A very ABBA Purim

The evil Haman approaches King Ahasuerus during “Here in Shushan,” to the tune of the ABBA song “Honey, Honey.” (Photos by Hannah Monicken)

Lovers of Purim, puns, parody and — to ruin the alliteration — the foot-tapping music of ABBA converged last week at Kol Shalom.

Members of the Rockville Conservative congregation filled the nearly 400 seats in the sanctuary for “Mamagillah,” a Purim shpiel was based on the musical “Mamma Mia!” The songs, all from the Swedish pop band, were rewritten by members to tell the story of Queen Esther, King Ahasuerus and Mordechai and the defeat of the evil Haman.

The annual Purim shpiel is one of the synagogue’s most popular events, says Susan Laine, a Kol Shalom member and former shpieler herself. “Everyone comes out for the Purim shpiel. It’s just the thing.”

“It’s just one of those things that brings us together every year,” says Joel Greene, a 14-year veteran shpieler and the congregation’s president, who was one of two actors who took turns playing foolish King Ahasuerus. “And everyone has so much fun.”


Groggers, those Purim noisemakers, are enthusiastically spun. And costumes are not just for kids or those in the show.

In addition to the namesake “Mamagillah,” songs included “Mordechai” a parody of “Dancing Queen,” “Here in Shushan” to the tune of “Honey, Honey” and “Thank you Mordechai” instead of “Thank You for the Music.”

“It’s music everyone can get into,” says Greene.

The congregation has been doing some sort of shpiel (a Yiddish word meaning a “play” or “skit”) since Kol Shalom was founded in 2002. That first shpiel was a full-length play, says Sally Heckelman, who directed last week’s show with Annette Lieber.

That production was more effort and more shpiel than anyone wanted. After that, they narrowed it down to the current format: songs centered around a show or theme (“Fiddler” or something from Disney) that are sung at the beginning and end of the shpiel and between some chapters during the reading of the megillah — the book of Esther.

“We’ve found centering it around a show is entertaining for everyone,” Heckelman says. “We don’t want to take way from the megillah.”

The shpielers themselves are a diverse bunch — young, old, enthusiastic singers and some who wouldn’t be caught dead doing any other kind of theater. Sondra Frank says she couldn’t imagine herself on any kind of stage, but there she was on Purim eve, thanks to her 12-year-old daughter, Hana.

Hana did her first shpiel five years ago when the family was new to the congregation and her parents wanted her to meet people. Sondra accompanied her to rehearsals.

“It was just so much fun,” Sondra says. “And to be honest, I never wanted to be in it, but I wanted to watch my daughter go out and enjoy herself. And the next year they said, ‘If you’re coming to practice, you’re in the show.’”

“It’s a real community effort,” Heckelman says. “And it’s just taken on a life of its own.”

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