthralling, easy, demanding. Enthralling because Lenny was one of the most insightful and entertaining persons that I ever met. Easy because everyone wanted a piece of Lenny. All I had to was walk alongside him – and to attend rehearsals, performances and press conferences.

Demanding because Lenny was a shrewd and well-informed observer. He quizzed me relentlessly on my knowledge of his work (mixed), my command of Hebrew (bad) and Jewish history (pretty good).

On the evening of our first day together, as Lenny was boarding the gangway to his jet, he turned to me and said “Write me something about your soul.”

So I did. I wrote him about my research into human violence.

A couple of days later, I got a call from Harry Kraut, Lenny’s manager.

Lenny wants the libretto,” said Harry gruffly.

What libretto?” I asked.

The war thing. Lenny’s going to compose the music for it.”

There is no libretto,” I said.

“Kid,” said Harry. “People wait their whole lives for this call. And it never comes. Write the goddam libretto.”

So I did. I wrote about five people who meet every Friday evening to conduct a Shabbat of commemoration. By reading out of a Torah they have compiled. Each Friday they read aloud the names, places and dates of a decade of warfare.

Fascinating documentation. Don’t know how I can write the music to it,” Lenny wrote to me. I still have the letter.

And that’s where it stopped. I saw Lenny a couple of more times during his visits to Munich. He was always very very kind to me, taking time to swap ideas about the project. Making this exceptionally generous: Lenny was already very ill. I of course wasn’t aware of this.

Zaddik is reborn.

In 1989, I staged Zaddik.

I rewrote the libretto – adding elements of slapstick, crowd participation and jazz.

I found an amazing director – Barry Goldman – and a cast of talented actors. My buddy Eric Trumpler, a talent cellist, put together and performed a selection of music.

We put Zaddik on in an air control tower located in Munich and decommissioned by Germany’s air force.

Since then, Zaddik has been staged whenever I have had the funding and the nerves.

It has been performed in an atomic bunker in Stuttgart, and in crematoria in cemeteries in Munich, Nuremberg and Hamburg. And in other places where war and death are omnipresent.

To rave reviews – by critics and members of the audiences.

In August 2023, Zaddik was rewritten.

Time is running out.

I turned 70 and the world shows every sign of needing Zaddik more than ever.

Here is the result.

Home Play Story Terry Swartzberg Contact

A leading figure in European (and worldwide) commemoration and Judaism” – Süddeutsche Zeitung

Because of his passionate advocacy of:

The Stolpersteine – the world’s project of Holocaust commemoration. 110,000 Stolpersteine in 1,800 cities in 31 countries. Terry heads the Munich chapter, and speaks on the Stolpersteine in the USA, Israel and Europe.

Other innovative forms of Holocaust commemoration, such as “Faces for the Names”, in which photos of Holocaust victims are projected on the buildings in which they lived and suffered. Created by Terry, he and his organization J.E.W.S. Jews Engaged with Society have staged 110 Faces for the Names.

A joyous, proactive Judaism.

Terry and J.E.W.S. stage open air Shabbats for all, in which Jews and others pray, eat and dance together. Thus mobilizing Jews and their many friends and supporters to take on antisemitism, hate and discrimination.

Since December 1, 2012 Terry has been wearing a kippa in public. To date, 3925 days. 157 cities. 17 countries. Thousands of moving, amusing and heartening experiences. Not a single bad one.

Terry’s “kippa experiment” or “reality check” – as dubbed by the media – have made him an international figure. Terry’s kippot are on display in museums in Munich, Berlin and Bonn.

Home Play Story Terry Swartzberg Contact

Terry Swartzberg

Ruhestraße 3

81541 Munich

(+49-170) 473 3572

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