Getting to watch the story of Purim unfold through a clever parody of the musical “Grease” was not the only reason to celebrate the holiday at Temple Emanuel of South Hills last week.
What may have been even more uplifting was seeing hundreds of children and adults from throughout the entire South Hills Jewish community come together to sing, laugh, be entertained and, of course, eat.
This is the second year in a row that Temple Emanuel, a Reform congregation, has invited its Conservative Jewish neighbors from Beth El Congregation of the South Hills — and the Jewish community at large — to join in its annual Purim shpiel.
As they sing in “Grease,” the energy was “electrifying.”
“Grease — the Megillah,” was penned by Norman Roth, a New York writer whose website, purimshpiel.net, offers a host of “musical megillahs,” including “Les Mis —Les Megillah,” and “Oh What a Spiel — the Jersey Boys Megillah.”
Last year, the two congregations joined together to perform “A Beatles Purim Shpiel” at Beth El.
The production of “Grease” at Temple Emanuel was co-directed by Douglas Levine and Chris Laitta, with Levine on the keyboard and Janelle Burdell on the drums.
Coincidentally, Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill also performed a shpiel based on “Grease” on Feb. 28.
The show, which ran about 20 minutes, featured several musical numbers, including spoofs of “Summer Love,” “You’re the One That I Want,” “Jew Jive,” and “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” with the latter’s lyrics improved to “What a guy, I’m Mordechai.”
The 20-member cast showcased the musical and acting chops of Rosalie Bortz (Queen Vashti), Elijah Brogdon (King Ahashuraus), Tim Brogdon (Haman), Eitan Schwartz (Mordechai) and Rabbi Jessica Locketz (Queen Esther, substituting in for Addie Young), along with an able ensemble composed mostly of children in black leather jackets and cardigans.
The shpiel was followed by a costume parade and a pizza dinner with homemade hamantaschen. The Megillah was read after dinner, with boxes of mac and cheese used in place of groggers; the mac and cheese, as well as monetary donations, were then provided to South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM).
Temple Emanuel and Beth El have been working “together as a family,” said Beth El’s Alex Greenbaum, adding that the two congregations have also collaborated on programs for Selichot, Chanukah and Tisha B’av.
“We have a lot more in common than what divides us,” Greenbaum said.
The joint Purim program came on the heels of a communitywide Purim carnival on Feb. 25 at the South Hills Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. The carnival was also a collaborative effort, with partners including the JCC, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Beth El, Temple Emanuel, Chabad of the South Hills, the Carnegie Shul, PJ Library and South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh. For the second consecutive year, SHJC was also a partner in the program at Temple Emanuel, providing funding, said Rob Goodman, director of SHJC.
“Last year, between the carnival and the Purim Shpiel and Chabad programming, we had more than 1,000 members of the South Hills community celebrating Purim,” Goodman said, adding he expected this year’s total to be similar. About 150 people attended Chabad’s Purim in the Jungle event on March 1 at the South Hills JCC, he said.
The South Hills is home to 20 percent of Greater Pittsburgh’s Jewish households, or approximately 9,000 people, according to the new community study commissioned by the Federation.
“Purim is an example of our community coming together,” Goodman said. “South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh is making it a priority to fund events and activities that get the whole community involved.”
Mahler praised the power of uniting to celebrate Jewish life.
“Clearly, the exuberance was pretty much through the roof tonight,” Mahler said. “And through the roof can only be accomplished through community.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.