Here Are a Few of the Creative Purim Spiels Taking Place in Baltimore


With Purim comes celebrations, carnivals and, of course, Purim spiels. These annual plays based on the Purim story are widely considered to be the origin of Yiddish theater, dating back to the 15th century.

person wearing mask
filipefrazao / iStock / Getty Images Plus; Attendees: DJ Edgar, David Castine

Because these comedic plays based on the same story have been performed for hundreds of years, many synagogues create Purim spiels with a unique twist to set themselves apart from the crowd. While these variants still focus on Esther’s bravery, Mordecai’s wisdom and Haman’s evil schemes, they are often inspired by contemporary pop culture, current events or just a general theme. A spiel set in outer space or the Wild West may seem like a crazy idea, but it’s par for the course in the world of Purim spiels.
Many Baltimore-area congregations will be hosting spiels to celebrate the holiday. Here are just a few.

Beth El Congregation: “Joseph”-Inspired Spiel

Saturday, March 23 at 7 p.m.
Berman Rubin Sanctuary
Beth El Congregation
8101 Park Heights Ave.

A trip to the theater to see a musical influenced Beth El Congregation’s upcoming spiel. Inspired by the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber classic, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” the synagogue’s “Esther and the Amusing Royal Persian Dreamboat” will feature parodies of the musical’s original songs with lyrics themed around the Purim story.

This will be the first time in several years that Beth El Congregation will be putting on a performance written by synagogue staff and members.

“In the past, my family and I created Purim spiels that were based on TV commercials. We’ve also used pre-made ones. But this year, we went to a performance of ‘Joseph,’ and we all looked at each other and said, ‘This has to be our Purim spiel,’” said Cantor Thom King, Beth El’s cantor. “When they came out to sing ‘Jacob and Sons,’ all I could think of was changing it to ‘Haman and Sons.’”

While these two stories may seem different, King notes that they share some commonalities. Joseph’s story sees the protagonist undergoing great hardships and eventually becoming Pharaoh’s adviser because of his kind nature. Conversely, the Purim story has Haman start out as the king’s vizier, but he is sentenced to hardships as punishment for his evil.

The variety of music featured in “Joseph” also made it an appealing choice for a theme.

“What I love about ‘Joseph’ is that it’s a pastiche of so many different types of music,” King explained. “There are Caribbean-influenced songs, there are French-influenced songs … and they’re all very popular tunes, so people will be able to sing along.”

Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation: “Hairspray” Spiel

Saturday, March 23 at 7 p.m.
Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation
7310 Park Heights Ave.

Also inspired by a Broadway musical is Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation’s adult Purim spiel, which is based on the musical “Hairspray.” Notably, the original stage production and the John Waters movie it is based on both take place in Baltimore.

“The spiel is being directed by congregant Glenn Ulick, who has worked tirelessly to gather congregants to bring the show to life,” Cantor Alexandra Marcus said. “We have close to 30 congregants involved in some way: singing and acting onstage, playing instruments in the pit, managing behind-the-scenes details, making costumes, choreographing and more.”

Marcus and Ulick have been working with HSOSC’s music director, Andrew Stewart, to teach the actors the show’s music. The lyrics, altered to be more in line with the show’s Purim theme, were written by Cantor Ellen and Rabbi Billy Dreskin, a songwriting duo who compose and arrange Jewish music and parody songs.

The “Hairspray” spiel is a free performance open to the general public, though the organizers ask that any interested attendees register first. HSOSC will be providing refreshments and snacks, and the event is BYOB.

“My favorite thing about planning Purim spiels each year is getting to know completely different sides of congregants that I don’t normally get to see,” Marcus said. “It’s so much fun getting to be totally silly, seeing them use their wild imaginations and really digging into the often-ridiculous characters they’re acting as.”

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation: Baking Spiel

Sunday, March 24 at 10 a.m.
Baltimore Hebrew Congregation
7401 Park Heights Ave.

Rather than putting on an on-stage performance, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation will be taking a more unorthodox approach to its Purim spiel. “The Great BHC Bake-Off,” based on the popular “The Great British Bake-Off” competition, will see congregants learning how to bake hamantaschen, guided by clergy and staff dressed up as different characters from the Purim story.

This spiel is designed to be more interactive and hands-on. Jillian Manko, BHC’s director of engagement, describes it as a “fanfiction spin-off” of Purim.

“We’ll be announcing that Shushan, [the Persian empire’s capital], is having a ball,” she explained. “Each table will be given a recipe along with arts and crafts supplies to bake the most delicious hamantaschen in the kingdom. While they bake, they will also have to decorate their area for the ball.”

Participants will be able to decorate their cooking spaces based on the different balls held in the Purim story. The narrative begins with the ball where Queen Vashti refuses to dance and is ordered to be executed, and the climax of the story comes at the ball Esther throws to expose Haman. Alternatively, they can come up with a theme of their own for the ball.

Spiel participants will then have their hamantaschen creations judged by the characters, who will announce winners at the end of the play.

“We can’t wait for this exciting way to celebrate together,” Manko added.

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