Every year, come Purim time, synagogues go out of their way to outdo one another’s spiels and Megillah readings, crafting the themes of their celebrations around anything and everything from popular culture to bygone historical eras.
But where does the inspiration for these crazy themes come from, and who ultimately gives them the greenlight? The JT spoke with four of the Baltimore area’s synagogues for a closer look.
Beth El Congregation of Baltimore’s March 16 event, Beatlemania: Beth El’s Purim Spiel, took inspiration from the Beatles song “Get Back” as a reference to the return of in-person events, according to Jill Suffel, Beth El’s director of membership and programming.
“The last Purim that we had in the building was the week before the world proverbially shut down,” said Suffel, a resident of Owings Mills. “And it’s kind of nice to know we’re getting back in a building to celebrate Purim again.”
While Suffel could not say what specific Beatles songs would be played at the event, she noted that the celebration would be based around the themes of love, togetherness and get back, which she said fit perfectly with the Purim story.
The Beatles theme was chosen during a staff meeting, Suffel said. After a number of ideas had been shot around, a theme based around the Beatles and their song “Get Back” was proposed. “Once that idea was brought up, we just went with it,” Suffel said, in a sort of informal consensus.
Meanwhile, Columbia Jewish Congregation is putting together their March 16 program, Cinderesther — A Purim Schpiel performance, according to Steven L. Kramer, a past president of the board of Columbia Jewish Congregation. The performance will include spoofs of songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of “Cinderella,” from the Disney cartoon version and even from the musical “Into the Woods,” which features Cinderella as a character.
Kramer collaborated on the project with his daughter, Frances, and singer Jon Blankman. Due to continuing pandemic concerns, it will be a Zoom musical, Kramer said. As it is difficult to share performances with singing or music over Zoom, those segments of the performance will be prerecorded, while segments that don’t involve singing will be done live.
“Esther in some ways can be seen as a Cinderella story,” said Kramer, a resident of Ellicott City. “So we’ve been thinking and toying of doing it for a couple of years now.”
After receiving the thumbs up from Rabbi Michael Hess Webber, CJC ran with Kramer’s option, he said. Frances Kramer noted that they had been the first one to volunteer their idea.
Chabad of Downtown’s Young Jewish Professionals group is preparing for their Roaring 20s Purim Party. The party will be held at the Central Savings Bank on North Charles Street, currently the location of David’s and Dad’s Cafe, which will be serving kosher food for the event. Constructed in 1891 with a bar tucked away in a small room behind the main hall, it is reminiscent of the types of speakeasies typical of the era, said Rabbi Levi Druk in an email. The event will include a Megillah reading, collecting gifts for the poor and a festive meal.
The young adult committee and the hosts of the party selected the theme, Druk said, to “add a fun spin and a masquerade theme to the Young Jewish Professionals (YJP) Purim Party.
“It’s [an] old Jewish tradition to dress up on Purim to remind us of how things can look bad on the outside and Gd can quickly change them around to the good,” Druk continued. “We chose the Roaring 20s because we kind of feel like our grandparents must [have] felt celebrating Purim back in the 1920s, coming out of a pandemic and hopeful for a blissful future.”
Beth Shalom Congregation’s Purim celebration will borrow from the music of Disney cartoons to fashion parodies of popular songs.
This Jewish year coincides with the 50th anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney World, noted Rabbi Susan Grossman, who added that her shul is currently commemorating its own 50th anniversary, as those celebrations were postponed by the pandemic.
“So [there] seemed to be kind of a synergy between Walt Disney World’s 50th and ours,” Grossman said. “So we’re looking forward to having all of the songs that we’re seeing this year [be] from Disney movies.”
This includes old classics from “The Little Mermaid” and “The Lion King,” as well as newer hits from “Frozen 2” and “Encanto,” Grossman said.
Grossman herself came up with the theme, and everyone involved responding positively to it, she said.
“We have a team of people, we have musicians, that weigh in, the cantor of course, Cantor [Rebecca] Apt,” Grossman said. “We always engage our youth leadership, and the kids, to see if they’re excited about it. And they love anything Disney.”