Come Purim, Jewish Pittsburghers won’t be in Kansas anymore.
During the holiday, which begins next week, seven area congregations are joining forces for a Purim spectacular complete with a tech-savvy and Jewish-appropriate adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz” — and more.
“Esther lives on a farm in Squirrel Hill with her Uncle Em — Mordechai — totally involved with her computer,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life, explaining the narrative of “The Wizard of Blogs,” a video Purim shpiel set to engage virtual participants on Thursday, Feb. 25. After being sucked into the computer, Esther “is temporarily saved by the Good Witch, Auntie Virus, who is really Uncle Em transformed. He encourages her to follow the Silicon Road to Sim City to meet the Wizard of Blogs, who can help her find her way home. Along the way, she meets other apps.”
The narrative, Myers said, boasts a colorful cast of characters including a Tin Ma’am operating on Windows 95, a broom app dubbed Clean Sweep, and a Wicked Kvetch who brings a most unwelcomed guest. But the performance, written by Myers and produced by him and Samantha Harris, is not the only reason to tune in virtually to celebrate Purim.
Starting at 5:45 p.m. that evening, the seven congregations — Adat Shalom, Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, Congregation Beth Shalom, Ohav Shalom, Rodef Shalom Congregation, Temple Emanuel of South Hills and Tree of Life — will provide a wide array of live entertainment. It all starts with a tongue-in-cheek “Shushan Edition” of the cult series “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” where local Jewish leaders will retell the Purim story “in a way sure to delight people of all ages,” event organizers said.
“It will be, by necessity, a little rehearsed but that will make it that much more fun,” said Rabbi Seth Adelson of Congregation Beth Shalom.
There will be an evening service at 6:15 p.m. and a reading of the full megillah from kosher scrolls of the book of Esther from locations throughout Pittsburgh. The event wraps up at 7:30 p.m. with the “video Purim shpiel” led by Myers and members of Tree of Life and Rodef Shalom.
Not so long ago, Adelson introduced the idea of staging a virtual, multi-shul Purim event to members of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association. To say the least, it piqued some Jewish leaders’ interests.
“One thing led to another,” Adelson laughed. “A bunch of us got together and here we are.”
“Each place brings something to the table,” Beth El’s Rabbi Alex Greenbaum told the Chronicle.
The evening will include songs and maybe even a few prizes for people attending via Zoom with “fun and interesting costumes,” Adelson said.
The event is appropriate for families and people of all ages, he stressed.
The event is called “The Only Zoom Purim Ever — We Hope,” a playful dig at life in the era of COVID-19. But Adelson said not everything congregations have gleaned from experiences of virtual services, outreach and social distancing has been negative.
“Now that we’ve entered this great world of streaming services, we may not be coming back,” he said. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.