Sunday, December 18, 2011

Omaha, NE

Line of the trip: “You’re turning me on” said by Ethan, portraying a lamp, addressing the lamp in the Abraham’s living room during a game of ‘Party Quirks’ while our make-your-own pizzas were baking in the oven. But the USY Pizza Party/Jewish Improv Games night was only one of many highlights this weekend. The amazing horn player at Friday night services at Beth El Synagogue was right out of a New Orleans jazz club. And dinner on Friday night was of course full of perfect food and great company (with a special shout out to Ozzie Nogg and her AMAZING book!). And God of Our Fathers was a lot of fun this afternoon. A great Omaha crowd came out to see the show, including some old friends from Memphis and my friend Rachel Shukert's mom! And we ended the night by watching ‘Margin Call’ which is a smart, well-directed film with a great cast. The perfect gig. Thanks, Shira and Steve!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pittsburgh, PA

A St. Patrick's Day Purim Party at the University of Pittsburgh Hillel

I got off the bus from the Pittsburgh airport about 3 blocks from my hotel on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. I knew I wasn't wearing green and though I doubted random strangers would pinch me, I didn't think it'd be the worst idea to find something green to wear. It just so happened that there was a merchant selling St Patrick's day themed clothing on the street outside my hotel and would you believe it, he was selling a three cornered hat! A green three cornered hat! 2 days before Purim! Did he know I was coming? Probably not. But there was only one 3 cornered hat, and I have no doubt there was only one Jewish actor coming to the Pitt campus to play Haman in a Purimshpiel on St. Patrick's Day. It was meant to be.

That evening I had a great pizza dinner with the student Hillel board (all of whom read megillah and played parts in the show later that night) and I had such a great time getting to know the Pitt gang. It might be the friendliest group of people I've ever had pizza with. Honest. Then we walked over to the student center, did a photo shoot with a panther (see photo above) and made our way inside to set up the space for our show. It was a grand ballroom, and we spiced it up with groggers and mardi gras necklaces and random Purim extravagance. I went upstairs to don my 3 piece suit (and vashti wig - which i wore, of course, under my new Haman hat) and when I came back downstairs, the students had arrived! LOTS of them! Jewish students, members of the Catholic group on campus, people of all different faiths and colors. It was awesome. A vision of Shushan for the modern times.

And boy did we have fun. A dude won the beauty pageant to become the new Queen Esther. That was fun. I lost my wig and my hat at one point causing one of the students to gasp in surprise at my baldness (i guess she thought the wig was real?). That was fun. And in the end, we had a conversation/debrief about the story itself that got into some hairy, but quite interesting theological conversation about the end of the Megillah and the uncomfortable, violent conclusion. Violent conclusions are always fun! And after the show, a buddy of mine who works at Pitt took me out for green beer. A perfect end to a perfect night. Go Panthers!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hoboken, NJ

Storahtelling Maven Torah Reading Ritual - United Synagogue of Hoboken, Hoboken, New Jersey

I have spent many a Shabbat in synagogues around the country as a member of Storahtelling. But never have I had the privilege of ‘mavening’ in such a special space as the newly restored sanctuary of the United Synagogue of Hoboken. Just recently, USH restored its sanctuary to its original early 20th century grandeur, and it truly is a grand, holy space – much of it corresponding to the specifications laid out in the Torah’s instructions for the building of the mishkan – our traveling sanctuary in the desert. Last Shabbat, Annie Lewis and I did a maven weekend at the United Synagogue of Hoboken for Parshat Vayakhel. Annie, Alex Wolfson, and I created a brand new maven script for USH, in part to make the most of the resonance of the congregation’s recent experience in creating sacred space, and in part to highlight Annie’s special relationship with the congregation. Annie, in addition to being a world-class Maven is also a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary and serves as the rabbinic intern at USH!

Friday night the stage was set with a really lovely and uniquely intimate Kabbalat Shabbat followed by a boisterous and delicious Shabbat dinner at the home of Rabbi Robert Scheinberg which included his generous family and 30 congregants who take part in a weekly “Intro to Judaism” class. Shabbat morning we were lucky to have the skilled Torah reading skills of both Rabbi Scheinberg and Andrew Merwin – an enthusiastic congregant who was joined by nearly two dozen congregants who remained in the afternoon for a “Meet the Maven” text study and conversation which only ended because it was time for Mincha! As for the Maven itself, we explored the role of Betzalel, the chief designer, pairing his character with an Israelite bride, played by Annie, who was hoping to use the Mishkan for the location for her wedding. Annie’s character got wrapped up in God’s ‘registry’ of gold and fabrics and fancy gifts for the mishkan, forgetting the other important things that fill a space and a wedding with holiness. In addition to the beautiful space that USH has created for itself, the congregation boasts an undeniable spirit of ruach, generosity and kavannah that fill the holy space with true sanctity. Betzalel was overwhelmed by all the gifts brought by the Israelites to build the mishkan. And we were overjoyed at the gift of getting to spend Shabbat in a modern day Mishkan – full of holiness – the United Synagogue of Hoboken.

I also want to give a shout out to my buddy Nick Falzon and his fiancee Laura, and friend Jenny Labenz for coming out to see the show!